Frank Family Zinfandel: Great Zin With A Difference

Rich Frank and one of his classic cars

Rich Frank is one of those guys who hit the wine business in full stride. He didn’t start as some young cellar rat, or arrive with a freshly printed UC Davis degree in hand.

When he became a Napa Valley winery owner, he was already a wildly successful Hollywood executive who probably could have bought and sold all the struggling winemakers in the Valley. By the time he acquired the historic Larkmead Winery in 1992, he’d been President of darn near everything in the television biz, including Disney and Paramount. He joined his friend, Koerner Rombauer (ever heard of Rombauer??) in purchasing the Calistoga facility that had been the home of a sparkling wine producer, Kornell Champagne Cellars.

The current winemaker, Todd Graff, joined up in 2003. He hadn’t been marking time, either: he’d worked in several of the world’s top wine regions, including Germany, Bordeaux, and Australia’s Hunter Valley.

But Frank Family Vineyards is located in Rutherford, and Rutherford is Cabernet country. Apparently it’s very good Cab country, because all three 2007 Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignons earned stupendous ratings from our pre-eminent wine God.

But it’s the Zinfandel I want to talk about now. I came across Frank Family Zinfandel 2007 in a great little wine bar in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Owner Dave Link had managed to get his hands on some (it’s small production and in limited supply) and was pouring it by the glass.

One glass wasn’t enough.

Now don’t imagine that I’m some Zin-ophile who’s impressed with anything that’s dark purple and 15% alcohol. Just the opposite is true. I’m always leary of those big, jammy, Port-like Zins that taste great for about one sip and then create a quick case of palate fatigue.frank

I needn’t have worried about the Frank Family: the winemaker managed to create a wine with abundant fruit and incredible balance. The nose was rich with blackcherry, blueberry and spice, and led to a palate that hit first with upfront dark berry and vanilla. Next there was a hint of chocolate and concentrated fig, and finally –well-structured tannins. This was what I liked best: the tannins lifted up the flavors, kept them from being jammy and  created a lingering finish. The French oak treatment was also well-balanced, rounding and softening the wine without sticking out like a sore barrel stave.

Guess what’s different about Frank Family Zin? The explanation is in the blend: Frank Family Zin is a blend, and the secret weapon is the 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petite Sirah. I’m guessing they were included to add structure and depth, and… it worked! Now, if there are purists out there who think it’s “cheating” to jazz up Zin with other varietals, I say, “You’re just jealous.”

They might also try sourcing their grapes from Chiles and Pope Valley, where these originated. This area over the Vaca Range to the east of Napa is still considered Napa Valley fruit but is the shy country cousin to sophisticated and bustling mainstream Napa. But with warmer days and cooler nights, it seems to produce fruit with great intensity and structure.

I don’t know how much Rich Frank is involved with his winery, but it’s clear that he’s put together the vineyards and the people needed to make world-class wine. Obviously, my next assignment is to find some Frank Family Cab to taste. Wish me luck — I’ll let you know how it goes. Cheers!

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