Friday, June 07, 2013

Naked Vine One Hitter – Franciscan Estates “Equilibrium”

“This is a really good wine if you want to impress people. It would be great if you’re serving a nice brunch -- or if you’re opening it up for the first bottle of girls’ night.” 
    – The Sweet Partner in Crime

I remember a conversation I had at a conference in the days well before I knew much of anything about wine. The woman I was speaking with (whose name and face are long-lost in my dusty, ethanol-laden synapses) was waxing rhapsodic about her favorite white wine – a white wine from California called “Conundrum.” The wine’s name was a reflection of its several-grape blend. I filed that nugget away.

A couple of years later, I met a very attractive professor at the University of Kentucky who agreed, in a stunning lapse of judgment, to let me cook dinner for her. I made a shrimp and scallop curry that night, and I’d splurged on a bottle of this Conundrum stuff. This wine tasted like nothing my unpracticed palate had run into before – very fruity, a little sweet without being heavy, and super-easy to drink. I also remember it as a great pairing with the curry. The attractive professor is better known to all of you as the Sweet Partner in Crime, and during the early days of our relationship, Conundrum was our “special occasion” wine. Conundrum became wildly possible (and more expensive) as the years went on.

What does all that have to do with the sample of Franciscan Estates 2012 “Equilibrium” Napa Valley White Wine from Folsom & Associates that showed up on my doorstep?

While white wines sourced from a number of different grapes certainly aren't a new thing, they were reasonably rare in American winemaking. These "field blends" tended to be inexpensive wines made from whatever was left over after making the "premiums." Conundrum was one of the first mainstream California wines to marry the tart acidity of sauvignon blanc, the body of chardonnay, and the sweet fruit of sauvignon blanc (and a few other grapes) in one bottle in a manner that suggested high quality.

Equilibrium, to me, represents a step forward with these sorts of wines. As my palate became more experienced, I found myself liking wines like Conundrum less. It seemed a bit overly heavy. Similar wines started appearing -- many of which simply weren't very good. (They were usually much too sweet or tasted like they were artificially "thickened.") Equilibrium, on the contrary, is quite nice.

It's a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Muscat. The nose is grapefruity, like a sauvignon, but with an light undertone of flowers. The first taste gave me more grapefruit, melon, and nectarine. It's medium-bodied and fresh. The finish is very fruity. I expected a sweetness like honey or sugar at the end, but there's none of that. Instead, there's a lingering peachy flavor that's extremely pleasant. Very nice to sip on its own.

For dinner that night, in a lucky coincidence, I was making shrimp curry. (Seriously, I didn't plan it that way.) I was very impressed. The label recommends “BBQ and Asian cuisines” – so I thought, "Hey, close enough!" It went delightfully. The very prominent fruit flavors of the wine were strong enough to shine through the curry spices, both cooling the heat a bit and complementing the meal well.

A really nice effort. Equilibrium retails for around $23. Good first-bottle-of-the-night wine, especially if you're following the SPinC's advice above.


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