Wine Reviews: Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Francs

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-29-2021

I’m a big fan of Cabernet Franc. My palate tends toward those earthy, olive-laden, spicy and brisk iterations out of the Loire Valley, especially a well-aged one with some dusty tannins. But, living in Washington, DC, I’ve also spent many years browsing Cabernet Francs from Virginia and Maryland, too. There’s a of mediocrity out there, and some weird stuff for sure, but I’ve also found really delicious ones, which I will stand up for if I hear Mid-Atlantic wines disparaged.

California Cabernet Francs for me have been pretty hit-or-miss over the years. I have a handful of favorites, but I’m always looking for someone from somewhere to craft a wine that awakens that Cabernet Franc excitement in me. Well, I’m here to report a “hit” today: Ashes & Diamonds’ Cabernet Franc.

I recently tasted three vintages of this Napa producer’s Cabernet Franc, and have to say, they are fantastic. We’re talking structured tannins, vibrant acidity, moderate alcohol (around 13%), tangy fruit, and a bunch of earthy, savory, spicy tones to unpack. The wines have old-school Napa vibes, the kind of wines that leave freshness on the finish and beg for a big spread of food and a group of friends.

This project was founded by California native Kashy Khaledi, a media and advertising executive, in 2013. At the winemaking helm is renowned winemaker Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses, enologist at Domaine Dujac and winemaker at Snowden Vineyards. The several vineyard sources seem like truly special sites, from the gravelly, clay and loam soils of the Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard in Oak Knoll to the thin, rocky soils of the Mountain Peak Vineyard in the Atlas Peak appellation.

Using fruit from Carneros, Oak Knoll and Yountville districts, winemaker Steve Matthiasson has made something really special with these three wines. They will reward the patient in the cellar, and would be a delightful addition to any wine dinner with your Loire nerd friends.

I received these were as trade samples and tasted them single-blind.

2015 Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc No. 2 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
This is so wonderful on the nose: airy elements of tart cherries and red currants, with savory notes galore (tobacco, portobello mushrooms, black pepper, sage) along with tones of clay, rocky earth and graphite. On the palate, this is a vibrant and tangy wine, structured well tannin-wise, with nice grip, but rounded edges. The balance and freshness are fantastic and there’s lovely concentration of tart red and black cherry fruit. Such a racy and spicy wine with pepper, paprika, mushroom, soy and sage. There are these mineral, graphite and iron tones that add complexity. Lively, vibrant, with a lot of time ahead. This really is exceptional, and something I’d personally prefer to drink over so many Cabernet Sauvignons that cost quite a bit more. Includes 15% Merlot, aged 20 months in 25% new French oak. 13.5% alcohol. (95 points IJB)

2016 Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc No. 3 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
The nose shows deep cherries and tart plums, along with complex tones of campfire, scorched earth, tobacco, iron, pencil shavings. Deeper fruit than the ’15 but still so fresh and inviting. Velvety on the palate, structured but no harshness, tangy acidity, again, the balance is great. A compote of black cherry and plum fruit meets complex notes of iron, smashed rocks, tilled soil and pencil shavings. Complexities of violets, clay and black tea come out with time. Great depth and concentration, this could use at least two or three years and will reward the patient even more. Includes 20% Merlot, aged 20 months in 28% new French oak. 13.5% alcohol. (93 points IJB)

2017 Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc No. 4 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Beautiful aromas of red plums, red and black cherries, along with a host of interesting nuances: rich earth, iron, campfire, cigar box, along with some rosemary, oregano, hints of cedar. On the palates this gushes with ripe but tangy cherries, solid tannic backbone met with vibrant acidity. The fruit is laced with notes of roasted red peppers, clay pots, clove, earth – gorgeous. There are these black olives in brine with violets, potting soil, all sorts of stuff that gets more expressive with air. Gorgeous balance and texture, this is a long-ager for sure, but still exciting and delicious at this point. Aged 19 months in 30% new French oak. 13% alcohol. (94 points IJB)

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