When Anthony Nappa, winemaker at Raphael and owner of Anthony Nappa Wines, released his label’s 2010 Bordo — the traditional Italian name for cabernet franc — it wasn’t the first unoaked cabernet franc in the local market.
There were already one or two others available, but none before had captured the essence of Long Island cabernet franc the way Bordo did and has since. The wine’s transparent purity is a direct reflection of when it’s picked and how Nappa handles it in the cellar.
Made in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Nappa has crafted Bordo across varied growing seasons and with fruit from different vineyards.
“I try to get the fruit very ripe without being overripe, but with naturally balanced chemistry so I don’t need to make any adjustments in the winery,” he said. “If the acid starts to fall and the pH is out of sorts, I’ll usually pick it. But of course this often has a lot to do with the weather and crop levels.”
Balanced chemistry is important to Nappa because Bordo isn’t just cabernet franc that has skipped the oak barrel-aging process.
“I don’t think the story of this wine is about the oak,” he said. “This wine is made completely hands off without ingredients, and oak is just an ingredient.”
Once the fruit comes into the winery, it is hand-sorted — often by a group of friends — and largely left alone. It ferments with only ambient yeasts; Nappa adds nothing else. No yeast nutrient. No tartaric acid. No tannins or enzymes. Nothing.
The result is a somewhat rustic, food-friendly red wine that has become beloved by local cabernet franc fanatics.
Nappa took his inspiration for the wine from Italian table wines.
“These wines are often drunk with food, in the hot summer months, out in the piazza, even slightly chilled, and seemed like they would be a perfect fit out here,” he said. “These wines are medium-bodied, unoaked, unmanipulated, acidic and food friendly. Deciding to make a wine in this style that would work locally came first. Then I decided that cabernet franc would be an appropriate fit.”
Before he moved to Long Island in the mid-2000s, Nappa had little experience making cabernet franc. He used that blank slate to develop his own point of view on how the varietal could best express the region’s terroir, based entirely on his own observations and experiences.
“Around the world, cabernet franc does not have a great reputation outside of being a blending grape,” he said. “This is due to the fact that when cabernet franc is made as a varietal it’s made like California cabernet sauvignon — overripe, high-alcohol, heavy oak and low acid.”
The result is a wine that isn’t too complex compared to cabernet sauvignon and merlot made in the same way, Nappa said.
“This method of treating cabernet franc like cabernet sauvignon is due to the ‘fear of green’ which has always been the mantra for cabernet sauvignon winemaking … The first step is getting over that fear and embracing the green [herbal flavor],” he said.
Bordo does that in the most savory and delicious ways. No one wants a wine dominated by asparagus or green bean aromas, but there is a difference between under-ripe character and an herbal-vegetal edge. Think of those as “good green” — something you’ll find in any well-made cabernet franc.
The key is to have ripe fruit, but never too ripe. It’s a delicate balance.
“I want ripe green flavors,” said Nappa. “Under-ripe (fruit) gives you more like cabernet sauvignon green — cut grass, eucalyptus, mint; whereas overripe cabernet franc gives you unbalanced chemistry.”
Picking time is important for two unrelated reasons — the chemistry and the flavors. The chemistry is vital to Nappa because it means he doesn’t have to add anything. As for flavor, he’s looking for a specific profile — something that can change quickly, even from week to week. That profile combines what he likes to call “garden herb” qualities, like sage, thyme, oregano and parsley, with ripe fruit flavors and balanced structure.
“These wines complement food perfectly, particularly Italian food, cured meats, pizza and pasta with red sauce — which can be hard to pair with,” he said.
Medium- to light-bodied with soft tannins and crunchy acidity, Anthony Nappa Wines 2014 Bordo expertly exemplifies the balance Nappa aims for. There is intense blackberry and black cherry character, but it’s also unapologetically savory and green, with black tea, tomato leaf and fresh summer herbs. The finish lingers nicely, with fruity-savory flavors in perfect equilibrium. Drink it at cellar temperature, or after a 15-minute visit to your refrigerator, with any herb-forward food you can think of.
Though not necessarily made to age, previous vintages of Bordo still taste great. This spring, Nappa will release a limited number of three-vintage vertical packs that include one bottle each of the 2010, 2012 and 2013 for $75, which will be available at The Winemaker Studio in Peconic. The 2014 is also available for $20, one of the great local red wine values.