Decanted… | Filmmaker turned Wine Maker: Francis Coppola Black Label Claret

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The award season is upon us. Sunday evenings have been an opportunity to watch as Hollywood recognizes its greatest talent and the perfect occasion to honor one of the most influential film directors of all time: the widely acclaimed Francis Ford Coppola.

Coppola may be best known for the revolutionary movie, The Godfather---released in 1972---but his unconventional ideas in general challenged and forever changed the contemporary filmmaking industry. Soon after his Godfather legacy began, Coppola had quite an impact on the California wine industry as well.

In 1975, Coppola sought out a vacation home in Napa Valley for downtime with the family and a little homemade winemaking. The property they purchased holds the Niebaum Mansion, on the famed Inglenook Estate. At the time, Coppola was unsure of his plans for the estate. It is rumored that when Coppola first purchased the property, he invited renowned winemaker, Robert Mondavi, and his wife over to dinner.  As the evening with the Mondavis wound down, he, along with his guests, made their way into the wine cellar only to discover some original bottles of Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon (the exact vintage is unknown, but it was very old).

Curiosity led them to open the bottle and have a drink. Mondavi was astoundingly impressed at how good it was and told Coppola that he had to continue making wine on the property.

By 1977, with the help of his father, wife, and children stomping the grapes with their bare feet—a time honored tradition I can only imagine having the pleasure in which to take part—the winery produced its first vintage.

Coppola spared no expense during the restoration of the Napa property, and while I’ve never had the opportunity to visit, I am told it is absolutely magnificent. It was originally named Rubicon. Unfortunately, the Inglenook namesake had already been taken (and used on a cheap wine). It wasn’t until 2011 that Coppola purchased the name back and restored it to the original estate and the wine he created there.

The wine up for discussion today—Black Label Claret—is from Coppola’s Sonoma County estate, which is apparently equally breathtaking. The property was more recently acquired and has been described as being one of the most spectacular wineries in all of California.

The Francis Coppola Black Label Claret is likely their most popular wine. Claret is a semi-generic term developed by the British for red wines brought back from the Bordeaux region of France. The name is the mispronunciation of the French word “clairet”—a wine usually described as full-bodied and dark pink. It is likely that the British started using the word just to upset and irritate the French.

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There are no standards that define claret. Coppola’s claret is primarily a Cabernet Sauvignon, but includes other varietals as well—Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The style replicates the original wine Coppola and Mondavi discovered in the cellars many years ago, and the label and the gold netting are intended to honor that wine and its maker, Gustav Niebaum. This particular vintage has been thought of as a show-stopper because of the near-perfect weather conditions in which it grew that allowed for a very selective harvest.

The heritage of this claret was what initially drew me to love this wine. Every bottle has a bit of history wrapped up inside and I was so pleased to find that the flavors within were just as beautiful as the tale this particular bottle had to tell.

The fruit flavors are very rich, yet balanced. I picked up on wild berry and plum notes. The body of this wine is quite smooth and luscious. Tannins and hints of oak from the aging are present, but they don’t overpower my palate or distract from the wine’s essence.

The Black Label Claret is a true gem from start to finish. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say, with the exception of the very large hole in the top of my glass...

After having the opportunity to experience it, I would suggest this wine for a variety of wine drinkers. From the driest of drinkers to those who enjoy something on the lighter side, the Francis Coppola Black Label Claret will rarely disappoint. Its profile is truly appealing and its value far exceeds its price.

Make this wine a must-have on your list and pick up a copy of The Godfather to go along with it. I promise; you won’t regret it. Salut!

Vintner: Francis Coppola

Name: Black Label Claret

Vintage (year): 2009

Location: Sonoma County

Description: Medium Bodied Red

Alcohol: 13.5%

Where to get it / How Much You Will Pay:  Cap n Cork: $15.99*, Belmont Beverage: $12.99*

*These prices are not guaranteed and are subject to change