Grape of the Week: Cabernet Franc


Continuing on with Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc isn’t the most common grape you’ll find on the shelves, but it’s out there. Perhaps its greatest role is as a fragrant voice in a choir of Bordeaux varieties. 

What to expect
Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon have so many similarities that, before the days of DNA fingerprinting, it was suspected that they must be related. Which turns out to be true.

TRIVIA! Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are the proud parents of the king of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon. Isn’t that odd?

However, Cabernet Franc is often described as the feminine version of Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead of massive weight, muscle and tannin you’ll find a kinder, gentler expression of black fruit with a lovely, kinda flirty fragrance – a bright bouquet of black currants, violets and fresh herbs.

When the winemaker chooses to include Cab Franc in a Bordeaux-style blend it’s usually to heighten fragrance – “bring up the nose” – and to round out the assertive tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The info’s a little sketchy. Most will say its origins are in Bordeaux, 17th century, but Jancis Robinson’s research says that Cardinal Richelieu may have taken it from the southwest of France to Bourgueil, in the Loire Valley, earlier. It’s still found all over the south of France. But the best-known source of varietal Cabernet Franc is the Loire Valley. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself enjoying lunch at a Paris bistro the house red is very likely to be a Loire Valley Chinon or Bourgueil – Cabernet Franc. France is still the largest grower for Cab Franc in the world, with about half of that planted in the Loire Valley. 

MORE TRIVIA! The famous Chateau Cheval Blanc, of St. Emilion (Bordeaux, right bank) is typically about 2/3 Cab Franc. Wines of the region are usually dominated by Merlot.

Warm climate/Cool climate
Varietal Cab Franc from sunny Napa Valley and other warm regions is fruit forward with just a hint of herbaceousness. If it feels “bigger” than cool-climate versions, it’s probably because the warm climate drives up the alcohol. From cool climates like the Loire or northern Italy the herbs come out of hiding and you’ll pick up more mineral notes, too. One of the reasons you’ll find so much Chinon, Bourgueil and other Loire Cab Franc sold as house wine is it’s light, not too tannic and has a bright acidity that clears your palate for the next bite.

Good Eats!
Good acidity and low tannins make this a very versatile variety at the table. Think birds and game birds; grilled steaky fish; lamb, pork, veal; medium hard to hard cheeses…

Weight: light to medium bodied; some Napa versions are medium/full

Flavor profile: aromatic, upfront fruit and herbs: Plum, berries, black currant, violets, bell pepper, fresh herbs, herbal tea

Pucker factor: moderate  

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