First things first, perhaps the most important thing to know is that Franc is not pronounced like the man’s name Frank. It is Fr-AH-nk, which sounds a little hoity-toity when you say, but that’s ok, because it’s a pretty badass grape.
Cabernet Franc is a grape varietal that, for the most part, flies under the radar of most wine drinkers. Once discovered though, it quickly becomes a favorite of both wine drinkers and winemakers alike.
Why is this? Perhaps because, until recently, the grape was most commonly known as a blending grape in Bordeaux, with only the Loire Valley in France, dedicated to single varietal wines. Over the past couple of decades, however, Cabernet Franc has become the star of the show in many wine regions across the globe, from California to Virginia, and Chile to Australia, the varietal is gaining fans who seek out the single varietal wine.
It is believed that Cabernet Franc originated in the Basque region, bordering Spain and France, but all credit for the grape goes to France. It is a well known fact that Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon – a natural cross of Sauvignon Blanc resulted in this very famous and beloved offspring. But no one ever gives Cabernet Franc credit as the parent of Merlot! Merlot’s momma is a much less known and rare variety – Magdelene Noire des Charentes, but perhaps this explains the brutal rivalry between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – they are half siblings!
France is the largest producer of Cabernet Franc, and if you are looking for a single varietal you want to head straight to the Loire Valley and look for wines labeled Chinon, Bourgueil, or Saumur-Champigny. You will also find white wines made from the Cabernet Franc grape here, as well as rose. The grape is referred to locally as Breton.
In Bordeaux, you will find Cabernet Franc having a larger role on the Right Bank, with some very famous wines – Cheval Blanc and Petrus come to mind – making Cabernet Franc the predominant player. You will also find it on the Left Bank, just in smaller percentages of the blend. Locals may refer to the grape as Bouchet here.
Want to know something that really surprised me? Italy is the second largest producer of Cabernet Franc! Tuscany produces not only single varietal options, but uses Cabernet Franc in Super Tuscan wines as well.
In the U.S., Cabernet Franc perhaps loves Virginia the most, but it also thrives in the Finger Lakes, Oregon, Washington, and California. There is Cabernet Franc growing right here in Georgia, a very warm climate to be sure, however, we have the Appalachian Mountains ending in the northern part of this state, and the mountains provide the microclimate need to produce beautiful wines. Shameless plug for the home team;) Canada makes ice wine from Cab Franc – that is definitely going on my list of wines to try.
Cabernet Franc, generally speaking, has a bit lighter profile than Cabernet Sauvignon. In it’s youth it is often fruit forward and fresh. Notes of violet and baking spices are often found, as is noticeable minerality. Old world, lighter styles can even be served slightly shilled in the summer. As Cabernet Franc ages, it can become very complex with earthy aromas and flavors taking center stage. Green pepper aromas (pyrazines) are often noted as a “tell” in a blind tasting.
Cabernet Franc is an amazing food wine, pairing with a large array of foods. Roasted meats, roasted vegetables, pasta, tomato based sauces, and some even say it pairs will with spicy food – I’ve yet to try that, but I did read a review of a wine from the Sierra Foothills that note roasted jalapeno in the tasting notes. I’m intrigued to say the least. Personally, I love soft stinky cheeses with Cabernet Franc (ok, that might be true of nearly any wine varietal for me, lol!).
As with all wine, as much as region and terroir factors in, so does production. The 4 I have lined up for #CabFrancDay could not be more different. Geek alert! I’ve got a Blanc in the line up – I believe the only white Cabernet Franc to be made outside of the Loire.
Stay tuned for articles on each of these wines coming soon. In the meantime, please join in on the socials today by following the hashtags #CabFrancDay and #morethanablendinggrape.
There will be Twitter chat this evening, Friday, December 4th, beginning at 8:00 p.m. (EST) and I’d love to see you there with a Cabernet Franc in hand. Cab Franc Day is founded by Lori Budd, owner of Dracaena Wines, and host of the award winning podcast Exploring the Wineglass.