What is Cabernet Franc Wine?
“Cabernet Franc is the lighter, laid-back, hippy father of the yuppie Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s bright in personality, and soft in its embrace.” – Ashlee McRae
IN THIS GUIDE:
Cabernet Franc likely originated in Basque country – where Northern Spain and Southwestern France meet along the coast of the Bay of Biscay. It settled in the romantic Bordeaux region of France in the 17th century, where it met its perfect match, Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc started as neighbors but became wildly attracted to each other. Together they forged the most widely planted and recognized grape in the world — Cabernet Sauvignon. Around the time of this birth, an abbot named Breton took it upon himself to transport Cabernet Franc vines to the Loire Valley.
Historically, Cabernet Franc is used as a blending grape in Bordeaux in conjunction with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. As the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is only fitting that Cabernet Franc would act as a sort of safety net in Bordeaux, where the summers can be quite short. This particular grape ripens one to two weeks before Cabernet Sauvignon, almost always prompting an early harvest just in time to dodge the first freeze of winter. This is very different from many New World regions in California where summers are always longer and vintners need not worry about harvesting unripe Cabernet Sauvignon ahead of schedule because of winter frost.
The “Bordeaux Blend,” also dubbed a Claret in England is and will continue to be celebrated around the globe. These days, with the abundance of grape yields, Bordeaux grape blending is done more to adhere to tradition and less because of unripe or damaged Cabernet Sauvignon.
Where Cabernet Sauvignon leans towards tobacco, Cabernet Franc leads more towards earthiness and slate. Classic fruit notes are raspberry, black cherry, black currant, and mulberry. Secondary notes are typically violet, graphite, and green vegetables like bell pepper. Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley often have a distinctive dustiness to them. Cabernet Franc benefits from high acid and tannins, both of which allow it to evolve beautifully in the bottle.
Cabernet Franc blends pair well with grilled steaks and chops, Portobello mushrooms, green olives, pepper, rosemary, and mint. Lighter versions of 100% Cabernet Franc (look for a lighter pink color) will pair well with chicken, white fish, and quiche. Due to the acid levels, it can work beautifully with creamier dishes, like a mushroom stroganoff. And, try it with goat cheese for a classic Loire Valley pairing!
Summers in Bordeaux run around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) so it tends to thrive in more moderate climates. Cabernet Franc really reaches its full potential in the limestone soils of St. Emilion and Pomerol. It also thrives in the Loire Valley in Chinon, Bourgueil, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Anjou, and Saumur. There, wines tend to be 100% Cabernet Franc and are very worth checking out to experience varietally-correct flavors.
Similarly, winemakers in Washington, New York, Virginia, and New Zealand are bottling beautiful 100% Cabernet Franc wines because these vines withstand freezing temperatures better than Merlot and other grapes.
For aging Cabernet Franc, think of two things: acid and tannins. The most age-worthy tend to be from cooler climates where the grapes ripen just enough to maintain high levels of acidity. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc can age beautifully for years and many vintners age it in either neutral oak or stone, allowing the pure flavor of the fruit to come forth. Bordeaux blends are known to be very age-worthy as well, though since they’re such a mishmash we can’t credit Cabernet Franc on its own.
- Catherine & Pierre Breton, ‘Trinch!,’ Bourgueil, Touraine, Loire, France
- Domaine de la Noblaie, ‘Les Chiens-Chiens,’ Chinon, Touraine, Loire, France
- Jonata, ‘El Ama de Jonata,’ Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, Central Coast, California
- Ravines, Finger Lakes, New York
- El Enemigo, ‘Gran Enemigo,’ Gualtallary Single Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina
- Savage Grace, Copeland Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley, Washington
Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties
Written By Jamie Metzgar
Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she has recently landed in Northern California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.
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Raspberry, Cherry, Black Currant
Earth & Mineral Notes
Violet, Graphite (Pencil Shavings)
Green Vegetables, Morning Dew
Tannins Soft, Medium
Alcohol Moderate (13.5%)
Meat & Pork
Cabernet Franc blends pair well with grilled steaks and chops, Portobello mushrooms, green olives, pepper, rosemary, and mint. Lighter versions of 100% Cabernet Franc (look for a lighter pink color) will pair well with chicken, white fish, and quiche.