Cabernet Franc Wine Tasting Notes & Grape Variety Guide
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“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
The Essential Guide to Cabernet Franc Wine
- What Does Cabernet Franc Taste Like?
- The Origin of Cabernet Franc
- The Versatility of Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Franc Food Pairings
- Climate and Terroir for Cabernet Franc
- How is Cabernet Franc Aged?
What Does Cabernet Franc Taste Like?
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.
The Origin of Cabernet Franc
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.
The Versatility of Cabernet Franc
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.
Cabernet Franc Food Pairings
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!
Climate and Terroir for Cabernet Franc
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.
How is Cabernet Franc Aged?
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.
Current Key Wine Growing Regions for Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is a grape variety that has found a home in various parts of the world, each offering unique expressions of the grape due to their diverse terroirs and climates. Let’s delve deeper into the key growing regions where Cabernet Franc thrives:
Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley is considered the birthplace of Cabernet Franc, where it has been grown for centuries. The region is known for producing elegant and aromatic Cabernet Franc wines, particularly in appellations such as Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny. The cool climate of the Loire Valley allows the grape to ripen slowly, resulting in wines that are fresh, with bright acidity, medium tannins, and vibrant red fruit flavors accompanied by herbal and earthy notes.
In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc plays a secondary role, often blended with other grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to create the region’s famed red wines. The grape is particularly important in the appellations of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, where it contributes to the structure, elegance, and aromatic complexity of the wines. Château Cheval Blanc, one of the most iconic wineries in Bordeaux, is well-known for its high proportion of Cabernet Franc in its flagship wine.
In the US, Cabernet Franc has found success in various regions, including California, Washington, and Virginia. In California, it is often grown in Napa and Sonoma, where the warmer climate produces riper, fuller-bodied wines with dark fruit flavors, while still retaining the grape’s distinctive herbal notes. In Washington and Virginia, the cooler climates yield more restrained and elegant wines that are reminiscent of the Loire Valley style.
In Italy, Cabernet Franc is often grown in the northeastern regions, particularly Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto, where it is known as “Bordo” or “Cabernet Frank.” Italian Cabernet Franc wines tend to be medium to full-bodied, with ripe fruit flavors, balanced acidity, and moderate tannins. The grape is also used in “Super Tuscan” blends alongside other Bordeaux varieties.
Cabernet Franc has been gaining traction in South Africa, where it is primarily grown in the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions. South African Cabernet Franc wines often showcase a mix of old-world elegance and new-world fruitiness, with flavors ranging from red berries to blackcurrants, along with the grape’s characteristic herbal and earthy notes.
In Argentina, Cabernet Franc is primarily grown in Mendoza, where it benefits from high-altitude vineyards that provide cool nights and intense sunlight. This allows the grape to develop ripe fruit flavors while maintaining its natural acidity. Argentine Cabernet Franc wines are often full-bodied, with dark fruit flavors, firm tannins, and a touch of spiciness.
Cabernet Franc has found a unique niche in Canada, particularly in the Niagara Peninsula, where it is used to make both red and ice wines. Canadian Cabernet Franc red wines are often light to medium-bodied, with bright red fruit flavors, high acidity, and subtle earthy and herbal notes. As an ice wine, Cabernet Franc showcases concentrated flavors of red berries, honey, and tropical fruits, with a lively acidity that balances the wine’s sweetness.
Cabernet Franc Wines You Can Buy Online
- 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
More Notable Cabernet Franc Producers
Some notable Cabernet Franc producers have gained recognition for their exceptional wines, highlighting the grape’s versatility and distinctive characteristics.
In Bordeaux, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone stand out for their exquisite wines that blend Cabernet Franc with other Bordeaux varieties, resulting in elegant and complex expressions.
In the Loire Valley, Domaine Bernard Baudry and Domaine Charles Joguet are highly regarded for their commitment to showcasing the unique terroir and traditional winemaking techniques of the region, which translate into refined and aromatic Cabernet Franc wines.
Across the Atlantic, in Virginia, USA, Barboursville Vineyards and Linden Vineyards have emerged as key producers, demonstrating the grape’s adaptability to the New World’s diverse climates and terroirs. These wineries have helped to elevate the reputation of Cabernet Franc beyond its traditional strongholds and continue to contribute to the growing appreciation of this fascinating grape variety.
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.