The Story of Cabernet Franc: Flavors, Regions & Wines To Try

By | Wine Writer
Last Updated: February 5, 2023
Cabernet Franc: Flavors, Regions & Wines To Try • Winetraveler

Classics are classic for a reason. In the days of everything old being new again, we’re seeing more than our fair share of stories retold and remade. While classics might be revisiting our big screens, the wine world is where the reboot truly shines. As varietal names took hold in North America, this grape stood quietly and supportively in the dominant shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon. No longer. Say hello (again) to Cabernet Franc.

Big daddy Franc actually gave Cab Sauv its pedigree. DNA testing proved parental lineage in 1997 and it might be coincidence that Cabernet Franc has been moving to the forefront since, but perhaps not. We love championing the underdog. Not that Cab Franc is an underdog, considering it’s on record dating to the 18th century in Bordeaux and folklore has it in southwest France back in the 1600s. Deep roots, indeed.

The Flavors of Cabernet Franc

Referred to as the more elegant of the cabs, Franc ripens a wee bit earlier than its offspring and has been known to carry the lion’s share of blending when vintage doesn’t quite allow Cabernet Sauvignon to reach full ripeness. Underripe Cab Sauv can have similarities to ripe cab franc. It’s lighter bodied than Cabernet Sauvignon, leaning toward herbaceous and peppery (depending on the region), can have smoother / less tannins, and presents more gently fragrant. Plus it has good acid. Form, function, and flavor. It’s a vigorous vine, preferring chalky or sandy soils, and enjoys moderate climates but can reach rich depths with the right combination of hot days and cool nights.

In a blend (Bordeaux or Meritage), Cabernet Franc lends graceful and lifted aromatics to the bigger profiles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It can brighten dark corners, adding a smooth mouthfeel and mouth-watering acidity. Bones. Structure. Elegance. It’s the clarinet or oboe in an orchestra, sometimes the violin, all playing together.

Cabernet Franc Flavors and Tasting Notes in Varietal Wines and Blends

As a soloist, cab franc can absolutely shine. It’s a bit like hearing one of your favorite badass tunes played as an unplugged version: there’s a moment when you realize you’ve heard that song so often you know it inside and out but then BAM!, you’re taken to a new and exciting place with that one singular piece. For those of us of a certain age, that moment was hearing Nirvana play All Apologies unplugged on MTVAnd it was the first time we tasted a beautiful Cabernet Franc all by its magnificent self.

Whether part of a symphony or taking center stage, Cabernet Franc is part of a new renaissance in the wine community. It plays well with others but knows how to take the lead, can be understated and supportive of those around it, and will surprise you in the most delightful of ways. This is a grape representative of place, of people, and it will show you a window into its terroir like few others.

Where It Grows

It’s planted in many regions, but Cabernet Franc is noted for growing well in:

  • France: predominantly Bordeaux (classic right bank) and the Loire Valley (cooler climate, producing slightly higher acidity with moderate tannins)
  • Italy: northeast, also in Veneto and Tuscany (warmer climate and often part of the ‘Super Tuscan’ profile that’s more opulent than its cooler climate relatives)
  • United States: Washington (moderately cool climate with hot summers), Finger Lakes (cooler climate), California (warmer climate), and newer regions like Virginia, Colorado,
  • Canada: Ontario (cooler climate), British Columbia (cool climate with warm summers for acidity and flavor)
  • Australia: Victoria, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley
  • Becoming more popular in regions like South Africa, Chile, and New Zealand

RELATED: Learn About Canada’s British Columbia Wine Region

Cabernet Franc Regions To Taste

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: France. You know it, you love it, and you should be drinking the remarkably beautiful wines from classic houses in Saint-Émilion, Saumur-Champigny, and Chinon as often as you can.

United States


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