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.
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 MTV. And 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
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.
- Finger Lakes, New York: Ravines Wine Cellars Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc
- Lake Chelan, Washington: Tildio Winery Estate Cabernet Franc
- Horse Heaven Hills, Washington: Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard (blend)
- California: explore beyond Napa, as those in the know will grow cab franc and grow it well
- Niagara, Ontario: Tawse Winery Cabernet Franc
- Niagara Peninsula, Ontario: Vineland Estates Winery Cabernet Franc
- Oliver, British Columbia: Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc, Cerqueira Vineyard
- Similkameen Valley, British Columbia: Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Franc
- Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia: Fairview Cellars Cabernet Franc