December 4 is upon us and that means it’s Cabernet Franc Day! It’s not as widely known as some of the other varietal days such as Grenache Day or World Malbec Day, but has been gaining momentum. The day and the Cab Franc movement is driven primarily by the folks at Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles. Well cheers to them!
Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc) is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon and while Cab Sauv is king with many, I’ve always had a soft spot for the arguably “softer” red Cabernet. Often much more approachable early on, Cab Franc exhibits red fruits such as raspberry, plum, cranberry and sometimes has a herbaceous quality. The wines tend to be lower alcohol and lower tannin than Cab Sauv and offer nice acidity, especially in cooler climates in which it is grown due to its early ripening abilities.
Cab Franc is grown throughout the world and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to add vibrancy and floral notes to those Bordeaux blends that we all love so much. In Chinon, Anjou-Saumur, and Bourgueil in France’s Loire Valley, it is often produced as a fruity, high acid, easy-drinking varietal wine. These are the ultimate food wines. It is also grown in the U.S. and due to its cool climate tolerance, does quite well in Virginia and New York. And I can personally attest to the great Cab Franc in Virginia having tasted a few different ones on my recent trip (post coming soon!). On the west coast of the U.S. the grape is grown in Washington and California. Cab Franc also pops us in Croatia, Italy, and Hungary in Europe. With several choices in my cellar, here are a few that I’ve tasted recently that run the gamut from ripe fruit to high-acid austerity. And I love them all.
2013 La Varenne Chinon Tradition, Loire Valley, France ($20)
Comprised of 100% Cabernet Franc, this is a classic example from the region with minerally flint and limestone undertones accompanied by licorice, plum and earth. This is not a big fruit forward wine, rather a lean, light-bodied, elegant wine with lots of acid and waiting to be paired with lighter fare. You could even do seafood with this one. The Loire Valley is absolutely one of my favorite wine regions in the world as it’s wines tend to be perfect for pairing.
2014 Glen Manor Cabernet Franc, Shenandoah Valley, VA ($35)
I picked this up on the aforementioned trip to Virginia. Cab Franc is widely regarded as one of Virginia’s best red wines and the grape performs beautifully there. 2014 ended up being a pretty good vintage in Virginia and it shows in this wine. This 100% Cabernet Franc is full-bodied, bold yet elegant with lovely dark fruit characteristics. With grapes harvested by taste rather Brix, you’ll always end up with a wine with great fruit emphasis. Nicely integrated tannins and no green vegetal flavors to be found. Excellent representation of the best of VA Cab Franc.
2013 Darjean Jones Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley ($74)
Definitely on the pricey end in my Cab Franc collection, this one was actually a surprise. It was much more lean and reminded me of a wine from the Loire. Beautiful ruby red but actually not as deep intensity in color as I expect from Cab Franc. Tart red cherry jumps out of the glass along with a herbaceous tone in the background. Blackberry and cranberry as well as some damp earth and mushroom follow. Lots of complexity on this one and it’s high acidity makes it a natural for food pairing. I like it when a wine surprises me!
2014 Januik Cabernet Franc Weinbau Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, WA ($35)
Given my new love of all that is Washington Wine (check out my most recent visit here) I definitely had to include at least one WA Cab Franc. Promient black cherry, black plums, blueberry – delicious dark fruit all around – along with hint of floral herbaceousness and a kiss of oak. Bold, but smooth, manageable tannins make this one a stunner. Rich mouthfeel and a finish that goes on for a bit. Happy that I bought a few of these.
2015 Dracaena Cabernet Franc, Paso Robles, CA ($35)
As the folks that started this Cab Franc movement, you have to raise a glass with Dracaena’s Cab Franc. I finished off my 2014s (see last year’s Cab Franc report) and couldn’t resist a taste of the 2015 to see what it was like. Smooth, rich mouthfeel, which coats the tongue with rich plum, cocoa and opulent black cherry. There’s also a hint of smokiness. Soft tannins make this drinkable now but I think a little more time in the bottle will make it even better. There’s a reason I look forward to each year’s vinatge of this one.
Have any favorite Cab Francs? I would love to hear about them.