Red Wine Basics: Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc (Photo credit: Giant Ginkgo)
Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties and is among the top twenty most planted grape varieties in the world. It is not known, however, for producing a top varietal. When blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape truly shines. It is famously the third grape in Bordeaux and is used in many Bordeaux-style wines such as Meritage. (I will discuss Meritage in a future blog because I found it to be such an interesting subject.)

An Unripe Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Franc is generally outshone by its relative, Cabernet Sauvignon. A Cabernet Franc varietal may even be mistaken for an unripe Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly, the Cabernet Sauvignon variety is created from a cross of the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. In this case, the child has outdone its parent! Though Cabernet Franc is a component of some of the top wines in the world, its reputation is beneath that of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Aromas, Flavors and Serving
Though typically made for blending, some regions such as the Loire Valley in France produce varietals from Cabernet Franc. If grown in the right conditions, the grape variety can produce a more popular varietal such as Loire’s Chinon. Cabernet Franc varietals are known for having smooth tannins and aromas of spice and tobacco while exhibiting flavors of blueberry, raspberry and plum with delicate hints of pepper and violets. Cabernet Franc wine is typically medium-bodied with medium acidity and medium levels of tannins. Being on the lower end of the tannin spectrum as compared to many red wines, Cabernet Franc can make a light, fruity alternative to oft-heavy red wines. The grape is quite versatile though, and can produce a complex wine that will age nicely.

Production Regions
Cabernet Franc is most notably grown in France, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the US, though in many other places worldwide as well. It is now being used to make Ice Wine, which I will cover in a later blog. Ice Wine has been gaining popularity in Canada, which has a good climate for raising Cabernet Franc. The variety does well in cooler climates, and is sometimes used as an “insurance” grape because of its hardiness. While other crops may be damaged by inclement weather systems, this weather resistant grape provides some insurance against the failure of more vulnerable grape varieties.

Food Pairings
Popular food pairings include pizza, lasagna, poultry, green bell pepper and goat cheese. It is ideally served at 65 to 70 degrees. Serving it warmer will bring out the fruity side of the wine and also make it taste less dry. The wine can be served and enjoyed young, as a fruitier red wine nice for summer, or may be aged up to a decade to bring out more complex flavors.

Though often overshadowed by its relatives, Cabernet Franc holds its own as both a component of some of the world’s top blends and as a versatile and interesting varietal. This hardy grape is well received by some and ignored by others.  Are you a fan?

Join me next time for a discussion about Meritage. Cheers!

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Louise Bryant

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