Cabernet Franc. Seductive and Sexy.
Wine can be such a visceral experience. Sometimes I get a little flush in the cheeks, when I’ve had a wine that’s so delicious, it becomes slightly arousing. I first encountered this at A Cote restaurant in Oakland, where I was introduced to the seductive Brundlmayer sparkling rosé. Pink complexion, dancing bubbles, attractive yet introverted fruit, and a finish that lasted for days! Cabernet Franc, more often than not has a similar effect on my psyche. It smells of sophistication with its black cherry fruit, herbal notes, and intermingled roasted pepper earthiness. Add in a touch of French oak for a subtle baking spice finish, and it may be hard for you to concentrate on dinner conversation.
So, what kind of terrior brings out the best in Cabernet Franc? Limestone and gravel are key, like with the “Right Bank” appellations of Saint Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux. These nutrient poor soils prevent vines from focusing energy on canopy and leaves. Instead, all of the energy is focused on producing fruit. These “Right Bank” appellations usually blend equal amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, so they tend to be richer, and have a weightier mouthfeel. Bordeaux is no stranger to hot summers, where daytime temperatures in the nineties bring out fruit and depth in wine. I love these wines with braised lamb shanks. The earthiness of the lamb really brings out the fruit of the wine in a beautiful way. Fat in animal protein really goes well with acidity in wine, and “Right Bank” Bordeaux wines are the perfect pairing.
The Loire, perhaps my favorite style, focuses on Cabernet Franc as its sole varietal to create a nose of violets, roses, cranberry, tart cherry-like fruit, and vibrant acidity on the palate. The appellations of Chinon, and Bourgueil float my boat. The tuffeau limestone soil in the vineyard brings out a complex minerality on the nose to balance out the fruit. Loire is where “Cab Franc” first became popular in the 1600’s, probably because it had the finesse of Chopin’s “Nocturnes”, the seductiveness of Bettie Page, and the silky smooth texture of a red velvet dress. Who doesn’t want to taste that!? These wines are perfect for the fall, too. Think Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, roasted root veggies, and a pan gravy.
Of late, California has taken the ball and run with it. Using “Right Bank” Bordeaux and the Loire as their reference, California winemakers are producing delicious Cabernet Franc wines. The key is to not overcrop Cabernet Franc, though. It is especially susceptible to green bell pepper and vegetal flavors, when the vines are allowed to produce too much fruit. California is still in the infant stages of figuring out how to balance volume (tons per acre) with quality, and Cabernet Franc will certainly let you know about it! That roasted pepper on the nose and palate needs to be in balance with the fruit, acid, oak, and texture. When we find that balance, it is pure magic in a glass.
Check these Cabernet Francs out:
- La Petite Chopinere Cab Franc 2012, Bourgueil, France
- Dom Beausejour Cab Franc 2014, Chinon, France
- Zepaltas Cabernet Franc 2014, Pickberry vineyard, Sonoma Valley
- Truchard Cabernet Franc 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley
- Keenan Cabernet Franc 2012, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
- Chateau La Croix Chantecaille Cabernet Franc / Merlot 2012, Saint Émilion, Grand Cru, France
- Overture By Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc / Merlot NV, Oakville, Napa Valley
We can never know everything about wine. Let’s keep learning.