where it's grown
Cabernet Franc's home is Bordeaux, where it's also called Bouchy and where at some point it mated with Sauvignon Blanc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. There, Cabernet Franc is generally used as a blending grape (Cheval Blanc, one of the world's most prestigious wines, is a notable exception). In the wines of St-Emilion, Pomerol, and around, it replaces Cabernet Sauvignon as it's a more reliable ripener, giving aromas of red fruits, tannins, and pencil shavings to contrast Merlot's lush fruit. It's these wines that producers around the world try to emulate, rather than the more difficult, green wines of the Loire.
Under the instructions of Cardinal Richelieu in the seventeenth century, the variety was planted in the Loire (by an Abbé Breton, which is still a local synonym). It's grown in Anjou-Saumur and Touraine to make rosés, sparkling wines, and reds. The best rosés are Cabernet d'Anjou, medium sweet but with high acidity. Cabernet Franc is one of the grapes allowed in Crémant de Loire and is the main grape for Saumur's pink sparkling wines - again, the grape's naturally high acidity in the cool climate proves ideal.
|cellars dug out of tuffeau|
Domaine du Bel Air Clos Nouveau Bourgueil 2009 ($40)A very good example of Cabernet Franc as it matures, with a pleasingly dirty nose of game, leather, mushrooms, figs, and prunes. The wine is still fresh, however, with strawberries and firm, gripping tannins. ✪✪✪✪✪
Russiz Superiore Collio 2012 ($30)French grapes are grown throughout northern Italy; Cabernet Franc is grown in Fruili near the Slovenian border where the wines, with cooling breezes from the Adriatic and the Alps, resemble the Loire. This wine is a good example of Cabernet Franc, but certainly exaggerates its green, underripe qualities. It's perfumed, floral, with red fruits (cranberry, redcurrant), and soft but gripping tannins. ✪✪✪✪
Pulenta Gran Cabernet Franc Mendoza (Luján de Cuyo) 2011 ($42)From the heights of Luján de Cuyo (around 1,000m above sea level), this may be the greenest red wine I have ever tasted, and gives a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc a run for its money in its vegetal aromas: green beans, peas, and asparagus are aromas I generally associate with Sauvignon Blanc. Tasting a wine like this, it's no wonder that the two grapes got it on. The wine is like a cooked vegetable salad, not something I'm entirely sure I want in a wine. ✪✪✪
Lang & Reed Two-Fourteen Napa Valley 2012 ($48)Once again, the most expensive wine on the list is from a Napa producer. It's a very well made wine: red fruit, floral, perfumed, and herbaceous. On the palate, there are firm, gripping tannins, rich and luscious. Very Napa. ✪✪✪✪
Easton Monarch Mine Vineyard Sierra Foothills 2012 ($23)Cabernet Franc certainly encourages the winemaker to do their own thing. I really like the potential of Sierra Foothills, which is three hours' drive inland from Napa, as it has the altitude to create a cool enough climate in an otherwise very hot region. With winemakers' hippy-laden tendencies, it's also far removed from Napa. This wine goes a bit too far though, with a stinky nose of caramel and sweet coffee, followed by a palate of smoke, coffee, and caramel. ✪✪✪
Savage Grace Cabernet Franc Rattlesnake Hills 2014 ($22)From Washington, a wine that has a Beaujolais feel that's also characteristic of Chinon: a green bubblegum nose that gives way to herbaceous aromas, with sweet spices, firm but light tannins, bananas and rhubarbs, and red fruits (strawberries, raspberries). It's almost like a white, red, and rosé combined. Deliberately underripe, young, and very Cabernet Franc: this may just get better in the bottle. Astonishing that this is 2014, a vintage only just passed. ✪✪✪✪✪✪
Owen Roe Rosa Mystica 2010 ($32)A very different expression of Washington Cabernet Franc: richer, oakier, fruitier, and riper. This could feel too full, but the tannins are soft and forgiving and the acidity lifts the wine. ✪✪✪✪✪
Hermanuspietersfontein Swartskaap 2010 ($25)With a name like that, this wine can only be South African. The winery is located in the cool coastal climate of Walker Bay. This proximity to the ocean produces a serious wine with drying tannins and restrained red fruits without being too green. ✪✪✪✪✪
One thing these wines have in common is price: all between $20 and $50, they represent good value for money. Many of them also demonstrate Cabernet Franc's green, herbaceous character, although not all of them do so successfully by integrating it with the red fruits and firm tannins. Perhaps this is why Cabernet Franc has generally formed part of blends - it takes real mastery of the grape to make balanced, high quality single-varietal versions. However, when the winemaker has that mastery, individual wines expressive of their place result.