Somewhere along the line, Cabernet, Cab, and all other forms of nickname somehow became synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon. But what about the other guy, the one that actually produced the monster that is Cabernet Sauvignon? You heard me. Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the product of an accidental breeding between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Fast forward to the present day and King Cab sits on the throne, almost always ranking high on American drinkers’ list of favorite grapes. And as Cabernet Sauvignon’s popularity rose, it seemed as if Cabernet Franc’s moved in the exact opposite direction.
Let’s take it back to the roots for a second — literally. Cabernet Franc is a lot like Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes sense, since they are related. Both grapes thrive in a variety of soils, for example. But they have differences, too. Cabernet Franc buds and ripens earlier than its big bad child, allowing it to thrive in cooler climate regions. And their skins are thinner than those of Cabernet Sauvignon.
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But Cabernet Franc is a no-brainer amongst wine lovers, even though it doesn’t get the love it deserves on the American market. This is for a few reasons. For starters, Cabernet Franc is an extremely versatile wine. It’s great year-round. A glass of Cab Franc can be as enjoyable on a cold, winter day as it is slightly chilled on a hot summer afternoon. The wine’s dominant flavor profile traits of earthy, vegetal, raspberries makes it excellent for food and wine pairings. It’s perfect for all kinds of dishes, like chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables. Beyond that, the grape produces such quaffable, easy-drinking wines that food isn’t even necessary to savor a bottle amongst friends. Simply put, Cab Franc’s light-medium body, bright acidity, and extremely balanced flavors make this wine a delicious treat.
This is all varietally speaking, of course. When it comes to blends, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. Let’s not forget that some of the greatest wines in the world come from the Left Bank of Bordeaux, where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns dominant in the blends and Cabernet Franc plays backup dancer. But over here in the New World, we’ve turned Cab Sauv into something else. More often than not, New World varietal Cab Sauvs are super hot and jammy, with alcohol oftentimes exceeding 15 percent ABV. These wines that could be refined and fuller bodied become flabby and excessive, huge fruit bombs too big for their own good. Again, there’s a time and place for that, like alongside a big juicy steak or with some dark chocolate on a cold winter night. But to sit and drink a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon on its own is most likely not the first option we’re going to reach for. Especially if Cab Franc is on the table.
I love Cabernet Sauvignon. Really, I do. From Bordeaux to South Africa, the grape shines in a variety of terroirs and winemaking styles. But when it comes down to it, varietally speaking, Cab Franc is my jam, mainly because that’s exactly not what I’m gonna get from a bottle of it.