Cabernet Franc, the quiet parent grape of flashy Cabernet Sauvignon, plummy Merlot, and tannic Carménère, deserves far more attention than it gets, especially during the holiday season when wine recommendations reach a fever pitch. Not only does Cabernet Franc create wines of exceptional character, but it matches beautifully with fall comfort food, and will never, ever break the bank — something most reds can’t claim. Read on for the top three reasons Cabernet Franc shouldn’t be overlooked this fall.
Cabernet Franc Is More Than A Blending Grape
Cab Franc is the people’s grape. While it’s most famous as part of the iconic Bordeaux and Meritage blends, where it brings peppery, earthy aromas and complexity, Cabernet Franc excels when bottled on its own.
Instead of simply contributing a little flavor, varietal-bottled Cabernet Francs flaunt aromas of green pepper, forest floor and flowers all backed up by tasty black fruit flavors like plum and cassis. It’s most famously from France’s Loire Valley, where Cab Franc is grown and vinified as a single variety and bottled under the regional names Chinon and Bourgeuil. These wines are light in color and flirty on the nose, but pack a flavorful punch and real tannins. In the New World, Cab Franc thrives in California, Chile, and New York, where its earthiness takes a back seat to striking fruit flavors like wild blackberry jam, black cherry and ripe strawberry.
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In essence, Cab Franc already has the best qualities of heftier reds — rich fruit flavor, good body — without being hugely heavy or over the top.
Cab Franc Has Tannins For Days
Tannins are addicting in the same way as Sriracha — the astringent, puckery sensation they create across the palate can be intense, but in a crave-worthy way, especially because they double as a palate cleanser.
Tannins come from grape seeds and stems, and Cabernet Franc is a medium-skinned grape and, as a result, presents medium tannins in wines. For spice lovers, Cab Franc is like Sriracha aioli — bold enough for heat addicts but restrained and elegant enough for mere mortals. On the table, this makes Cab Franc easy to enjoy solo or with food, unlike full-bodied and tannic reds like Petite Sirah that demand a hearty meal alongside them.
The oak-aging treatment that’s standard for Cabernet Franc, usually at least six months, contributes additional tannin to these reds, a trick that adds even more spice and balance to Cabernet Franc wines.
Cabernet Franc Can Age
Natural tannins coupled with oak aging give Cab Franc the structure a wine needs to age and develop over time. Like strong core muscles, these traits help a wine stand tall and develop with time instead of slumping over into sour, vinegar territory.
While most bottles are meant to be drunk in the five-year range, many can last upwards of two decades. The fuss around old wines is worth it — those years turn Cabernet Franc from flirtatious and fruity with a hint of spice, to complex and earthy, with tons of secondary aromas like wet dirt, leather, dried fruit and nuts.
Can you afford 20-year-old Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or aged Bordeaux? Me neither. But we can both get the best Cabernet Francs from France and the United States for a fraction of the cost. In Napa, Crocker & Starr has been making exquisite Cabernet Franc-based wines, and back vintages go for $50. That might sound expensive, but Napa wines often top $200 at their release and skyrocket to impossible prices as time goes on. Olga Raffault, arguably the best known producer in Chinon, sells back vintage wines for upwards of $30, making it truly possible for everyday drinkers to experience and enjoy aged wines.
Next time you’re looking for a new wine experience, or just the ideal bottle for a dinner party, reach for Cabernet Franc instead of the old Cab Sauv standby. Quite simply, Cabernet Franc is the friend you haven’t met yet, and other reds will be there if you ever decide to go back.