What is Cabernet Franc Wine?
“Cabernet Franc is the lighter, laid-back, hippy father of the yuppie Cabernet Sauvignon. Its bright in personality, and soft in its embrace.” – Ashlee McRae
Cabernet Franc likely originated in Basque country – where Northern Spain and Southwestern France meet along the coast of the Bay of Biscay. It settled into the romantic Bordeaux region of France in the 17th century, where it met its perfect match, Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc started off as neighbors but became wildly attracted to each other. Together they forged the most widely planted and recognized grape in the world — Cabernet Sauvignon. Obviously I’m a hopeless romantic… but hey, the experts at UC Davis who used DNA testing say this is how it went down. It was around the time of this birth that an abbot named Breton took it upon himself to transport Cabernet Franc vines to the Loire Valley. Fun Fact: To this day, Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley is still called Breton — after the man who brought it.
Historically, Cabernet Franc is used as a blending grape in Bordeaux in conjunction with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. As the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is only fitting that Cabernet Franc would act as a sort of safety net in Bordeaux — where the summers can be quite short. This particular grape ripens one to two weeks before Cabernet Sauvignon, almost always prompting an early harvest just in time to dodge the first freeze of winter. This is very different from many New World regions in California. Summers are always longer and vintners need not worry about harvesting unripe Cabernet Sauvignon ahead of schedule because of winter frost… (partly why California Cabernet’s can get away with higher prices).
The “Bordeaux Blend,” also dubbed a Claret in England — is and will continue to be celebrated around the globe. Though these days, with the abundance of grape yields, Bordeaux grape blending is done more to adhere to tradition, and less because of unripe or damaged Cabernet Sauvignon.
Climate and Terrior for Cabernet Franc
Summers in Bordeaux run around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) which to me, a girl from South Texas is COLD! To some people though, this is a mild summer and this is where Cabernet Franc originated and thrives. Cabernet Franc really reaches its full potential in the limestone soils of St. Emilion and Pomerol.
Just because Cabernet Franc does a great job of rounding out those French blends, doesn’t mean it can’t make a killer wine all on its own. This is exactly what the winemakers of New World “cold” weather climates have begun to bank on. Washington, New York, Virginia, and New Zealand are bottling beautiful 100% Cabernet Franc wines because these vines withstand freezing temperatures better than Merlot and other grapes.
So what are Cabernet Franc’s tasting notes?
Common Flavors and Aromas:
- Fruit: Raspberry, Cherry, Black Currant
- Earth and Mineral Notes: Violet, Graphite (pencil shavings)
- Additional Complexities: Green Vegetables, Morning Dew
- Body: Light to Medium
- Sugar: Dry
- Tannin: Soft, Medium
- Acidity: Medium
- Alcohol: Moderate (13.5%)
- Soil: Limestone
- Climate: Cool
- Notable Regions: Bordeaux, France | Loire Valley, France | Washington State, USA | The Fingerlakes (USA) | Tuscany, Italy
**Also Important: Give this wine a slight chill before drinking. You won’t be disappointed.
Pairing Cabernet Franc with Food
Cabernet Franc blends pair well with grilled steaks and chops, Portobello mushrooms, green olives, pepper, rosemary, and mint. Lighter versions of 100% Cabernet Franc (look for a lighter pink color) will pair well with chicken, white fish, and quiche.