I’m Francophile…in this case, I’m referring to my love of Cabernet Franc, not my love of France. One of the five grapes allowed in Bordeaux’s world-class reds, this close relative of Cabernet Sauvignon adds rich notes of raspberries, black currants and violets to this benchmark area’s blended wines. Cabernet Franc is also less tannic and produces a smoother mouth-feel than Sauvignon---both of these essential to the complex red wines of Bordeaux. Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, is not just a Bordeaux grape. The varietal truly takes on rock-star status in another area of France, the Loire Valley. Here it is vinified as a 100% varietal wine and is known as Chinon, Saumur or Bourgueil.
Cabernet Franc, however, is not just the step-sister of Cabernet Sauvignon. It may surprise many of you to learn that Cabernet Franc is actually one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. DNA analysis shows that Cabernet Franc crossed in the vineyard with a neighboring Sauvignon Blanc plant and produced the off-spring we now call Cabernet Sauvignon. This cross is thought to have taken place in France.
Now one of the world’s 20 most planted grapes, Cabernet Franc is grown outside of France in many wine districts around the globe. In addition to Europe, Cabernet Franc is grown in the USA, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. When I was last in South America, both Chile and Argentina were growing the grape. A young, cutting-edge Chilean producer (Maquis) was working closely with one of Bordeaux’s premier wine consultants and producing a killer 100% Cabernet Franc he aptly named “Franco.” Argentine winemakers are also working with the grape but mainly as a blending variety.
What I love most about Cabernet Franc is its approachability at a young age. Because of its lower tannin structure, it can be drunk much earlier than a Cabernet Sauvignon. Moreover, I love its structure---especially this time of year when a lighter-weight (but equally compelling) red works better with the summer heat. Last but not least, I’m a fan both of the grape’s flavor profile and texture.
Cheval Blanc, one of Bordeaux’s most highly esteemed estates, produces one of the world’s most expensive wines----it is 100% Cabernet Franc. Need I say more? If you don’t know Cabernet Franc you should make it a point to exercise this muscle. Recommended producers, listed in order of price, include:
- Bernard Baudry La Croix Bausee Chinon (Loire) $35
- Spring Valley Winery (Washington) “Katherine” $50
- Pride Mountain (California) $50
- Los Maquis’ Franco (Chile) $60
Coming to Bordeaux with us for the 2016 Harvest tour? You will learn a lot about what Cabernet Franc adds to the area's hallmark wines. There is only one spot remaining for some lucky oenophile. For more about this trip, check out