Cabernet Franc seems to be one of those grapes that yields several different wines depending on the winemaker and vineyard terroir. In the Loire Valley where it has its finest expression, the wine is noticeably lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, paler in color, and profiles as floral with pepper, tobacco, raspberry, cassis, violets and dark spices. Jancis Robinson says basically, Cabernet Sauvignon has it all over Cabernet Franc, especially with body, tannin, alcohol, and color. That said, she prefers Cabernet Franc for its acidity, finesse, silky texture, and "pencil shavings" aroma.
While those Loire Valley Cabernet Franc charmers are all of that and more, in America we are inundated with our west coast versions of European wines. My take on domestic Cabernet Franc would be that it's every bit the equal of Cabernet Sauvignon if not moreso with a masculine profile of ripe dark fruits, spices, and the old "violets and tar". These are wines for roasted red meats. While I have not tasted Cabernet Franc on a scale comparable to Cabernet Sauvignon, what I have tasted has come from northern California and Washington State, so Syrah may be in there too.
Bob Reynolds is my sales representative for the Atlanta distributor who has just purchased the rights to sell the Durigutti wines of Argentina. I have sold the Durigutti Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon for years and have them in the store at this time. I love them for their own dark fruit profiles so I was quite surprised when I asked Bob for his take on the Cabernet Franc which he was trying to place here now. After a thoughtful pause, he said, "fruity". We'll taste the wine this weekend at the Friday evening event and see what kind of descriptors others come up with. The Cab Franc, by the way, is what Bob settled for after I kept turning down the $50 and $100 Duriguttis he raved about and insisted I needed.
I suppose we shouldn't leave this subject without a mention of Bordeaux. Every one of the five red grapes of Bordeaux is blended with at least some of the others and Cabernet Franc is ranked as the third most important grape there after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Fifty years ago Cab Franc plantings equalled Cabernet Sauvignon but they declined over the years as much due to Merlot's emergent popularity as anything. Now Cab Franc is on the upswing again, especially in Pomerol and St. Emilion on the right bank where it's called "Bouchet". Cab Franc makes up 50% of many of those estate blends and profiles with blackberry, plums, cassis, herbs and spices. These examples pair well with all lighter red meats and poultry as well as vegetarian fare.
Meritage is the name we have given to American Bordeaux blends with Napa as its epicenter and it's in those wines that I have had most of my exposure to Cabernet Franc. Considering the distance between Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France and between Napa and Washington State here, it's at least interesting that the grapes are most often blended in the southern locale and offered up as varietals to the north in both cases. It's too much of a generalization I suppose, but because Cabernet Franc is an earlier ripening, cooler climate grape, that may shed some light on the reason for this post. Bob did sell me a case of the Durigutti Cabernet Franc and Mendoza, Argentina is nothing if not a high altitude, cool climate venue so maybe the Friday night opening of Durigutti Cabernet Franc will be...memorable!
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