Cabernet Franc – The Quiet Parent

A recent tasting of Cabernet Franc from around the world got me thinking about the variety. It is one of my favorites. My first tasting experience with Cabernet Franc was with a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. It was medium bodied, had complex dark fruit flavors and spice with vegetal back notes. The tannins were significant. It was not a shy wine.

That flavor profile is imprinted upon my wine memory. It was for a while the center of my Cabernet Franc universe. Since that early tasting experience I have tasted Cabernet Franc from various parts of the world and found that, just as with any grape variety, place significantly influences the taste of the wine. Sometimes flavors are similar, sometimes not, which makes for interesting tasting!

If I am in the mood for that Cabernet Franc of my early wine memories, I look to a wine from a warmer climate. If I’m in the mood for a more delicate Cabernet Franc I look to the Loire Valley where the wines are mostly lighter in weight and tannins and the flavors more delicate.

Cabernet Franc of course is an important variety in Bordeaux where on the Right Bank it can be close to a major proportion of the blend, along with Merlot. On the Left Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon is the star, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc playing supporting roles.

Cabernet Franc ripens earlier than both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and in Bordeaux has been planted as a hedge against poor weather come harvest time. It also plays well with others, making a flavorful blending partner and softening Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz opened my eyes to the importance of Cabernet Franc in the wine world. I never thought much about the origin and parentage of wine grapes before referring to this comprehensive text, but I now  know that Cabernet Franc likely originated in the Basque country of Spain. The variety was brought to France where the most interesting part of the story took place.

Cabernet Franc is a parent of some very important and delicious grape varieties. Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc) is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most widely-planted varieties in the world. Cabernet Franc is also a parent of Carmenère. Merlot is the result of a natural cross of Cabernet Franc and an ancient variety (Magdeleine Noire des Charentes) found in Brittany. Impressive offspring, don’t you think?

Cabernet Franc also found a home in the Loire Valley where the variety is called Breton. It is grown in the areas of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur in the central portion of the Loire Valley. This part of the Loire Valley is more sunny, with less maritime influence than the western portion of the valley but its northern latitude means it is considered a cool-climate region.

As is usually the case with the wines we taste at Fine Wines of Stockton , the selection of Cabernet Franc that we tasted on a recent Thursday night was most interesting.

2012 Domaine de la Butte Le Pied de la Butte Bourgueil2012 Domaine de la Butte Le Pied de la Butte Bourgueiltransparent ruby-violet in the glass with aromas and flavors of blueberries and raspberries. Tart acidity, a light body and very smooth tannins make for a very delicate glass of wine. ABV 12%.

The transparent color in the glass makes me think of Pinot Noir. The delicate flavors would be a good match for salads or roasted chicken. It would be good on its own as well, to sip on a warm afternoon.

The 14 hectare Domaine de la Butte vineyard  has a prized south-facing orientation and limestone soils beneath clay and sand.  This bottling is selected from the lower slope of the vineyard (hence le pied in the name which means the foot), is vinified in stainless steel and intended to be drunk young.

2011 Raffault Les Galuches Chinon2011 Raffault Les Galuches Chinonmedium ruby in the glass with vegetal aromas of jalapeño and berries. Flavors include red cherry and blackberries with vegetal back notes. Moderate, but smooth tannins and juicy acidity combine to produce a light to medium-bodied wine. ABV 12.5%

The history of this producer goes back to 1693 with the purchase of vines in Chinon. 14 generations have worked the family vineyards. Les Galuches vineyard is located on alluvial soil that was originally Loire riverbed. The soil is sandy and rocky on top, with limestone beneath. The wine was barrel aged on the lees for 8 months.

Both of these wines are made in a lighter style, with a lighter color, lighter body and more delicate flavors that stood in contrast to the final four wines of the tasting.

2009 Carmel Winery Cabernet Franc Galilee2009 Carmel Winery Cabernet Franc Galileedark ruby color in the glass. Vegetal and ripe cherry aromas are obvious. Flavors of very ripe dark cherries and licorice combine with a unique coffee/cocoa flavor. Tannins are moderate, providing more texture and a chewy finish. The finish is a bit hot. ABV 14.5%

This is the first wine I have tasted from Israel and this winery has an interesting history. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Rothschild inherited Château Lafite in Bordeaux (along with brothers Alphonse and Gustave) upon his father’s death just three months after purchasing the château in 1868.

Carmel Winery owns four wineries in Israel, two of which have large underground cellars built by Rothschild in the 19th century. Vineyards are located in five regions in Israel.  Upper Galilee, in the Kadesh Valley is the origin of the Cabernet Franc in this wine. It is located in the northern portion of Israel south of Lebanon. This region is cooler, with some vineyard locations at 3200 feet above sea level. Soil types include gravelly, terra rossa, basalt, volcanic and limestone. This Cabernet Franc was aged in mostly used oak barrels for 10 months.  All Carmel Winery wines are Kosher.

2011 Conn Creek Cabernet Franc Napa Valley2011 Conn Creek Cabernet Franc Napa Valleydark ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit. Ripe cherries and sweet plum flavors combine with hints of vanilla in the background. This medium-bodied wine has moderate, somewhat drying tannins, good acidity and a moderate-length finish. ABV 14.5%.

Winery details for the 2011 vintage Cabernet Franc are unavailable. In prior vintages fruit has been sourced from a combination of Atlas Peak and St. Helena vineyard locations. Oak aging is the norm, and I taste it in the 2011 vintage as well.

2012 Upstream Cabernet Franc Lodi Appellation2012 Upstream Cabernet Franc Lodi Appellationmedium ruby in the glass. A subtle nose of cherries and a hint of celery is followed by dried cherry flavors, black tea and juicy acidity. Tannins are moderate and the finish is medium in length. ABV 13.5%.

Overall, this is a bit lighter style of Cabernet Franc showing mostly fruit flavors. Fruit is sourced from the Clements Hills AVA, located in the southeast portion of the Lodi Appellation.  The Upstream label, produced by Watts Winery in Lodi, is intended to appeal to a “younger palate”, according to tasting room staff.

2009 Hagafen Cabernet Franc Napa Valley2009 Hagafen Cabernet Franc Napa Valleymedium ruby-garnet in the glass. Dried cherry and plum aromas are obvious. Similar flavors of dried cherries and plums combine with grippy tannins and a juicy acidity. This wine has lots of texture and a bit more weight in the mouth. ABV 13.5%

Hagafen Cellars was founded in 1979 in Napa Valley, just south of Stags Leap District. It produces wines according to Jewish dietary law. Yes, they are Kosher, and this Cabernet Franc is delicious.

Quite a selection of Cabernet Franc. As expected, the Loire Valley wines were delicate and light, a reflection of the relatively cool climate in which they are grown. The California and Israeli wines are riper wines with a bit more weight and wood influence. All were enjoyable wines that would suit a variety of foods and occasions.

So, don’t forget about the quiet parent. Remember to look for Cabernet Franc as a varietal wine. You will likely not be disappointed. Cabernet Franc may be eclipsed by its offspring (Cabernet Sauvignon in particular) but it too is a star in its own way.


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