In Celebration of Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc
By Viala et Vermorel (Ampélographie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today’s the day. December 4. Cab Franc Day. Also known as #CabFrancDay on Twitter. The day officially designated to celebrate the grape variety Cabernet Franc. Why celebrate Cabernet Franc on December 4th? Because it is the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Richelieu, an important figure in the history of Cabernet Franc, as you will discover below. Here is the story of the beginning of Cab Franc Day. Thanks Lori for the brilliant idea!

This versatile grape variety is grown in many wine regions around the world and, although it is mainly used as a blending grape (in Bordeaux and beyond), it is capable of producing varietal wines in many styles. Cabernet Franc is probably best known as a varietal wine in the Loire Valley.

You may already be familiar with the delicious variety and if so you need no excuse to enjoy a glass of Cabernet Franc. If you’re not familiar with Cabernet Franc then allow me to introduce you.

Cabernet Franc’s Children Tell Their Parent’s Tale

My favorite source of information about the parentage and history of grape varieties is Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz. Using a combination of historic texts and modern DNA analysis the authors uncover as accurate a picture of a grape variety’s history as possible. That family portrait can be a difficult one to paint. Here is a quick sketch of Cabernet Franc’s history:

  • Cabernet Franc probably originated in Basque Country in northern Spain. DNA analysis indicates a parent-offspring relationship with two ancient cultivated varieties in the region (Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza).
  • Religious pilgrims traveling to and from Santiago de Compostela passed through this region on their journey. Perhaps vine cuttings traveled home with them to France and beyond.
  • In Bordeaux Cabernet Franc, along with Sauvignon Blanc, became the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Also in Bordeaux, Carmenère resulted from the natural cross between Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet.
  • DNA evidence has verified the ancient Breton variety Magdeleine Noire des Charentes is the parent of Merlot along with Cabernet Franc. This puts Cabernet Franc in the neighborhood – if only passing through. It may explain why the variety is called Breton in the Loire Valley and likewise indicate that Cabernet Franc came to the Loire from Brittany.
  • For an alternate explanation as to why Cabernet Franc is called Breton in the Loire Valley we look to Cardinal Richelieu who, in 1631, sent cuttings of the Bordeaux variety to an abbot named Breton at Abbaye de St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Breton planted vineyards, the variety thrived and came to be called Plant de l’Abbé Breton. Breton for short.

Cabernet Franc in the Vineyard and in the Glass

  • Cabernet Franc is a red grape variety that buds earlier and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Because of these characteristics it is planted as a hedge against poor weather conditions near harvest in the Médoc and Graves regions of Bordeaux.
  • Cabernet Franc is more able to fully ripen in cooler climates than Cabernet Sauvignon and it is more widely planted in the cooler, inland Bordeaux regions of St-Émilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac than Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • It is also widely planted in the north of France in the Loire Valley regions of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny. Similarly, it has found a home beyond France in cooler, northeast regions of Italy such as Friuli and Veneto.
  • Cabernet Franc is planted around the world as well. California, New York State, Virginia, Washington State and Canada all have plantings of the variety in North America although acreage is not large. Also, look to Chile, South Africa, Spain and Argentina for Cabernet Franc.
  • Cabernet Franc has been used as a blending grape in Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère, Malbec and Petit Verdot for hundreds of years. It tends to be less tannic, have less acidity and be more aromatic than Cabernet Sauvignon so it can help round out a Cabernet-based wine.
  • As a varietal wine, Cabernet Franc is capable of producing a wine that is lighter colored, lighter bodied and more aromatic than Cabernet Sauvignon. It can have herbaceous or vegetal aromas and flavors when grown in a cool climate. When Cabernet Franc is grown in a warmer region the flavors are riper, denser and the wine can be a bit more weighty.
Cabernet Franc Wines
A Celebration of Cabernet Franc

We are celebrating Cab Franc Day later today by participating in an online tasting of six Cabernet Franc wines we received as tasting samples. We will gather with a group of winemakers and bloggers on Twitter to talk all things Cabernet Franc later today, Sunday, December 4 beginning at 5 pm Pacific Time. Follow the hashtag #CabFrancDay to join the conversation. The online tasting was organized by Lori Hoyt Budd, lover and maker of Cabernet Franc, of Dracaena Wines and founder of Cab Franc Day.

Following the online tasting we will publish our tasting notes here.



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