Lori Budd and I have at least two things in common — a love of Cabernet Franc and the same “gateway” Cabernet Franc wine. For both of us, the Cabernet Franc that first grabbed our attention was made by William Harrison Vineyard and Winery in Napa Valley’s St. Helena. It’s a small wine world.
Lori and her husband, Mike, have gone on to do more than just enjoy a glass of Cabernet Franc now and then, which is more my style. They now make wine under their own label, Dracaena Wines. You will not be surprised to learn they make Cabernet Franc!
Not only do Lori and Mike make Cabernet Franc, they believe so much in the variety that Lori has single-handedly organized #CabFrancDay. Every year December 4 is the day for Cabernet Franc lovers around the world to celebrate the variety.
I am happy to participate in this year’s celebration and, thanks to Lori’s organizational skills, I have received four wines as tasting samples for the celebration. And thank you to every winery who participated by sending us sample wines.
When I confirmed my interest in participating in this year’s #CabFrancDay celebration, I had no idea how many Cab Franc wines I would receive, or where they would come from. As it turns out, I received two east coast wines and two west coast wines. A battle of the coasts, and wine styles, couldn’t be far behind.
2014 Beneduce Vineyards Cabernet Franc — nearly translucent ruby in the glass. Smoky, coffee aromas peek out from behind red fruit and dusty earth aromas. Flavors of dried cranberries and alfalfa hay are joined by a hint of vanilla and supported by smooth tannins. The body is on the light side of medium and finish is medium in length and juicy. 12.5% abv. $27.99
The color of this Cabernet Franc in the glass makes me think of Pinot Noir, but the aromatics say Cabernet Franc. I appreciate the lighter body and style of this wine and it would make a nice partner for roasted chicken or pork. It is a red wine I would consider drinking during the warm summer months, and because of the modest alcohol level I won’t feel so guilty enjoying a second glass.
Beneduce Vineyards is a family operation located on 51 acres in Pittstown, New Jersey. Approximately 16 acres are planted to a variety of white and red wine grapes including Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch. What an interesting list of grape varieties. The Cabernet Franc is sourced entirely from the estate vineyard.
2015 Whitecliff Vineyard Cabernet Franc — nearly translucent ruby in the glass with fruity cranberry and raspberry aromas that gain complexity with an interesting black pepper component. Tart raspberry and cranberry flavors with juicy acidity are supported by drying tannins. The body is on the light side of medium and the finish is at least medium in length. 12% abv. $25.95
This wine has the prettiest aromatics; I love the combination of red fruit and black pepper aromas. It is easy drinking, with bright fruit flavors and ample tannins.
Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery is situated in New York state’s Hudson Valley. Michael Migliore began experimenting with grape growing in 1975 and today the Migliore family have one of the largest vineyards in the Hudson Valley. Their vineyard is home to more than 20 varieties.
2015 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc — dense ruby in the glass with generous aromas of dark fruit compote, cocoa and dried tobacco. Cocoa remains in the flavor profile along with dark fruit and hints of alfalfa. Tannins are well integrated with the flavors and the finish is at least medium in length. 14.3% abv.
Mike and Lori source the grapes for their Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc from the Plummer Vineyard, located on the east side of Paso Robles. This 100% Cabernet Franc was aged for 20 months in French oak barrels and only 10% of the barrels were new oak.
The style changes with this Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles. It is richer flavored, has more body and is a warmer wine than the first two wines. This is a Cabernet Franc I would reach for when looking to pair a wine with pot roast, pork stew or turkey chili. A meaty pasta dish would be a delicious pairing.
2013 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper — dense ruby in the glass with dark fruit and dusty earth aromas. Ripe blackberry and plum flavors combine with dusty earth and hints of vanilla. The flavors are supported by ample, drying tannins and the finish is moderately long and warming. 14.9% abv.
We have moved squarely into the realm of winter red wines for my palate. This Cabernet Franc is richly flavored and medium bodied. Give me a glass of this wine on a cold evening, stoke the fire and I’ll reach for a good book. Or, you might pair it with braised short ribs or a grilled ribeye. This Cab Franc will disappear quickly.
I was fortunate to meet the Vinum Cellars winemaker, Richard Bruno, at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa. Naturally I quizzed Richard about the details of The Scrapper, which he was happy to share.
This wine is sourced from a Cabernet Franc vineyard in California’s El Dorado county that sits at an elevation of 1600 feet above sea level. The head-trained vineyard is planted in well-drained, red, volcanic soil and produces only 2 tons per acre. Richard lets the fruit hang until it reaches 27º Brix to assure no green flavors remain in the fruit.
El Dorado county is better know for Zinfandel than Cabernet Franc, which makes the variety the a bit of an underdog in the region. Richard and his wife, who designs the wine labels, took this into account with the label design. The image is of Gene Tunney from his 1926 Heavyweight Championship fight against Jack Dempsey. Tunney defeated the better-known heavyweight boxer, twice, so his image is particularly appropriate for this underdog variety.
The style of the last two Cabernet Francs is the style of Cabernet Franc I first learned to love. Those first few vintages of William Harrison wines from the late 1990s and early 2000s were dense and chewy, but still with a hint of herbaceous character. At least that’s how I remember them. It was the beginning of my love affair with Cabernet Franc.
I have not remained a faithful lover to that style, however. Over the past 10 years I have been introduced to Cabernet Franc grown in cooler climates, and my head has been turned. Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley is very appealing to me for its lighter body, spicy notes and red fruit flavors. This is the style of Cabernet Franc I reach for during the summer months. The first two wines in this group make me think of those wines.
In winter I’m more inclined to reach for a richer Cabernet Franc in the style of the last two in this group. They are a better match for the braised dishes and stews we enjoy during the cooler months. I’m happy to have a choice of styles to suit the season so I can enjoy my favorite variety year-round.
We will begin chatting about Cabernet Franc today, December 4, at 8 pm Eastern Time. Beginning at 9 pm, Eastern, we will start tasting Cab Franc and continue the conversation. Follow #CabFrancDay on Twitter to join the conversation.
Lori explains why we celebrate Cabernet Franc on December 4 on the Cab Franc Day website. For more details go to the CabFrancDay Facebook page and to Dracaena Wines. To learn more about Cabernet Franc and its history please read our 2016 Cabernet Franc Day article.