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Cabernet Franc (“Cab-err-nay fronk”) is medium-bodied red wine that in the Basque country of France. The wine is loved for its savory, bell pepper-like flavors, medium-high acidity and mouthwatering taste. It is an ideal food pairing wine. You can find single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines, but the variety is also quite popular as blending grape in the famous Bordeaux Blend.
See more flavor characteristics of Cab. Franc on page 106 of Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine
Medium-bodied wines like Cabernet Franc can pair with a wide variety of foods due to their natural high acidity and slightly reduced tannin (the astringent quality in red wine). Higher acidity makes it possible to pair with tomato based dishes, vinegar-based sauces (smoky BBQ anyone?) or rich veggies like black beluga lentils. If you learn only tip about pairing Cabernet Franc it is to match it with real herbs in your dish.
The best way to learn this wine is to taste it from several different regions. Here are some tasting notes on a few regional Cabernet Franc wines to start exploring.
France is the largest producer of Cabernet Franc and it is commonly used as a blending grape in the famous “Right Bank” Bordeaux blend (the finest “Right Bank” wines are usually a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Fortunately, there is also a French wine region that specializes in Cabernet Franc as a single-varietal wine: Loire Valley. There are 2 very important appellations with the Loire to remember for Cabernet Franc and they are Chinon and Bourgueil.
A great example of Chinon will smell of roasted red pepper, raspberry sauce, jalapeño, sweet raspberry compote and wet gravel. On the palate you’ll taste moderately high acidity and moderately low tannin with flavors of sour cherry, smoky tomato, dried oregano and sweet pepper. The taste will burst through your palate and drop out quickly with a subtle tingle from the acidity.
Seek out a French Cabernet Franc with a few years of age (perhaps 5–7 years). This gives the wine enough time in bottle to smooth out the spicy acidity and develop some really lovely smoky flavors and a dried fruit finish. Expect to spend about $15–$18 for a decent bottle.
Italy is the second largest producer of Cabernet Franc. Much of it is made in Friuli-Venezia Giulia but perhaps the most well-known Italian Cabernet Franc wines come from Tuscany. Since Cabernet Franc is not indigenous to Italy and declassified out of the Italian DOCG system these wines are lovingly referred to as “Super Tuscans.”
A great example of a “Super Tuscan” Cabernet Franc will have ripe and rich aromas of black cherry, blackberry, cocoa, red pepper flakes and a hint of chalky dry gravel and leather. On the palate there will be boldness from elevated alcohol with mocha, cinnamon, and plum flavors complimented by medium-high acidity and moderately high tannin. It’s common to find Cabernet Franc from Tuscany aged in French oak for additional body and richness.
This wine is highly appreciated and because of this, you’ll find the prices to easily jump of up $50–$80 a bottle. The regions within Tuscany that have been receiving the most notoriety for Cabernet Franc wines have been found within the province of Livorno (including Bolgheri and Suvereto).
There is Cabernet Franc growing throughout California, but few regions champion it as a single-varietial wine. Enter the Sierra Foothills. This off-the-radar region in the foothills to the Sierra Nevada Mountains typically produces an opulent, fruit-forward style of Cabernet Franc.
A great examples of Sierra Foothills Cabernet Franc will have bold aromas of sweet strawberries, raspberry, mint and roasted jalapeño. On the palate you’ll taste bold fruit from elevated alcohol and flavors of chocolate and baking spices from oak-aging.
This wine is best enjoyed within the first first years of release and is usually offered at a bargain from just $10–$15 a bottle.
Only recently has Chile started to offer single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines. Before, the wines had always been blended into Chile’s ubiquitous Bordeaux-style blend. Chile itself is quite hot and sunny, but due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, the region maintains freshness with acidity and elegance in their wines similar to cool-climate areas. Still, in the Colchagua Valley (located in the Central Valley of Chile), you’ll find a riper style of Cabernet Franc.
A great example of Colchagua Chilean Cabernet Franc will have bolder aromas of black cherry, chocolate and green peppercorn aromas. The taste will burst with acidity and juicy berry fruit that is smoothed with baking spice-like flavors from wines being aged in oak. Tannins are usually moderately high and finish out the wine along with a touch of vanilla from oak-aging.
Look for wines from Colchagua and Maule Valley for richer and riper flavors, and leaner and more elegant styles can be found in Cachapoal or Casablanca Valley. Expect to spend anywhere from $18–28 for a great example.