Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is a very old variety believed to have origins in South West France. It is the overlooked parent (along with Sauvignon Blanc) of Cabernet Sauvignon, and is used quite often in Bordeaux blends. It is, along with Merlot, the dominant grape of St. Emilion, on the right bank of Bordeaux, and produces one of the best wines in the world here – Chateau Cheval Blanc.

Cabernet Franc grapes are thinner-skinned, earlier-ripening, and higher in acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines are winter-hearty and moderately productive, but are susceptible to spring frosts. Vineyards in climates where rain is a harvest-time threat, for example, Bordeaux, often plant this grape as a back up for Cabernet Sauvignon.

Fruitier and sometimes more herbal or vegetative than Cabernet Sauvignon, the wines are also lighter in both color and tannins. Underripe versions have strong vegetative characters. Fully ripe versions are imbued with currant, cherry, strawberry, leafy, and tobacco notes along with the classic pencil-shavings/graphite note. In warm and sunny climates, the grape ripens enough to lose its telltale herbaceous character and becomes more fruit forward with an emphasis on cherry.

This varietal is widely planted in France’s Loire Valley (known as Breton here), where it is the base of Chinon, and Bourgueil in Touraine, and Anjou-Villages and Saumur-Champigny wines within the Anjou-Saumur wine producing zone.  Here it manifests itself as a bright, juicy, deeply flavored, plummy, slightly herby wine with absolutely no oak influence whatsoever. 

Plantings in Friuli, Tuscany, Clare Valley, Australia, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and Mendoza, Argentina show promise. In the United States, cabernet franc is planted in Long Island, New York, Washington, and in both the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley in Canada.

Château Cheval Blanc, St. Emilion, Bordeaux (France)
Domaine Couly-Dutheil Chinon Clos de l’Écho, Loire Valley (France)
Domaine de la Chevalerie Bourgueil, Loire Valley (France)
Lebreton Anjou Villages Brissac, Loire Valley (France)
Chateau de Varrains Saumur-Champigny Rouge, Loire Valley (France)
Detert Family Cabernet Franc, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (USA)
Watts Winery Cabernet Franc, Lodi, California (USA)
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula-Ontario (Canada)
Craggy Range Winery Merlot Cabernet Franc Sophia Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Hawke's Bay (New Zealand)
Pearson Cabernet Franc, Clare Valley (Australia)

Best Value
Villa Pillo Cabernet Franc Vivaldaia IGT Toscana (Italy)  
Hahn Estates Cabernet Franc Santa Lucia Highlands (California)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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