Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cabernet Franc

Here's a fun fact: Cabernet Franc, the grape variety that gives class to Bordeaux blends, is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.


It's true.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are proud of their progeny's success. For a long time, Cab Franc, a cultivar that some believe is the "true" Bordeaux red grape, was part of the classic Bordeaux blend, preferred by a number of chateaux.  While that's still the case, Cab Franc has branched out as a varietal red outside France.

A little history.  Tracing the ancestry of a grape can be frustrating, often ending in a dead end. Cabernet Franc likely got its start in France, somewhere between the Loire Valley and Provence. Some studies, however, contend that Cab Franc may have Spanish ancestry. 

What is certain is sometime in the 18th century, Cardinal Richelieu directed an abbot named Breton to plant Cab Franc vines at an Abbey in Bourgueil, Loire Valley. This ecclesiastical directive survives today as Breton is the Loire name for Cabernet Franc.

And there are other synonyms: Cab Franc is known as Bouchet in the Bordeaux right bank Libourne vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  In Italy, Cab Franc is often known simply as Cabernet.   

Bordeaux Franc: In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is the anchor grape, in the right bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  Merlot is the major grape in the Libourne, with Cab Franc playing a supporting role.  

Cooler weather in the Libournais is ideal for growing Cab Franc, but it is too cold for Cabernet Sauvignon, which does better in the Medoc, across the Gironde estuary.  Although the distances are not that great between the Medoc and Libournais vineyards, the differences in the climate and soils are enough.

The central Loire Valley region of Touraine is where Cab Franc does best as a varietal wine.  Chinon and Bourgueil are both 90% Cab Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon making up the remaining 10% of the blend.

This high percentage of Cab Franc gives Chinon and Bourgueil wines a concentrated berry aroma and flavors reminiscent of raspberry and some say pencil shavings.  Bourgueil is the more structured of the two, with deeper flavors and the possibility of aging. 

While a Bordeaux blend containing Cab Franc is a good candidate for aging, the structure and character of mid-weight Touraine Cab Francs is near term drinking. The point of Chinon and Bourgueil is drink now. This approach has earned Chinon the honorific of being called "The Frenchman's wine."

Bourgueil wines worth the search include Domaine les Pins, Joel Taluau, Yannick Amirault.  Chinon Cab Francs: Pierre & Bertrand Couly, Angelliaume, Charles Joquet. 

California and Washington Franc:  Interest in California and Washington state Cab Franc is growing, as a varietal and as part of a Bordeaux blend.  Acreage of Cab Franc is making a slow but steady climb in California, with more consumers looking for alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc is most at home in the Napa Valley, but where ever you find Cab Sauv and Merlot, it's likely that Cab Franc will also be there.

Bosché Cabernet Sauvignon Bottle Shot

 Aside: Fans of Freemark Abbey, in the Napa Valley, may recall Freemark's red wine called Cabernet Bosche.  The name may cause some buyers to confuse the wine for Cab Franc.  The Abbey Cabernet Bosche is Cabernet Sauvignon from John Bosche's vineyard, next to BV 1, which along with BV 2 are the vineyards for the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve.  The 2018 Cabernet Bosche sells for $175.

Washington has taken to Cab Franc in a big way.  Paul Gregutt, in his 2010 book, "Washington Wines & Wineries," list 32 Washington wineries that either bottle Cab Franc as a varietal or use it in a red blend.

Columbia winery made the first Washington Cab Franc in 1991, but it would be a few years before the varietal took offCab Franc has a tendency to be herbal and that can be a problem in Washington's cooler climate.

The major stylistic difference between California and Washington Cab Franc is fruit intensity.  Warmer growing conditions generally mean fruitier wines with more lush intensity.  Cooler growing conditions temper the lushness and often mean controlling the variety's herbal tendency.  Of course site-specific planting can help mitigate this problem.

California Cabernet Francs include Lang & Reed, Chappellet, Lieu Dit and Keenan. Look for these Washington Cab Francs: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Owen Roe, Willow Crest.

There are many choice today for red wines with Cabernet character.  The nice thing about Cabernet Franc is its adaptability as a blending component and as a varietal. 

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 30

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1 comment:

  1. Another interesting fact: I believe that the first varietally labeled Cab Franc in California was produced by Casa Neuestra, although I don't find that claim on their website. When we planted our Cabernet Franc at Alegria Vineyards in 1991, there were only about a dozen varietally labeled Cab Francs in California. It has certainly grown in popularity since then.


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