If you mention Cabernet, I'm likely to ask, Cabernet Sauvignon? My response makes sense since the market is saturated with Cabernet Sauvignon.
But I could have said the other red Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, a red hot wine right now. According to wine industry statistics, Cabernet Franc jumped from 16th to 7th place among the most shopped wines, an impressive change in value of 87%.
Bordeaux Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is the third most popular variety in the vaunted Bordeaux quintet of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Today, along the left bank regions of the Medoc and Graves, the go-to blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, occasionally with small percentages of the other two varieties.
On the right bank, St. Emilion and Pomerol rely more on Cabernet Franc, blending it with Merlot, while Cab Sauv is an afterthought. The St. Emilion first growth, Cheval Blanc, for example, is predominately Cabernet Franc.
Today, you pay dearly for top-end right bank wines: Ch. Ausone, a First Growth St. Emilion that is 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot, is selling for $1,000.00.
How much Cab Franc makes a difference in the structure and taste of the blended wine? Even a small percentage can add an inviting scent and taste of fresh raspberries with a leafy or mineral back note. In the warm soils of the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc develops those flavors plus depth and complexity. And, Cab Franc helps boost the wine's longevity.
Loire Cabernet Franc
Americans shopping for French Cabernet Franc are more likely to stop at the section with Bordeaux reds, than they are to look for Loire Valley wines. Not to be missed are the fruit-forward reds of Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur and Anjou, all from the Loire Valley.
Wineries in these middle Loire areas hold Cabernet Franc in high regard. And, while using Cab Franc as a blending component is common in Bordeaux, in the Loire Valley, the other red Cabernet often stands on its own.
In the Touraine district, both Chinon and Bourgueil specialize on Cabernet Franc, allowing up to 5% Cab Sauv in the blend. The wine ranges from light and fruity to more complex, barrel-aged styles. Anjou is famous for Cabernet (Franc) d'Anjou, a rose with good acidity and a bit of tannin. Up river from Anjou is Saumur, known for its sparkling wine and Saumur-Champigny dry red, made from Cab Franc.
Further south in France, wineries make Cabernet Franc the major part of blends in the regions of Madiran and Bergerac. In Madiran, Cabernet Franc is known locally as Bouchy and is sometimes blended with the Tannat grape.
Tannat was falling out of favor in France, but it moved off shore and found a new home far away, in Uruguay, where the grape's rough edges were smoothed off by blending with Pinot Noir. A similar move happened when Malbec found success in Argentina.
Cab Franc's popularity continued to spread throughout the world, especially since the rise of interest in California, Australia and South American wines. Today, the versatile red grape is successful both as a blending grape and as a varietal in northern Italy, California, Washington state, Australia and South Africa, to name a few places.
California Cabernet Franc
The history of Bordeaux varieties in California likely took root in the 1970s with the belief among Golden State winemakers that varietals made more sense than blended wines. Eventually, the belief gave way to blending of two or more of the five Bordeaux grapes; the most common blend, then and now, is some variation of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot.
The latest numbers show Cabernet Franc the sixth most planted red wine grape in California. A few years ago, to help things along, a marketing group popped up to convince the consumer that a Bordeaux-style blend is more interesting than a single varietal.
Over the last decade, Cab Franc acreage in California grew and so too did the price for the grapes. In 2022, a ton of Cab Franc hit a high of $10,419. Compare that to the more reasonable $2,074 a ton in Washington state.
The growth habits of Cabernet Franc are more accommodating than those of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc adapts easily to both warm and cool soils, thus it is found in California wherever Cab Sauv is grown.
Look for varietal Cabernet Franc or in blends from Napa Valley: Lang & Reed, Hendry, Beringer, Turnbull, Keenan, Truchard, Darioush. Other California Cab Francs: Union Sacre (Paso Robles), Blue Rock (Sonoma), Foxen (Santa Maria), Lava Vine (Sonoma), Gainey (Santa Ynez Valley). The price range is wide, from $25 to $60 a bottle.
Washington Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is the fourth most planted red wine grape in Washington state, after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Washington red blends rely on Cabernet Franc and the Evergreen State is building a solid reputation for varietal Cab Franc.
Cabernet Franc didn't arrive in the state until about the mid-1980s with a small plot at Red Willow Vineyard. Popularity grew slowly until Chateau Ste. Michelle released a Cab Franc from its Cold Creek Vineyard.
Other Washington Cab Francs of note include Columbia, Andrew Rich, Cayuse, Chinook, Sightglass Cellars and Walla Walla Vintners. Expect to pay $25 and up for a Washington varietal Cab Franc.
Want to experience more about Cabernet Franc? Then mark your 2024 calendar for the Cab Franc-a-Palooza, "a wine tasting carnival for the senses and a celebration of all things Cabernet Franc," started by the Steven Kent Winery. The celebration is held for four days in June in the Livermore Valley.
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