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Cabernet Franc - No longer the Blending Grape?

Brian Branco - Certified Specialist of Wine

Many red grape varieties have had their time in the spotlight. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and even Syrah has had quite the resurgence!

But many times when you hear the word Cabernet Franc in a wine shop or a tasting room, it will be described primarily as a blending grape. Is it about time though, that we give Cabernet Franc the recognition it deserves?

Cluster of Cabernet Franc grapes on the vine

What makes Cab Franc so charming?

While to some, Cabernet Franc may not be a new variety to sip on, for others, it is a whole new sensory experience. If you are craving something lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon, more aromatic with drink-now potential...Cab Franc could be your go-to wine this summer.

Many examples pack a serious punch of complexity for less than half the price of its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon. Let's dive into the glass and see why it is here to stay and perhaps take over.

Pouring a glass of Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc in the Glass

The wine often exhibits a medium ruby red color when grown in cooler climate regions and a deeper ruby color in warmer climates, or with new oak aging involved.

Cabernet Franc, depending on how it's grown, will typically show an herbal edge of bell pepper, tomato leaf, and grassy notes. This can be polarizing for some people and irresistible to others. It is not uncommon for Cab Franc to display additional aromas of tobacco, tea and even a floral note of violets. Graphite, pencil lead notes are also prominent in higher-end examples.

In cooler climates, fruit aromas lean towards the red end, like raspberries and cranberries along with higher acidity, whereas warmer climates or riper vintages may show more tannin, more body, and a richer red fruit profile like raspberry sauce and even darker fruits like blackcurrant.

A vineyard close up at sunset

A Vineyard Warrior

One of the reasons for its wide-spread travel around the globe, is because of how tough of a grape it is in cooler-climate vineyards. It's known as one of the most cold-hardy wine grapes surviving at lower temperatures than most grape varieties.

It thrives in a diversity of soils and a range of climates which explains why it’s everywhere from South America to Canada.

Franc Fun Facts:

  • In 1997 through DNA research, Cabernet Franc was shown to be the parent grape along with Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon. It also happens to be a parent of two other notable Bordeaux varieties, Merlot and Carménère.

  • Along with the grapes above, Cabernet Franc is known for carrying a chemical compound known as methoxypyrazines giving off the grassy, herbal flavors which we as humans are quite sensitive to. These are also in other foods like bell peppers! They are even in ladybugs! There has been evidence of vintages ruined by ladybug taint as it exacerbates this herbal quality to an extreme.

  • Cab Franc is versatile for winemaking. In addition to single-varietal Cabernet Franc bottlings and being a supporting actor in Bordeaux blends, it's ideal for pale, fruity Rosé wines, ultra-concentrated ice wine, and even a few adventurous winemakers have been making exciting offerings of white Cabernet Franc wine. All thanks to it's naturally higher acidity and distinct pepperiness.

A glass of Cabernet Franc next to a charcuterie platter of food pairings

What to pair with Cabernet Franc?

Immensely versatile in it's pairing potential, look to pair Cabernet Franc with herbaceous poultry dishes, high-acid sauce-based dishes, and aromatic vegetables.

For cheese pairings, it compliments a variety of hard and soft cheeses ranging from a brie to an aged Gouda.

Where are the best Cab Francs?

Loire Valley is the region most of us associate with Cabernet Franc in its purest form. Here it also goes by the name of Breton after Abbot Breton, a Loire monk who helped to increase plantings in the area. It is known famously for single-varietal bottlings in the villages of Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, and used in Rosés around the Anjou area.

Farther down south, it is an essential part of right bank Bordeaux blends where it also goes by Bouchet. It forms a marvelous partnership here with Merlot in some of the most famous wines of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, while being a minor player in most left-bank blends. Here, tt is used as an insurance policy in the cooler vintages where Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t ripen fully.

In the rest of the Old World, you will be able to find elegant, restrained examples in Northern Italy while finding fuller bodied riper versions in Bolgheri, within Tuscany.

Moving to North America, it has excelled in Canada as an ice wine while showing Loire-style examples in the Finger Lakes and North Fork of Long Island New York regions.

As for the West Coast of the United States, you will find premium oak-aged examples in Northern California AVAs like the Sierra Foothills, Sonoma, and Napa along with the Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys within Washington State.

So much Cab Franc to explore, so little time.

Do yourself a favor this summer and dive into a richly perfumed glass of Cabernet Franc!

Check out the Cab Francs and other varietals featured in our 6 wine of the month clubs by shopping in our online wine store.

Be sure to check back frequently...each month we add new wines!


Brian Branco Author Bio Image Author Bio: Brian is a graduate of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla, WA, and a Certified Specialist of Wine via the Society of Wine Educators, Brian will be working his 3rd harvest this fall in a new region, the Willamette Valley. He feels there is always something new to learn about when it comes to the world of wine and that's what keeps it exciting. He hopes the industry will carry on being more inclusive and less pretentious giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the world's greatest beverage.