Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the big two from the Bordeaux region of France. Cab Franc is one of the lesser known grape varieties and is often blended with Cab Sauv and Merlot. What about Cabernet Franc on its own?
Think of it as Cabernet Sauvignon lite. Or think of Cab Franc as fitting somewhere between Pinot Noir and Cab Sauv. There's a bit of the elegance found in good Pinots plus some of the power found in a good Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Franc has strong savory flavors along with raspberry, strawberry, and plum. If overripe it can be too plummy. If underripe it can be vegetal smelling like bell pepper. If done correctly you can get a floral smell of violets. Herbal characteristics are something Cab Franc is noted for.
Some believe Cabernet Franc may be The Next Big Thing in American red wines. This is because it possesses the same easy-drinking and food versatility of the current Big Thing, Pinot Noir.
It can grow in a slightly cooler area than Cabernet Sauvignon and it many different soils. It's subject to uneven ripening so care must be used to avoid those vegetal flavors.
The vast majority of Cab Franc is grown in France. In the U.S. it's mostly in California and Washington. Because it's a vigorous and forgiving grape it's found in diverse places like New York, Virginia and Michigan. In California, Napa and Sonoma have the most Cab Franc. There is about 3,500 acres of Cab Franc planted in California compared to almost 90,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 45,000 of Merlot (from usda.gov).
|A Cab Franc/Merlot blend|
considered the best wine from
St. Emilion, Bordeaux
New world Cab Franc is a bit difficult to find so why search it out? Like was said, it fits somewhere between Pinot Noir (the current hot wine) and Cabernet Sauvignon (the long-time king of red wines). So if you like both of those varieties you're likely to love Cab Franc. It's also fairly versatile at the dinner table.
Many Meritage (Bordeaux-type blends) contain Cab Franc along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes Malbec and Petit Verdot.
The best values in American Cab Franc are probably in wines from New York state. Best bang-for-the-buck (good quality and decent prices) are most likely to be found in Washington state. The top Cab Francs seem to be mostly from Sonoma/Napa plus Washington and are often priced over $50.
Cab Franc is an early drinker compared to Cab Sauv. Most can be consumed within five years of vintage date, but some can age. They may take on characteristics of mushrooms, earth, tobacco and cedar wood over time.
Cab Franc has a versatility not found in Cab Sauvignon as it can be served with a steak, but also many lighter food. Examples are pork, burgers, stews, anything in a lighter tomato sauce, and many beef dishes.
Goes with a wide variety of foods.
Don't have to age very much, if at all.
Difficult to find.