This week, we’re putting the spotlight on… Cabernet Franc. A parent and traditional blending partner of the world’s most widely planted variety Cabernet Sauvignon, this grape is known for its leafy aromatics, versatility, and ability to convey the terroir of the region in which it is grown.
The History of Cabernet Franc
Thought to have originated in Basque country in the western part of the Pyrenees, Cabernet Franc was not planted in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, where it is most widely planted today, until the 17th century. It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that Cabernet Franc really started to pop up in vineyards outside of France – notably in Italy, the USA, Argentina and Chile. In 1997, DNA analysis proved that Cabernet Franc, alongside Sauvignon Blanc, was the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon, the world’s most widely planted variety. Proud parent alert.
The Key Characteristics of Cabernet Franc
Wines made from 100% Cabernet Franc are generally light to medium bodied with vibrant acidity and distinct aromatics. If the grapes do not ripen fully, the wines can be a little too herbaceous, but when fully ripe they are silky, soft, ethereal wines with notes of red fruits like raspberries and redcurrants, floral notes of violet, herbaceous bell pepper and wet leaves, as well as tobacco and an earthiness as they age – and they do become rather savoury as they age too, with distinct vegetal notes. The lighter styles will reach maturity after 2-5 years, but the fuller, more tannic styles can age for 10 or more. The versatility and complexity of Cabernet Franc is largely the reason for its success as both a single varietal wine and as a blending partner.
The Climate for Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc’s versatility also means that it can be grown in many regions, but it really prefers a cooler climate. It is early-budding and early ripening, one of the main reasons it is often grown alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, which needs much more sunshine and warmth to fully ripen – the Cabernet Franc acts as an insurance in cooler vintages. Notable regions include the Loire Valley in appellations such as Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny, Bordeaux on the cooler inland soils of Saint-Emilion, northeast Italy, New Zealand, and even Washington State.
Cabernet Franc Paired with Food
One of the great things about this wine is how well it pairs with a wide range of dishes. The high levels of acidity make it a great food wine as it is able to cut through rich meats, sauces and cheeses. Some of our favourite things to pair with Cabernet Franc are:
- Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with dauphinoise potatoes and tenderstem broccoli
- Roast chicken with creamy tarragon orzo and grilled asparagus
- Juicy rib-eye steak with sweet potato wedges and salad
- Charcuterie and cheese board – especially hard cheeses like aged cheddar or gouda
- Grilled vegetable pasta with parmesan shavings
Wines Made with Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc flies somewhat below the radar of many wine drinkers, but we think you’ll be surprised to know that this humble grape variety is actually used to produce some of the most famous wines in the world. For example, in the investment grade wines of Chateau Cheval Blanc where it is the dominant variety in the blend with Merlot, in the great Super Tuscan wine Sassicaia where it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, and as single varietal wines made by top producers in the Loire Valley like Bernard Baudry.
It wasn’t a million years ago that Cabernet Franc was planted in equal measure with Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux – it was only after the 1960’s, when producers began to favour the more fashionable Merlot, that plantings began to dwindle. But today, as tastes and trends shift towards lighter, more expressive styles we are already seeing a resurgence of this fabulous variety.
If you are interested in discovering the delights of this unique variety, check out our full range of Cabernet Franc wines here – cheers!