I’m Not a Big Fan of Cabernet Franc, but…

Okay, I’m going to have to stop saying “I’m not a big fan of Cabernet Franc” because this spring and summer I’ve tasted some Cabernet Francs that I have really, truly enjoyed.  My main beef with the grape variety in question is that it has a tendency to have very green herbaceous (sometimes even vegetal)aromas and flavours that I generally don’t like in red wine.  I don’t like green pepper in my food and I certainly don’t like it in my wine.  Don’t get me wrong, a little leafiness can add interest and complexity to a wine, but I don’t want my red wine to taste like a Sauvignon Blanc.  However, I have discovered some fine Cab. Francs that are full of ripe fruit and complexity and are thoroughly delicious.

Cabernet Franc happens to be the original Cabernet grape.  Somewhere along the way it mated with Sauvignon Blanc to produce its much more famous offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Franc has now been relegated to being a component in Bordeaux blends, adding perfume and acting to tame some of Cabernet Sauvignon’s aggression and power.  In North America, it can be part of a similar blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and sometimes Malbec and Petit Verdot, to create a Meritage.

In the Loire, Cabernet Franc gets to take centre stage in regions such as Chinon and Bourgueil.  Here, the grape is used to make single varietal reds, although some producers are now adding a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Although these wines are highly regarded by many wine enthusiasts and professionals, I have yet to find one that I’m truly in love with.  I’m still looking.  (If anyone has any ideas for me then please leave it in a comment.)

The Cabernet Franc vine is very successful in cooler climates, such as in Ontario, and is earlier ripening than Cabernet Sauvignon, making it a better bet for Ontario’s shorter growing season.

Here are some tasting notes for a few good Ontario Cabernet Francs:

This week I had the opportunity to taste 3 Cabernet Francs from Tawse winery.  I tasted these same wines back in May, but they were still in barrel (see A Day in the Life of a Sommelier for tasting notes).  It’s interesting to see if they’ve changed now they are in bottle.

Tawse David’s Block Cabernet Franc 2007:  youthful aromas of blueberry and plum along with some red cherry.  It has a hint of chocolate and some spice along with a lovely floral perfume.  The same fruit flavours are evident on the palate with the addition of some ripe raspberries.  It’s very fruit forward.  A touch of eucalyptus is evident and some toasty flavours come through on the finish.

Tawse Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007:  The Van Bers has similar fruit aromas as the David’s Block Cab Franc, but I found this one to be a bit more spicy with some nutmeg or mace aromas.  There’s a slight herbaceousness, but not too much.  On the palate it has a velvetty structure with medium plus tannins and good acidity.  There’s lots of juicy fruit flavours with a bit of spice.

Tawse Wismer Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007:  This is my favourite of the 3, although I like the other two just fine.  It has a mixture of red and black fruit aromas with good mineral, a touch of bell pepper, some dark chocolate, and a bit of black licorice.  It has a velvetty texture with medium plus tannins and good fruit intensity on the palate.  There’s evidence of red bell pepper, graphite pencil, and mineral.  It has a lovely, long finish.

Other Cab Francs:

Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2006:  The grapes for this wine were harvested from 2 year old vines.  Originally they weren’t planning on making a wine from these grapes, but after discovering they were so good they decided to go ahead.  The wine spent 21 months in oak.  It has aromas of red currant and raspberries with spice and a lovely perfume.  On the palate it has flavours of red fruit, a touch of spice, roasted coffee, and toasty caramel on the finish.

Frogpond Cabernet Franc 2006:  Frogpond was Niagara’s first certified organic vineyard.  This wine has red fruit flavours, cherry, some red bell pepper and light oak aromas.  The same fruit flavours follow through onto the palate with a little herbaceousness and pencil shavings on the medium plus length.

A Foreign Affair Cabernet Franc 2006:  The grapes for this wine were dried (similar to Amarone) for 103 days.  It has pronounced aromas of dried figs, cherry pie, and chocolate.  It has very high alcohol of 17.1%, but it still seems quite balanced.  Flavours of raisins, dried figs, and chocolate are evident.  It has firm tannins and good acidity.  It could take the place of Port when paired with cheese.

5 responses

  1. It puts a smile on my face when a skeptic becomes a fan of anything, particularly when it comes to a Cabernet Franc conversion! One thing to point out, when you state “I don’t want my red wine to taste like a Sauvignon Blanc” You should understand that this very hard to do as the two varietals are almost genetically identical, except for their pigment [perhaps one of the reasons that when they had their ‘one night stand’ that it was consummated and that their offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, shows both grapes attributes and dis-attributes. . So therefore there will be similarities in flavor and textual impressions between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc [funny how they shared their names with their progeny!]
    To address the herbaceous or green component, you need to start tasting these wine in context with the foods that they have an affinity with… get with the goat cheese, rillets and other pork products!
    In regards to Cabernet Franc and climate “Cabernet Franc vine is very successful in cooler climates” the grape enjoys a wider global swath, from cooler to warmer than Cabernet Sauvignon, as does Franc’s mate, Sauvignon Blanc [see all of Loire Valley to Bordeaux for both varietals].
    To address your Loire affliction, first, the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon is legal in a number of Loire A.O.C.’s, However,my twenty years of travel there tells me hardly anyone is growing or adding Cabernet Sauvignon ‘NOW’ to their wines [this is a propagated myth that one wine writer claimed years ago to excuse the difference of CF standing alone and CS inherent power]. If you don’t like the ‘green’ there is no way that un-ripened Cabernet Sauvignon is going to correct that component in the Loire Valley.
    For me, to really appreciate the Red Wines of Chinon, Bourgueil and Samur-Champigny I had to take off my Cabernet Sauvignon glasses and consider a more delicate and ethereal experience, a little more akin to very Pinot Noir, but fortunately without the price tag… good luck in your exploration of this very ancient grape!

  2. Oh yeah… for the Loire Red experience, first try to find some 2005’s [might be considered global warming’s only positive!].. then find Bernard Baudry – Chinon, or Theiry Germain’s Saumur-Champigny… and just drink them, don’t fret about them! cheers,

    • Hi John,
      Thanks so much for your comments and advice! I’m always so happy when someone with your wine knowledge is willing to give me more information. You make some excellent points about Cabernet Franc regarding its taste profile and characteristics. I’ll look for the Loire wines you mention and try not to fret about them. I think my acquiring taste for Cab Franc may turn into a passion!
      Sarah

  3. Hi Sarah,

    Ever since I visited Tawse in 2005 and tasted the Cabernet Franc I became a convert. I think that is one of the ones I raved about to you at that time, not sure if we tasted one or not. Previously I used to associate the barnyard taste with Cab Franc but with the Tawse it was way in the background and I was able to taste the true nature of the wine. I just picked up a 2006 Tawse the other day in the bargain basket. I think I’ll have it tonight! Still looking and trying to find the very best Cab Franc’s, now thanks to your reviews I’ll have to go back Niagara and pick up some more.
    Cheers

    Mike

    • Hi Mike,
      It’s nice to hear from you! Actually, you were the first one to introduce me to Tawse Cab Franc. This past Christmas dinner at your house we had the 2004 and the 2006. I think our consensus at the time was that the 2004 was a bit more complex, with some leather and spice in addition to the fruit, and a longer, very silky finish. It could be because of the extra age of the wine though. The 2006 we found to be much fruitier. I wonder what a couple more years age on the 2006 would add to it.
      This week I was helping out with the Canadian Wine Awards organized by Wine Access Magazine and I got to try some very good wine from BC that we tend not to get here in Ontario. I was very impressed by many.
      Take care,
      Sarah

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