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.