With the New Year kicking in, what a better time to do away with the old and bring in the new? Or, if not new, bring in something different? An alternative…It’s due season to look past the more common varietal and opt for the lesser known, often underestimated, unconventional grapes of the wine world. Prime example: Cabernet Franc.
Overshadowed by its regal relative, DNA analysis have demonstrated that Cab Franc is indeed the parent of the overly famous Cabernet Sauvignon grape, (which came to be as a cross between Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc). Thin skinned and vigorous in cooler climates, Cabernet Franc ripens well before it’s offspring, which makes it particularly useful in Bordeaux (its birthplace) where it is masterfully blended with Merlot, Petit Verdot and of course, Cabernet Sauvignon and produces some of the world’s most prized wines. On the right bank of Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc plays a crucial role and shines alongside Merlot, particularly in St Emilion chateaux the likes of Cheval Blanc and Ausone (featured in the popular wine flick “Sideways”).
Cabernet Franc fares well beyond Bordeaux as it is the predominant red grape in the Loire Valley where it is known as Chinon. Its flavor profile upholds it’s characteristic balance of plump dark fruit, leafy, herbaceous undertones and aromas of tobacco. Both austere and lush at the same time, while Cab Franc is lighter and softer than Cab Sauv it is bolder than Merlot often lending structure and backbone to it. Both harsh and soft, it is no wonder why this versatile varietal is primarily used in blends. As a single varietal, though uncommon, it is a breath of fresh uniqueness where spice, fruit and tobacco co exist in harmony.
Outside of France, Cabernet Franc fares well and is becoming increasingly popular. In South Africa, the heroic efforts made by the Bruwer Raats Estate are turning more and more skeptical wine drinkers on to this exceptional varietal. The Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand has also embarked on this endeavor and has found that Cabernet Franc pairs unexpectedly well with their ever-traditional dish of lamb shanks and rosemary. In Canada, the Ontario region proudly showcases their icewine made from 100% Cabernet Franc and Washington State; with its frosty climate is a safe haven for this original varietal.
Unlike no other, Cabernet Franc will take you along a different sensory journey, where vegetal tones of asparagus and broccoli, meet black cherries and cassis, meet black pepper end exotic spices and all fit perfectly together within a quaint, rustic cedar box. Take your chances “that will make all the difference.”
By Laura Salazar