Cabernet Franc: The “Velvet Glove, Iron Fist” Grape
I’m a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker. But every now and again, I find myself a bit bored and wanting to venture off the beaten path and try something new or different. If this describes you, then join me on a little excursion into Cabernet Franc.
A Bit of wine history…
Cabernet Franc is genetically the parent grape of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is slightly lighter in style than Cabernet Sauvignon but often higher in acidity, making it an ideal red wine for the end of summer because you can serve it slightly chilled. Wine historians believe it to have originated in the border region between France and Spain, meaning that it has the potential for wide appeal to both Rioja lovers and Bordeaux imbibers.
A Bit of Wine science…
Part of the appeal of this grape variety is that it but buds slightly earlier than other big reds, which is great for a growing region like B.C. since we need all of the ripening time we can get for our red wines! The grape also contains a unique pyrazine compound which makes it resistant to pests, which is why it grows in such a wide range of climates. It is slightly more pigmented as well as more perfumed than Cab Sauv which is probably why global wine critic and author Jancis Robinson says that “Cabernet Franc is the ‘feminine' side of Cabernet Sauvignon.” (https://www.jancisrobinson.com/learn/grape-varieties/red/cabernet-franc)
Some Wines to Look For…
If you look carefully at your blended wine labels, you will often see some Cabernet Franc in the mix since it is one of the most widely planted varieties globally. Because it has good structure, it is used as a blending grape in many of the right bank Bordeaux wines from France (look for labels from Pomerol or St. Emilion). There are also excellent examples coming out of South Africa (for example, Raats Winery in Stellenbosch makes a Cab Franc that exhibits the perfect trifecta of fruit, spice and herbaceousness) and Argentina’s La Mascota winery has a Cab Franc with subtle violet notes and sweet spices like cloves and black pepper (Shiraz drinkers take note).
BC producers are exploring Cabernet Franc in exciting ways as it is the 6th most planted grape in the province as of 2019 (www.winebc.com acreage report, May 27, 2021). In cooler sites, it produces more tart wines but in warmer vineyards, it produces wines with a kind of strawberry, dried fruit flavour reminiscent of Tuscan wines. BC consumers are reaping the benefits of Cab Franc’s vinicultural vigour with widely available wines by producers like Adega, Black Sage Vineyards and Bartier Bros. all being excellent entry-points to explore what might be a new grape to you. Some premium BC offerings include Synchromesh Wine’s Turtle Rock Farms Cab Franc or Painted Rock vineyards whose 2018 Cab Franc has aromas of black cherry and tobacco on the nose while on the palate, there is a bright, racy acidity that keeps pace with the ripe plum, cedar, and liquorice flavours – this is a perfect charcuterie board wine!
Raats Winemaker Gavin Bruwer likes to use the analogy ‘iron fist, velvet glove’ for Cabernet Franc, meaning there’s power on the palate, followed by an elegance and silkiness thanks to the tannin structure.” (https://raats.co.za/frankly-speaking/). So if you are looking for a wine that has the heft and power of some of the bolder reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, but also the delicacy and lighter-touch of some of the softer reds like Pinot Noir, you may want to explore Cabernet Franc. I think you’ll find it both elegant and strong.