Cabernet Franc is one of the top 20 most planted grape varieties in the world, and one of the 3 key components in all Bordeaux wines. It’s a thin-skinned grape, with relatively low tannin and acid levels, which rarely has a chance to shine on its own, but is very frequently used as a vital component in a blend – this is particularly true in Bordeaux, where it is the 3rd of the 3 main grape varieties, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
What Is Cabernet Franc?
It is grown all over the world, and is a superb grape, as part of a blend, to lift, add perfume and elegance. But it rarely gets the chance to shine on its own, apart from in the Loire Valley, where it produces the beautifully subtle, lively and scented wines of Chinon and Bourgueil amongst others.
The Background To Cabernet Franc
The Cabernet Franc grape is at the heart of the majority of Bordeaux blends. It is believed to have been planted here during the 17th century, and within the Bordeaux region, it is more at home on the right bank, Libournais area, home to Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, rather than on the Medoc, left bank of the river Garonne.
By the 18th century the Cabernet Franc grape was very well established in the areas of Fronsac, Saint Emilion and Pomerol, and added a perfumed, silky, suppleness to the styles of wine produced. It is often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, yet , in the right location, it produces world quality wines, as a major component in a blend – it is 50% of the blend for the world famous Cheval Blanc, and also a majority component in Chateau Ausone.
At a similar time during the 17th century, the grape is thought to have been transported to the Loire Valley, by Cardinal de Richelieu, where it was established and grew extremely well in the cooler climate of Bourgueil, originally, and then more generally across the Loire.
It is now grown across the world, in addition to its French homeland, and is succeeding particularly well in South Africa, California and also, unusually, Canada, where it produces superb quality Ice wines. It is a grape well suited to the slightly cooler climate region of Washington State, where it is the 4th most planted grape variety. It is also an important in Hungary.
In many ways, it is very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and research has proved that the Cabernet sauvignon is in fact a cross between cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a thin-skinned grape, with naturally low acidity, but is vigorous and hardy, and less prone to damage than Cabernet Sauvignon; it ripens at least a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, and is more suited to cooler climate regions, which is why it is so well suited to the Loire valley.
What Does Cabernet Franc Taste Like?
Cabernet Franc is a grape that naturally produces wines which are relatively light in colour, low in acidity, and high in aromatic qualities, and freshness. Tannins are lower than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a perfumed grape, with a leafy, fresh aroma – raspberries, rosehips and bell peppers are often used to describe it.
In Bordeaux, it is best suited to the cooler, clay soils of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, where it adds perfume, complexity and a leafy edge to many of the wines. It fulfils the same role in other countries, where it adds freshness, and vivacity, and an edge of raspberry leaf aroma.
On its own, in the Loire, it produces the well-known wines of Chinon, Saumur-Champigny and Bourgueil. Here it is seen at its best, well suited to the cooler climate of the Loire Valley; it can be criticised for being too ‘green’ and grassy, if not made well, with overt leafy, sappy characteristics. However, at its best, it gives off lovely, perfumed aromas of raspberries, redcurrants and violets, and has a fresh, mid weight, vibrantly fruity and juicy style, with a herbaceous edge.
Where Is Cabernet Franc From?
Cabernet Franc’s traditional home is the Libournais region of Bordeaux, where it thrives as a key part of the blends in Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and also Fronsac. It also thrives in the cooler region of the Loire valley, where it stars on its own, and is also grown in South Africa, California and Canada.
What Does Cabernet Franc Go With?
As part of the Bordeaux red blend, it is a classic match with roast lamb, beef, mature cheeses, and slow braised red meats.
On its own, in the Loire, it produces deliciously fruity, vibrant, light to medium reds, with low tannins. These wines are great served lightly chilled, which brings out the pure fruit and freshness of this style. Cabernet Franc is a great red to drink with fish, due to its fruitiness and low tannins, especially monkfish, trout and bream.
It’s also a perfect match for white meats, and lighter styles of red meat dishes – great with beef carpaccio, and chicken salads, baked ham, gammon and pork dishes. It’s one of the most perfect picnic reds, and marries happily with pate, charcuterie, cheeses, and the ubiquitous pork pie!