Cabernet Franc

While not as well known as its offsprings cabernet sauvignon and merlot, cabernet franc plays an important role in many of the world’s top Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends. Indeed, on the so-called “Right Bank” of Bordeaux, in the appellations Pomerol and St. Emilion, cabernet franc can make up 50% of the blend or more. And one legendary Bordeaux wine—Chateau Cheval Blanc—is more than 50% cabernet franc. Compared to its Bordeaux confreres, cabernet franc is generally not as fleshy as merlot, nor is it as structured and intense as cabernet sauvignon. For many wineries, it thus sits in perfect mid-prance between the two. If it gets ripe, that is. When unripe (and it’s a challenge to ripen cabernet franc), the wine has a distinct green bell pepper character—the result of compounds in the wine known as pyrazines. But in warmer years when sugars are high and pyrazines fall, cabernet franc can be fantastic, with its violet or iris-like aromas and minerally/dark chocolaty flavors. Loire Valley Chinon (all cabernet franc) is the most well-known, delicious example. But the grape has also made quiet but stunning progress in California, as wines like Vineyard 29’s cabernet franc attest. Most French grape varieties came from the east: France got its initial vines from Italy which in turn, got them via Lebanon (historically, Phoenicia), which probably got them from southern Turkey. But surprising genetic research in the 2010s revealed that cabernet franc originated southwest of France in Spain’s Basque Country and, from there, was brought northeast to Bordeaux.


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