Cabernet Franc gets no respect! One of the world’s great wine grapes, it’s overshadowed by its own lovechild, the lordly Cabernet Sauvignon. A real insult, since Cab Franc is the parent (with Sauvignon Blanc) of Cab Sauv as well as Merlot and Carmenere.
Usually blended with Cab Sauv and Merlot in Bordeaux, CF goes solo in the Loire, in Canada, the US and northern Italy. Those CF varietals have more finesse than lean, austere standalone Cab Sauv.
CF offers a peppery bouquet and nuances of pipe tobacco, ripe raspberries, green peppers, cassis, and violets. It can also embrace spice and smoke, rich, elegant and mouth-filling, with black plum, cocoa, cola, blueberry and blackberry, often with fine oaky notes.
It ripens earlier than Cab Sauv and is treated as insurance in Bordeaux against bad harvest weather. In cool Ontario, it ripens sooner and is a safer bet than CS.
In the naïve early days, I remember Ontario winemakers defending their first green, unripe vintages as “typical” until they enjoyed a hot summer, picked later, and discovered CF’s true virtues.
It’s heavily planted in Niagara, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore, Pelee Island, and the Okanagan.Ontario Cabernet Francs to look for include: Chateau des Charmes, Featherstone, Stratus, Marynissen, Vineland, Redstone, Pillitteri, Southbrook, Megalomaniac, Cave Spring, Tawse, Norman Hardie.
The world’s most prized/pricey Cabernet Franc is the Bordeaux star Chateau Cheval Blanc from St-Emilion.
Plantings in Tuscany have been increasing, particularly in Bolgheri and Maremma, often labelled simply "Cabernet" although Torontonian Elvio del Sorbo has a beautiful biological vineyard called Villa Le Torri near Cevoli that yields small amounts of gorgeous 100% Cabernet – it’s available though B & W Wines. The wine is made at nearby Sangervasio, which produces a wonderful Cab Franc of its own. Talk to B & W at www.bwwines.com.
Cabernet Franc has many aliases: Tsapournako in Greece, Verdejilla Tinto and Achéria in Spain, Bordo in Romania, Fer Servadou, Breton and Carmenet in France, and a gazillion others! You should get to know them!