Common synonyms: Breton, Veron, Noir dur, Bouchy, Bouchet, Gros Bouchet, Carmenet, Grosse Vidure, Messanges rouge, Trouchet noir, Bordo, Cabernet Frank
Cabernet Franc is best known as a team player. With its seductive aroma of black currants, it is treasured for its ability to add perfume to its companion varieties.
It’s another of the classic Bordeaux varieties and was long suspected to be related to Cabernet Sauvignon because the two varieties have so much in common. These suspicions were well founded and recent DNA typing shows that Cabernet Franc is the proud parent, along with Sauvignon Blanc, of the noble Cabernet Sauvignon. Like Petit Verdot and Malbec, many winemakers view it as a voice in the chorus rather than a dominant variety, but you can find some stunning exceptions, for instance the famous Chateau Cheval Blanc is typically about 2/3 Cabernet Franc. And, in the Loire Valley (which grows almost 1/2 of the Cabernet Franc in all of France) it’s the major player in the wine known as Chinon – a lovely, bright, early-maturing red wine.
Cabernet Franc is thin-skinned compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and tends to produce wine that’s lighter in color and body and lower in tannin, so the wine matures more quickly. It makes a generously fruity wine with a fragrance that might remind you of plums and violets with just a hint of spice.
Like Merlot, in cool climates, it can be an insurance policy against rain damage because it’s early maturing compared to Cabernet Sauvignon or Petit Verdot. It’s also early to bud-out in the spring, increasing the risk of frost damage. It tends to yield a little higher than Cabernet Sauvignon.
France is still the leading grower of Cabernet Franc by far, but it’s also found in other parts of Europe, notably northeast Italy, and plantings have increased in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and, of course, here in California. Some expect it to gain greater importance in the world of wine when our fascination with black, inky, highly-extracted red wine begins to wane.
The soft tannins make this an easy red to pair with food. Try it with any sort of roasted or grilled game birds; it’s delicious with lamb and pork or veal dishes. Cabernet Franc is an excellent partner for a selection of medium-hard to hard cheeses like Gruyere or Parmigiano Reggiano. Cheers!