E-mail from loyal reader Chris Noble: “I’m interested in anything you can share about cabernet franc. I was able to visit the Pride Mountain winery in Sonoma recently and sample a terrific bottle of theirs. I also understand the Kinkead Ridge Cab Franc from my own state of Ohio is very well regarded, but I'm embarrassed to admit I have yet to try it. I'm quite unfamiliar with this as anything but a minority grape in blends, so I’m curious to learn more. Thanks!”
Chris, cabernet franc is a grape that doesn’t get a lot of respect, especially when it’s made all by itself with no other grapes blended in. Some people think it’s too light-bodied, too vegetal, too wimpy.
So for the most part, it is used as one of the five grapes that make up the famous Bordeaux wines of France -– along with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and malbec. Its role there is to add some lightness and peppery, flowery aroma to the blend.
But these days, cab franc all by itself can be very nice when it’s made right, and grown in the right place.
One of those places is France’s Loire Valley, especially in the Chinon region. I remember visiting the tasting rooms in that area – actually caves cut into the limestone rock. The limestone soil gave the cabernet franc a little more backbone, and the wines were excellent.
The tradition there is to serve cabernet franc with the little round pieces of goat cheese that they called crottins de chevre –- literally goat droppings (but try not to think about that).
Cab franc does best in cool climates, so it’s being planted in Northern California, Washington state, New York’s Finger Lakes area, and, as you say, Ohio.
Andrew Lampasone, owner of the Wine Watch shop in Fort Lauderdale, says his favorite cab franc from the Loire is Domaine Daniel Chauveau, from Chinon in the Loire Valley, at $35. He also likes the 2002 Soter “Little Creek Cabernet Franc, Napa, $70. The Wine Advocate magazine says it has “aromas of spice, sweet black cherries, cassis, licorice and flowers.”
In Dade County, Ben Naji of Wine69 on Biscayne Boulevard, has two recommendations.
· Adobe Road, 2005 Knights valley, California. Owned by the race car driver Kevin Buckler. It has delicious raspberry & lavender aromas with subtle mint undertones. Cocoa and licorice flavors, as well as black cherry and ripe berries are evident. This is a robust wine with zing, smooth tannins and a toasty finish. Retail Price: $37.00.
· Botalcura, 2004 Maule Valley, Chile. Rich, ripe red fruit mingle with smoky, vanilla-laced oak elements. The palate is full yet elegant with supple tannins and a sensuously smooth finish, made by Philippe Debrus famous for his Cabernet Franc crafting. Retail Price: $23.50