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Fabulous Franc - why we love Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc, specifically from the Loire Valley, was among my first loves in wine. The light 'brasserie' style with its perfume of fresh mulberries and brambly blackberries, peppers and green herbs evoked simple pleasures of the countryside, and made the perfect match to wash down rustic fair on French summer holidays. 

But there is more to Cabernet Franc than just a table wine to go with your saucisses aux lentilles, in the Loire, the rest of France, and beyond.


Cabernet Franc likely originated in the Basque Country, and now finds a home across Western France, most notably in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. At some point during its travels in the southwest, Cabernet Franc bred with Sauvignon Blanc in the wild to produce its famous offspring: Cabernet Sauvignon.

The red wines of Saumur, Chinon and Bourgueil in the Loire are all made exclusively from Cabernet Franc and can range, depending on site, producer and vintage, from quaffable and light to robust, structured and ageworthy red wines.

As Bordeaux is a region largely devoted to blended wines, Cabernet Franc is included alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for its perfume and acidity. It is especially favoured with Merlot in Saint Emilion, where the limestone soils suit the variety perfectly. Elsewhere in Southwest France, Cabernet Franc is widely planted, particularly in cooler areas where Cabernet Sauvignon struggles to ripen. In the French Pays Basque near to the Spanish border, some wonderful red and rose wines are made, sometimes blended with Tannat, in the Irouleguy region.



Fabrice Gasnier Les Graves Chinon 2022 - £19.99 (Organic, Biodynamic)

Fabrice Gasnier has converted the estate founded by his great-grandfather completely to organic and biodynamic farming, believing that a method more in tune with nature is best both for the health of the vines and the greater environment.

Les Graves comes from parcels of vines on the alluvial gravel terraces along the Vienne river. They hand-harvest and sort all of the fruit to ensure only perfectly ripe and healthy berries make it into the small concrete tanks for fermentation. There are no additions of yeast, enzymes or other adjuncts - the fermentation is totally natural, and they use no oak for this cuvee.

All of this results in a wine that is gloriously fruity - with blueberry, blackberry and hints of violet and lavender on the nose - and a deliciously juicy palate. Smooth tannins and more sumptuous berry fruit, cut through by fine acidity, make this dangerously drinkable and marvellous at the dinner table. Try it with dishes involving red peppers, aubergines and Mediterranean flavours.



Chateau de Francs Cotes de Bordeaux 2018 - £17.99

Situated to the east of Saint-Emilion, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux is a lesser-known sub-region that delivers excellent value for money. The Chateau de Francs has some outstanding winemaking pedigree behind it - the ownership is shared between the owner of Chateau Angelus and former owner of Chateau Cheval Blanc - two of Saint Emilion's finest!

It is a blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the gently sloping clay-limestone hillsides above the Gironde; before blending the wine spends 14 months ageing in French oak barrels.

Plush and smooth, with velvety tannins and ripe berry fruit typical of a Merlot-dominant wine. The Cabernet Franc makes its presence known with some brambly undergrowth aromas and a delicious hint of redcurrant in the finish. Very classy claret, perfect for roast lamb.



Pierre Cabernet Franc Carcassonne 2020 - £14.99

A native of the city of Carcassonne, Pierre founded his negociant business in 2015 to celebrate the overlooked wines of the region. He sources his Cabernet Franc from a single vineyard on a chalky outcrop, with a southern exposure that allows the vines to soak up a lot of sunshine.

Fermented in stainless steel and aged in concrete, this combines the freshness of the Loire style with the body of Bordeaux. Blackcurrant and plum notes are complemented by liquorice and dried herb aromas with light tannins and a nice rounded mouthfeel. A crowd-pleaser, that is great with robust and rustic food - Carcassonne is known for its cassoulet after all!


The Rest of Europe

Unlike its Bordeaux counterparts, Cabernet Franc has not seen such fervent planting across the rest of the continent. It has seen the most success in Italy, in Super Tuscans as well as showing itself to be excellently suited to the Friuli region in the north East. Some very good Cabernet Franc is also grown in Slovenia and Croatia, where it benefits from the maritime climate.


When it comes to American wine it is often said that 'Cabernet [Sauvignon] is King' and it certainly dominates over its lesser-known parent. There is, however, wonderful Cabernet Franc being grown all over the country - from the heart of Napa Valley to the cool Finger Lakes region of New York State. In Napa, where its acidity and freshness are prized in blends, it commands the highest price-per-ton of any grape variety.



Larkin Cabernet Franc Napa Valley 2021 - £87.95

A long way from his hometown of Inverkeithing in Fife, Scotland, Sean Larkin has developed an exceptional reputation in Napa since founding his eponymous winery in 1999. Working first as a sommelier, then wine broker before taking the plunge to make wine himself, he chose to focus on Cabernet Franc, believing that it had been unjustly ignored as a varietal wine by American winemakers.

The connections Larkin forged as a fine wine broker allow him to source fruit from some of the best vineyards in Napa, with the majority of this wine coming from the Pocai vineyard in Calistoga. This site sits on free-draining alluvial gravel, which contributes to excellent ripeness and robust tannins. 

With a dark, almost purple, colour in the glass, this shows its ripeness immediately. The nose is explosively concentrated, with black cherry, cassis, tobacco, cedar and floral aromas bursting from the glass. On the palate it is rich and dense, with coffee and chocolate blending with the sweet strawberry and blackberry fruit. Big bold tannins and wonderful acidity keep all of that decadence in place, leaving a serious impression. Whilst this is sure to cellar superbly for up to a decade, it is drinking beautifully now, especially with roast beef or venison.



Cabaret Frank No. 2 The Aviary Cabernet Franc Lodi 2021 - £10.99 (Vegan)

The arid Lodi region is best known for its Zinfandel, but it happens to be home to the world's largest single Cabernet Franc vineyard. From its 45-year old vines, Boutinot winemaker Samantha Bailey sources the fruit for this easy-drinking wine. Complemented by a splash (15%) of Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a smooth and fruity weeknight wine. 

The nose shows sweet berry and cherry fruit, a hint of leafiness and a lick of toasty oak. Round and gentle on the palate, with sweet plums and cocoa lingering on the soft finish. 


South America

While not emblematic to a country like Carmenere to Chile, Malbec to Argentina or Tannat to Uruguay, Cabernet Franc has made great inroads in the South American wine industry. In Chile it is mostly found in the Valle Central, where Bordeaux-style blends dominate. It is carving out an excellent niche in Mendoza, where it is used both for single-varietals and to contribute complexity and freshness to blends with Malbec. Styles vary hugely, owing to the wide breadth of climates and winemaking traditions across the continent but rest assured, South American Cabernet Franc is worth watching out for!

Carmelita Gran Corte Mendoza 2019 - £31.50

Located in the Uco Valley, the pinnacle of premium winemaking in Argentina, at 1085m above sea level, Carmelita produce small quantities of exquisitely poised and powerful red wines.

The Gran Corte brings together 65% Malbec and 35% Cabernet Franc, aged for 21 months in French oak barrels. Extremely low yields contribute to the massive concentration of complex flavours - damson, black cherry, violet, aniseed and cinnamon. It has big yet soft tannins, that coat your mouth with flavour that lingers in an exceptionally refined finish. A wine that rewards decanting and serving, in typical Argentine fashion, with beef! Only 600 bottles made.

Vina Progreso Overground Cabernet Franc Uruguay 2020 - £19.99

Winemaker Gabriel Pisano is part of a great family of winemakers in Uruguay, but rather than simply joining the family business he set up his own winery in the town of Progreso after training with winemakers around the world. Cabernet Franc, along with Tannat, owes its presence in Uruguay to the long history of migration from the Basque country which has shaped the country's winemaking heritage.

A long slow ripening close to the Atlantic ocean and clay-limestone soils (similar to those of Saumur) are key to the excellent quality of fruit. Fermentation with native yeast and a long maceration on the skins ensures the translation of beautiful grapes into delicious wine. This is a red with wonderfully intense berry fruits, hints of cocoa and pepper and silky refined tannins. It has a long finish with a twist of orange peel and allspice. 


I hope that this blog post has inspired you to try a bottle of Cabernet Franc, or one from a part of the world you hadn't considered before. I have by no means covered this wonderful grape in its entirety - we have a wonderful South African example on our shelves, and the grape has had success in Australia and New Zealand as well - but I believe I have possibly rambled a little too much already!



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