Cabernet Franc: a great summer red wine


John Ezzard examines cabernet franc grapes early in the growing season.

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford
Having just spent two weeks in France and Luxembourg visiting small wine appellations in search of new wines and winemaking trends, I was delighted with the last winery visited: Domaine Valerie Doneufbourg.

This vineyard is in Cléry-Saint-André, just southwest of Orleans, in the center of France. Here I tasted an outstanding Cabernet Franc from 100-year-old vines never touched by the destructive phylloxera that destroyed almost 40 percent of French vines, 1850-1870. 

Packed with dark cherry and red raspberry aromas around a dark ruby-red color, this wine offered a well-balanced, fresh, red berry fruit flavor and a soft mouthfeel—a remarkable wine yet to be labeled. Only 500 bottles have been produced. It reinforces what an exceptional grape cabernet franc can be when well-crafted and grown under the right conditions.

Cabernet franc is well-known in the Loire Valley – Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur- Champigny – and increasingly is grown throughout the New World in California, Washington, North Georgia and South Africa.

It is a major blending grape in Bordeaux. More quickly growing than cabernet sauvignon, this grape produces a pale, red wine with aromas of cherry, blackberry, raspberry, minerals, mint, violets and tobacco. It may have grown originally in Bordeaux and then moved farther north to the Loire Valley.

  Tiger Mountain Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc Reserve is the double gold winner, best of show, in the 2014 International Eastern.
While a full-bodied wine, it is lighter and more approachable in its youth than a Cabernet Sauvignon but still has the tannins to age. In the United States, a wine with cabernet franc or other varietal must contain 75 percent of that grape to carry the grape’s name, except for vitis labrusca or foxy grapes like the concord native to North America, requiring only 51 percent and allowing it to be a blending grape.

Cabernet Franc is a great summer red wine, sufficiently fruity when served chilled while retaining enough structure to complement grilled and roasted meats and barbecue. In France, it is paired traditionally with roast leg of lamb and flageolet beans. Flageolet beans are considered the "The Caviar of Beans” in France and also are grown in California (

Cabernet franc is one of the parent grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon, along with sauvignon blanc. One important growing characteristic is the grape often is planted in areas where rain is a harvest-time threat.

Cabernet franc vines survive cold winters better than cabernet sauvignon but are more susceptible to being damaged by spring frosts. This grape seems to be ideally suited to our North Georgia climate. Leading local growers include: Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Clayton; Crane Creek Vineyards, Young Harris; Sharp Mountain Vineyards, Jasper; Stonewall Creek Vineyards, Rabun; and Frogtown Cellars, Lumpkin County.

In our recent Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting, Tiger Mountains 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc was selected as the best Cab Franc over French-, South African- and West Coast-produced grapes. I believe this is one of the best red grapes grown in Georgia: “Well done,” Tiger Mountain and thanks to all the North Georgia wineries that included Cabernet Franc in their wines.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Tiger Mountain 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Clayton, Ga., $35: Tiger’s 20-year-old vines produce a dark cherry, spice and dark-chocolate aroma. This full-bodied wine was well-balanced, well-crafted, with nice complexity and rich dark cherry and blackberry flavors on the pallet. Tiger only produces a reserve Cabernet Franc in years when especially pleased with the quality of the harvest and, then, only a few barrels are chosen. This wine was the Big Canoe Wine Group’s first choice in our blind-tasting. Highly Recommended

Consentino 2010 "The Franc” Lodi, Calif., $22: Deep-crimson color with sweet and spicy aromas of fruit, sage and clove, on the palate, the wine exhibits flavors of tart, dark fruit and hints of black pepper. Medium-bodied with great structure and a long finish, it is made up of 76 percent cabernet franc, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 4 percent malbec. Best Buy

Raats Family 2009 100 percent Cabernet Franc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, $33: On the nose and palate, this wine exhibits blackberry and black cherry with hints of cinnamon, tobacco and spice; it has a pleasing minerality, long finish, and nice tannins. Highly Recommended

Other Cabernet wines to consider include: 2011 Raats Family Wines Stellenbosch, South Africa, $32.99; Catherine & Pierre Brenton 2010 Bourgueil Trinch, France, $18.99; and Domaine de Pallus 2010 Chinon Les Pensees de Pallus, $21.99. Winemakers to consider in your search for Cabernet Franc include: Ballentine, Constant, Conn Creek, Jarvis and Peju in Napa; and Sineann, Janvik, Barrister and Tranche in Washington. I highly recommend you not overlook Cabernet Franc in your next wine selection.

‘Drink what you like’

In the next article, my focus is on the Mâconnais region, France, and its whites, roses and reds.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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