By JoAnn Actis-Grande
Valentine’s Day is about love. In wine, I love cabernet franc, a red grape varietal that grows in various regions throughout the world, taking on a unique personality depending on the terroir. From the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere, it’s always exciting. Cabernet franc is a treasure to find and rarely disappoints.
Originating in France, cabernet franc is one of the five Bordeaux varietals (the others are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot). The grape is less known than the other Bordeaux varietals, but stands out in the glass given its structure and flavor. Flavors include raspberry, cherry, cedar, bell pepper and herbs. It is considered the friendliest food pairing wine. The grape also makes a delicious addition in the finest blended wines.
There are similarities between cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in taste but cab franc grapes need less time on the vine which produces a lighter-bodied wine with less tannin and acid than cabernet sauvignon. When these two grapes are blended together, they make some of the finest wines in the world. Note that cabernet franc is a parent grape to cabernet sauvignon – the other is sauvignon blanc.
In the Loire Valley wine region of France, the local name for cabernet franc is Breton and the wines produced are said to be the best expressions of the grape. The areas of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny are the most important red wine producing areas in Loire. The wines can be enjoyed at a younger age and are less astringent, and they offer great aging potential. Cabernet franc is also used to make reasonably priced rosés in the Loire.
In Italy, cabernet franc has been around at least since the 1800s and excels in the cooler northeastern regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto Adige. You can also find the grape growing further south in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and in Tuscany – especially along the coast in Bolgheri (home of the famed Super Tuscans) and Maremma.
Cabernet franc made its way to South Africa in the late 1970s as mostly a blending grape. Today it’s doing progressively well as a single varietal wine grown mostly in the Stellenbosch region thriving in its chalky, limestone soil conditions.
In South America, cabernet franc is experiencing a renaissance particularly in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay where other Bordeaux varietals have made their mark as well (think malbec).
Here in the United States, California, Washington State, New York and Virginia are the key states for producing cabernet franc. Although the grape first arrived in California in 1872, cabernet franc was little used until several acres were planted in the mid-1960s. California now has many acres of plantings in the northern areas including Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Sierra Foothills, but you can find cab franc all over the state.
New York State produces very interesting cabernet franc, with many proclaiming it as the signature grape of Long Island’s North Fork and in parts of the Hudson River Valley. In the Finger Lakes, it is the planted more than any other red grape variety.
Cabernet franc pairs really well with chocolate making this wine a lovely choice for Valentine’s Day!
Look for these recommendations at your favorite wine retailer and on restaurant wine lists.
2015 Domaine Grosbois Chinon, France
The finest expression of cabernet franc from its terroir, an earthy wine with aromas and flavors of dark berries, black currents and spice.
2013 Durigutti Cabernet Franc Mendoza, Argentina
Flavorful cherry, cola and cassis rise from the glass leading to tastes of vanilla, caramel and tobacco.
2012 Prima Donna Cabernet Franc, Uruguay
A deep ruby violet red color, earthy aromas with slight smoky flavors complement the aftertaste.
2014 Ravines Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes, N.Y.
Deep ruby red color with ripe plum and red berry fruit, almost jammy, with spicy and earthy aromas. Full bodied style with very soft texture but good structure.
2011 Merriam Vineyards Cabernet Franc Dry Creek, Sonoma, CA
From the Jones vineyard, this wine shows a rich dark color with aromas and flavors of blueberry, raspberry, fig and mocha.
This post originally appeared on Fosters.com on February 8, 2017.
JoAnn Actis-Grande travels to many great wine regions all over the world writing about wine, travel, and curious lifestyles. She lives in Portsmouth and can be reached by email at email@example.com. Find more of her Let’s Talk Wine columns online.