Old World vs. New World Round Eight: Cabernet Franc!

Dear readers, of late I have been selecting varieties rather selfishly to challenge myself. How can I be a good reporter if I don’t my push my expectations? I might as well pester myself into trying undesired wines, much as I foist drinks upon people when they say “I don’t like fill-in-blank-variety” and I want to show them what they’re missing. So I decided I needed to get into Cabernet Franc . People, this may be the deepest rabbit hole of discovery I’ve gone down. The more samples of Cabernet Franc I tried, the more I needed to try. Trying so hard to get a grip on this capricious grape that can be so obviously itself, yet still remains mysterious. Is this the Keanu Reeves of grapes? Selfless and handsome but lean and aloof? Mayhaps, albeit it gets little of Keanu’s fame. And little of the fame and grandeur that Cabernet Sauvignon does, despite the fact that it backs Cabernet Sauvignon up in many blends. Call it the bassist to Cab Sauv’s lead guitar. Who’s the drummer? Petite Verdot ? Maybe good ol’ Franc is so happy to back up Cabernet Sauvignon because along with Sauvignon Blanc , it is Cab Sauv’s parent. When seasons are too short for Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen fully, Cab Franc says “never fear son, I’ll put in extra hours at the ripening office and make enough grapes to help fill out the harvest”. Then Franc sits back with a forlorn sigh and adds “But never forget: your mom Sauvignon Blanc does no such thing. Nosirreebob. She’s off taking vacations in New Zealand and making Sauternes with Semillon. She never loved me”. Family drama knows no taxonomic division. Oh Cabernet Franc also sired a little hellion named Merlot. She’s another story. All this is to say that in Bordeaux , Cabernet Franc theoretically serves as both insurance and enhancement, but almost never takes the glory. Where it does shine, all by itself, is in the Loire Valley . But even then it doesn’t brag, putting its name on the bottle. But if you see a wine called “Chinon”, that’s humble humble Cab Franc. It does sometimes lend its names to wine labels in Italy, Chile, the US and more, however! And those are the wines I will be exploring (although if someone wants me to try a bottle of Cheval Blanc…I would). Read to the end for the winning region, but I’ll give you my shower wine pick now. It’s rosé! I’m awarding Ehler’s Sylviane Rosé 2018 the award. It is way red and stone fruit forward, plus vanilla, juniper and acacia backward, and I wish I had more. It is rich but refreshing. But only 29% Cabernet Franc. However, I’m sure papa Cab Franc is happy to see a wine his son Cab Sauv is headlining. Oh, and that wayward Cab Franc scion named Merlot I mentioned earlier? She’s in here too but lets be clear: this is the only time I approve of family in the shower. Now the other contenders! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ CHINON The aforementioned Loire wine. The silky, the OG. Every single one I tried tasted, well, like Cabernet Franc. In Chinon they are leaner and meaner and purer. 2017 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux Earth to Baudry! Or rather there is some earthy brett up top so give this a decant. Earth is also appropriate to mention as Baudry’s various bottlings each come from different plots with different soil types—this one is from gravel over clay-silica. After a decant you will be rewarded with a wine that still has an earth underbelly but growing in that earth are flowers and some boysenberries and a cowboy came through and sat down to eat boysenberries but when he got up he forgot his saddle and---leather I’m saying this Baudry is ballasted by a long leathered finish. 2016 Marie de Beauregard Chinon This was my jammmm. I tasted it at a big Loire tasting event and was compelled to get a full bottle. It had just the right amount of silk with a…light richness? I found compelling. The fruit is rich and ripe the texture fuller but not cloying. Please do yourself a favor and find it. 2015 Domaine de Pallus Les Pensees de Pallus Oooh this had a…sulfur-y nose but swirl and get rewarded by a zippy wine that tastes like….good Cabernet Franc. It tastes like a lighter red wine with attentive but respectful tannins and every sort of peppercorn and a little bit of soil. It is fun, serious and also not serious. But also decant! CALIFORNIA Here’s my thing: a good deal of the examples I tasted I might have had a hard time telling were Cabernet Franc, and I know I’ve said that it a good thing sometimes but…why not just get another variety then? Well, because you’d be missing out on damn delicious wine. That’s why. 2016 Arietta Red Wine H Block Hudson Vineyards I love a mash up of the arts! And wine and Beethoven are both close to my heart. The winery is named for his piano sonata Opus 111. Guaranteed to beat Opus One—both the wine and the Beethoven. This wine has a mysterious incense nature to it that is sensual and sharp and there is licorice and herbal tinctures of all kinds wafting through the air when it traipses by. It is the wine I meet at a bar and it is SO appealing I want to take it home but wait because I’m showing it some damn respect. Sosie Stagecoach Vineyard Block K5 Napa Valley It actually feels like Napa via Italy. It carries a measure of ripeness and power that yells Napa or perhaps Bordeaux but an energy that says earth and vinegar that leans things up and makes this wine more of a gentle beast. The nose is raisinated but peppy. Tongue has FANTASTIC vanilla integration (hot). Give it at least 10-15 minutes to unfurl in your glass. 2016 Darioush Napa Valley Signature Cabernet Franc This wine is quite handsome. It tastes like money. Luxurious. Tannins integrated. Vanilla lurks in the background and rich berries hang out in front and if you drink this you will feel rich. Rich in wine. Rich in rich wine. I really like their oak-work here. It could be too much but like a rich chocolate cake it somehow is just the right amount of decadent. CHILE I’ve often found Chilean wines have a tendency toward green pepperiness. With ripe fruit. Wines that have attitude. So I was leery. What the what, Chile! You showed up for me. 2016 Vina Maquis Colchagua Valley Cabernet Franc I went in scared and WOW! This isn’t even their highest-priced offering and it is EXACTLY what I want in a chillable light red but with just a tiny bit of grit. It speaks to red berries, light pepper and herbs and teases at minerality that comes out with time in the glass, provided you can control yourself long enough to let it breathe. It neither comes in like a lion nor out like a lamb. Rather, this four-generation-strong winery slides into your mouth like a tune that could get stuck in your mind but it stays in your mind not too long. Just long enough to desire another glass. Oh, also they meet the voluntary Sustainability Code in Chile so that’s good news! 2016 Calcu Reserva Especial Colchagua Valley Cabernet Franc This is different. It has more body. A hint of darkness. It is not overly-green though. It hints at cedar and pink pepper on the nose and then the mouth---it coats but does not really grip. Again with the silky tannins. It is a little unintegrated—but I think perhaps another year in the bottle will do it well. Anyway I dig and especially if you are eating rich savories I think this wine would be a swell partner. ITALY Particularly up in Tuscany, Italy has taken a shine to the grape. Sure, as part of Super Tuscans, but also on its own. And in the north some more sprightly versions skip side-by-side grapes like Schiava. And they are fun. 2017 Tenuta Luisa Cabernet Franc Family winery, fun wine. From Friuli! It will f you up in the right way while we are on f words. It jumps into your mouth—not in the heavy mouth-coating way but in the dancing way that you almost suspect bubbles but no. This wine just has zipbambang! to it, as in it’s quick on its feet and the berry chaser is grand. 2017 Duemane CiFRA Costa Toscana Cabernet Franc Biodynamic jig-doer. For some reason I picture this one doing a jig. Why do I think all Italian Cab Francs are dancers? This is reminiscent of a Pinot Noir that had a hint of raisining—just the tiniest hint—but golly it is light, translucent and bright. Doing a cherry cordial jig. The favorite? Okay so here is the thing…what I have gathered from this experience is that these days Cabernet Franc is not so easy to pin down. In all honesty, I tasted the things I most loved from Chinon and California. But I had a hard time naming a favorite. SO. I am giving the award to the country that surprised me: Chile. Such fantastic wine and the prices also-ly, but I’d call these fantastic even if they cost more. Now, if you need me I’ll be in the shower with that Ehler’s rosé but sadly not Keanu. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Fast Food Slow Wine So You Wanna Be a Wine Nerd: The Blind Taste The Cans of Summer 2019 Old World vs. New World Round Seven: Viognier! Summer Cocktails: Sparkling not Spritzing Up Your Life Old World vs. New World Round Six: Syrah! May Day! May Day! Emergency Drinks in Dire Straits Pink Wine, Pink Wine Everywhere But Is It Vegan? You can also listen to Ellen's podcast with Shaughn Buchholz, The Wine Situation here .

Domaine Bernard Baudry

Les Grézeaux Chinon Cabernet Franc 2017

Decant this bad boy for at least a half hour, give it a big swirl and you’ll get a wine that has an earthy backdrop that lays down in your mouth and plants delicate tannin roots and sprouts blackberries and purple flowers and maybe a red rose. When I finish this bottle, mayhaps I’ll put a rose in it too. — a month ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Trixie it’s good stuff!
Ellen Clifford

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@Jay Kline yah I’m into it!
Ellen Clifford

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Oh and thanks @Matt Perlman for the recommendation!

Viña Maquis

Colchagua Valley Cabernet Franc 2016

Oh hey this is fabulous. In a “I wouldn’t necessarily know it’s cab f” way. It is light on its feet but not in the spritzy way like last night’s was. Lithe not light. But it’s dancing on a rug as opposed to a slippery floor. Silky ripe tannins that don’t grip until the last moment. Bright cherries. Bits and bobs of pepper. A bit of earth and herb. It’s not especially complex but it fits thoroughly in “refreshing red”. I’m here for it. — a month ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Trixie thanks, m’lady! I am fond of my big Burg glasses!
Shawn Thompson

Shawn Thompson

Love my Cab francs! Nice review.
Ellen Clifford

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@Shawn Thompson thank you!! There will be an article to accompany this madness soon

Ehlers Estate

St. Helena Cabernet Franc 2016

I accidentally deleted my review on this when I only wanted to edit it. Whoopsies and apologies to @Matt Perlman and @Severn Goodwin who had commented! I really love how the greenness manifests in this wine. If fresh grape jam could taste...fresh. That’s this. It’s superb. — a month ago

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Domaine de Pallus

Les Pensées de Pallus Chinon Cabernet Franc 2015

Oh zippy. It is less a hedonist and more and artist. An artist keen on committing to a movement whilst retaining its agency. It has a bit of a funky nose so do the swirl decant dance. Then you’ll have fun earth and every color of pepper and tannins that speak up then stand down yet linger respectfully in the background a like a chaperon who keeps just enough distance. Prob my fave Chinon yet. — a month ago

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Tyler Martinelli

Tyler Martinelli

I love this wine 👌🏻
Ellen Clifford

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@Tyler Martinelli it was my first time trying it! But won’t be my last:)

Darioush

Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2016

I’d been warned this was going to be an oak bomb and...nope. There’s oak but it isn’t, say, Guigal levels. And if there were a human oak detector equivalent of, well, bomb-sniffing dogs, that’s me. There are pleasant vanilla things going on with this. It tastes like expensive winemaking—focused voluptuous tannins, ripe fruit in a myriad of colors, earth that certain was trod by royalty and CEOs and...this is luxurious cab franc I would not know was in fact cab f but...do I care? Not right now, no. I’m enjoying my wine that is not an oak bomb. It simply is bomb. — a month ago

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Peter van den Besselaar

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Fine description Ellen 👍

Duemani

CiFRA Costa Toscana Cabernet Franc 2017

Good job again Italy! Like the last Cab F I tried from Italy this one is a dancer. A dancer with strong gams and suede slippers. But doing a bright, light cherry jam jig. Or some Italian dance. Tarantella? — a month ago

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Trixie

Trixie

💃Cheers!
Ellen Clifford

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@Trixie cheers! Hmmm trying to find more dance emojis and beyond 💃🏼an o my seeing the dancing bunny twin ones or...whatever they are supposed to be 👯‍♀️😬

Arietta

H Block Hudson Vineyards Cabernet Franc Merlot 2016

Hi there, shall we light incense and put flowers in our hair and think deep thoughts while eating various herbal pastes upon roasting meat? I don’t actually quite remember what roasting meat tastes like but I’ve smelled it and this steak has a good deal of pepper and aforementioned herbal paste. Licorice for dessert. This wine is sensual and a little mysterious much like my soul aspires to be. Excuse me. I’m going to go light a candle. — a month ago

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Sosie

Cabernet Franc Stagecoach Vineyard Block 5

It’s so hot and just one of Cab f’s selling points (to me) is a tiny tiny chill on it is pleasant. Albeit the informational sheet on it suggest a 2 hour decant. But I’m finding an hour shows the bear coming out of his cave. I feel the dried fruits but they are laced with balsamic and spices and the oak is there but not ostentatious. This wine will walk you home (or at least to your Uber) at the end of the night. — a month ago

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Tenuta Luisa

Friuli Isonzo Cabernet Franc 2017

This is the face of someone who was feeling wary of her wine. Fortunately the “after” would be much better. One sip and I said “it’s alivvvve!” Which it is. There is a zip! on the tongue that makes you almost think there is effervescence except there isn’t. It’s a prickle followed by fresh blackberry soup. Like someone smashed the heck out of these berries. Pulverized to the point they almost cooked but not really. They still zing like fresh off the bush. The level of tannin also feels akin to the astringency of eating a raw berry, seeds and all. I was scared but all is good. This wine is also very good. Just make sure it is actual cellar temp. — a month ago

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Trixie

Trixie

Nice review as always! 🍷
Ellen Clifford

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@Trixie thanks m’lady!

Béatrice et Pascal Lambert

Les Terrasses Chinon Cabernet Franc 2017

Not a bad Whole Foods buy. I’m admittedly not generally a Cab F fan but here’s the thing I love about French wines: they tastes how their AOC sounds. Chinon sounds silky and and a bit flirty but with a tiny bit of a cold shoulder. French model who has seen it all. It has silk and berries and sashays past you smelling decadent but you talk to them and they answer you in curt single syllable words, but you don’t mind since, well, this is Chinon. It hints a glamour and depth and enfolds into that not-rude-but-not-warm green-ness. It is pretty (in my experience thus far) typical Chinon. — 2 months ago

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