I keep thinking that we should all be drinking more Cabernet Franc. For me, this grape is just the ticket for autumn: herbal, earthy, spicy but never heavy. It's food-loving wine; it wants sage, rosemary, roasted root vegetables, grilled bread smeared with paté or piled with mushrooms. If you're drinking domestically this Thanksgiving, look to these 6 delicious examples from New York, Washington State, and California.
Cab franc may be one of the signature red grapes of the Finger Lakes in New York State, but of course the wines' styles vary depending on the vineyards and the winemakers. While several of the Finger Lakes cab francs we tried were light in color, Dr. Konstantin Frank's 2010 Cabernet Franc is a deep ruby. One side is oregano, basil, and tea, and the other fresh, soft raspberries. It's a tart, slender ready for a big plate of mushroom-and-sausage laced stuffing (or herb-rubbed duck breast.) The acids can cut through the fat of a rich meal, and the alcohol is low enough to allow you to have another glass. The bottle goes for $20.
Ravines Wine Cellars' 2010 Cabernet Franc is peppery, sagey, and earthy—a little funky and full of iron and herbs. The grapes (all cab franc) are from two vineyards, one gravelly soil on limestone, the other shale with clay. 2010 was an exceptionally ripe year for the area, but this wine still tops out at 13% alcohol. It's ready for charcuterie, and it would love if you'd throw the turkey's liver into the stuffing, minced fine. If you were going to seek out one NY Cab Franc, I'd start with this. It sells for $19.
Where the Finger Lakes wines are wirey and a bit...animal, we also enjoyed some softer examples from other areas. Walla Walla Vintners 2010 Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc is a little plusher thanks to the addition of 9% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The resulting wine ends up with soft blueberry and black currant flavors wrapped in eucalyptus. It sells for $28.
But if you're looking for what cab franc can do on its own in Washington State, L'Ecole No. 41 2009 Estate Cabernet Franc from Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley is a delicious example. It brings equal parts cassis and herbs to the table, and asks for mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Though it's not as leafy and feral as some Cab Franc from other places, it has a lovely subtle earthiness accented by dusty tannins and hints of cocoa.
We're also big fans of Bebame Red 2011. Steve Edmunds (of Edmunds St. John) is the winemaker, and he blends 93% Cabernet Franc with 7% Gamay from El Dorado county in the Sierra Foothills of California to make this bottling. It's fermented and settled for four months in stainless steel (without added yeast.) It's super herbal, with hints of thyme, smoky tea, black licorice, and volcanic earth. It sells for 20 bucks and sometimes less.
Lang & Reed Wine Company was founded in Napa with the sole intention of exploring what cab franc can do in California. Their Lang & Reed 2010 Cabernet Franc North Coast is definitely on the herbal, leafy side—no covering up the cab franc here. The grapes are sourced from four vineyards, including the own-rooted High Chaparral Vineyard and two Lake County vineyards that are over 2,000 feet in elevation. The wine tastes like tea and moss with dark, dry cherry juice coming through as the wine is exposed to air (you should definitely decant at least 30 minutes before serving.) If you're making your turkey on the grill this year, this $25 bottle is the one to buy.
Have you tried any good Cab Franc lately? Got a favorite bottle to recommend?
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All wines provided as samples for review consideration.