One of the world's truly sublime red wines -- lighter red and dominated by notes of pepper, smoke, earth, and red stone fruit -- Cabernet Franc, a genetic parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, occupies of a place of intrigue throughout the world. It is often regarded as a blending partner to other varietals, such as in Bordeaux, where it holds esteem as one of that region's principal varietals. Meanwhile, it reigns on high in Virginia, producing some of that region's most stunning mono-varietal red wines. We've our hands on a particularly intriguing Spanish blend of Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo (yes). Today, the fourth of December, we join a growing group of winemakers, aficionados, writers, and fans in celebrating Cabernet Franc Day.
There is agreement in wine geek circles that December fourth is no random date, for Cab Franc is believed to have originated when France's Cardinal Richelieu transported cuttings of the vine to the Loire Valley south of Brittany, where he was governor from 1632 until his death in 1642 on... the fourth of December. Debate his historical and religious legacy all you like, for his place is secure in annals of that which has so often bound the two together: wine. A fluke encounter (we'll call it a one night trellis) with the white Sauvignon Blanc grape later that century yielded Cabernet Sauvignon that would not only come to dominate winemaking in the gravelly soil on the Left Bank of the Garonne River in Bordeaux, but would help put California winemaking on the map in the twentieth century, ultimately becoming one of the world's most widely planted red grape varietals.
Consider Cabernet Franc the profoundly intriguing father to one of the world's biggest personalities, the intellectual forebear of the prolific playboy.
We're celebrating with a tasting of three, of which -- intentionally, for exploration's sake -- none are French. Seek out your own today, and throughout the winter. You'll not only impress the local wine merchant with your taste for sophisticated grape varieties, but you'll be rewarded with one of the world's truly sublime red wines.
2013 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc (Paso Robles, California, USA)
There are today few more visible advocates for Cab Franc that Lori and Micahel Budd of Dracaena Wines. They've grown through amateur winemaking to producing several vintages of Paso Robles, California Cab Franc over the last several years, and have through social media tirelessly promoted not just their own grape, but the broader global wine community in general. Their 2013 vintage opens a bit astringently in the nose, but follows on with notes of sandalwood, cocoa powder, cardamom, and a little nuttiness. It's much smoother than expected on the palate, whose lack of signature Cab Franc peppery notes is offset with touches of cigar smoke -- or, rather, the woody sensation in your mouth of burning wood in a fireplace or camp fire -- milk chocolate, and after about three hours to air in the glass, white tea and vanilla, like the custard from a crème brûlée. The 2013 vintage is ready to drink now, but the 2015 vintage is still on sale. Order some and have it shipped direct. We're confident you'll have no regrets.
2014 Delaplane Cellars "Benevino" Cabernet Franc (Middleburg, Virginia, USA)
We tasted the 2014 vintage -- Virginia's signature red grape from one of Virginia's very best wineries -- shortly after it hit the bottle. It was divine then, actually one of the single best Virginia wines that had ever cross our lips. A couple of years on, now, and we find a wine whose best year we suspect to be 2019. Keep your bottles safe until then. Meanwhile, today we're getting a nose of clove cigarette, tobacco, black pepper, generalized spice box, and red stone fruit. Follow that up with more red stone fruit on the palate, unripen red plum, green pepper. You might find some Merlot-like viscosity when you first sip, followed by cranberry that turns quite smooth, and a little menthol in the finish. Leave it open for a couple of hours and you'll swear your drinking the burnt sugar top of a crème brûlée, though don't try to mix it with the Dracaena and assume you'll get the whole dessert ;-).
Further reading: Virginia's Delaplane Cellars is an indisputably world class winery
2013 Abadal Cabernet Franc - Tempranillo red blend (Pla de Bages, Cataluña, Spain)
If nothing else, we're fond of throwing you for a loop. This Cabernet Franc is actually a blend with Tempranillo from the Spanish region of Pla de Bages in the country's far northeast, even north of Barcelona towards the border with France (thus making it the bottle we're tasting that is closest to Cab Franc's true roots). By far the most fruit forward of the lineup we've tried here (not a hard bar to clear), we found cocoa powder, green pepper, and a bit cooler, dark red fruit in the nose. Several of us recognized notes of unsweetened baking chocolate on the palate -- a rather tongue coating experience -- with hints of cranberry, cherry, red bell pepper, and a little earthen tannin (that's the Tempranillo talking).