Cabernet Franc is…
- The 17th most widely planted red grape variety in the world;
- The 16th biggest red grape in terms of tons crushed in California in 2017;
- The parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (with Sauvignon Blanc) and Merlot (with Madeleine Noire des Charentes) and Carmenere (with Gros Cabernet);
- And it accounted for more than $31 million worth of grapes sold in California in 2017.
Using these factoids to describe Cabernet Franc is -as someone said- like trying to reason your way to an orgasm. Cabernet Sauvignon is about structure and prestige; Pinot Noir about the intellect and matching outcome to a specific patch of dirt; Cabernet Franc, in its purest form, is all about sex.
From the silkiness of its texture, to the exoticism of its aromas; from the raciness of its acidity to its emotion-prodding “it-ness,” Cabernet Franc is terrifyingly and wonderfully naughty.
As with all great wines, Cabernet Franc is a product of where it is grown. The classic models – Bordeaux and the Loire – produce radically different wines, and not just because one is a blend and the other pure. Cabernet Franc – again, at its qualitative peak – has a relatively narrow range of temperature in which it has the capacity to produce a pure (again, that word!) expression of the varietal.
The grape seems to flourish in cooler temperatures, not Pinot cold, but certainly not Zinfandel hot. My vision of the making of the wine is the challenge of walking just on the right side of the pyrazine tracks. Unripe, and CF becomes a weedy, thin, acidic shell. Over-ripe, it lolls around lazily on your tongue, bereft of its floral perfume, the exotic notes of a next-day-fire on the beach, and the tantalizing and frankly, coquettish, arrow of acid that ties the best examples together. And like Sauvignon Blanc, its vinous bedmate, Cabernet Franc takes to new oak like a cat to water. All that toasty caramel, tobacco, and coffee obscure the earthy, fruity, sometimes funky, always mystifying eau de CF. I want to make sure that the fruit in our Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard hangs just long enough to synthesize green notes but not so long that it loses the varietally-correct herbal notes that help give it its absolute individuality.
I made my first vintage of Cabernet Franc in 2005, but came to be obsessed with the grape’s potential in 2007 with the first vintage of Lineage | Livermore Valley. In addition to the 100% versions I make for my Steven Kent Winery brand, CF is an indispensable part of the blend of my flagship brand. A natural blending partner in Bordeaux, in my wine Cabernet Franc is the id…(hopefully) relentlessly and lubriciously driving flavors and aroma and structure forward to a very long conclusion.
The divinity of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir have been acknowledged already. The “next big red” sobriquet has been variously used on Syrah and Sangiovese in California. But there is reason to believe that it is Cabernet Franc that might be the next great red hope. Should this happen, there will be a great many mind-blowing wines out there to fall head over heels in love with. I can’t hardly wait!