Innovative vintners and creative viticulture are just some of the good yields in an otherwise lean economy. While over-extraction, the non-judicious use of oak and the objective of making wines for scoring purposes – “trophy” wines – are in retreat, there are winemakers who coax magic from all grapes.
Sometimes, these nifty tricks are done with vines transplanted many miles from their place of origin or historic soils. But even though many grapes thrive in their native lands, they remain stuck in supporting roles. This seems to be the case with Cabernet Franc – one of the mainstays of Bordeaux winemaking. However, unlike other Old World gems that are getting New World notice – e.g., Argentine Malbec, California Merlot – Cabernet Franc is a virtual wallflower.
And that is both figurative and literal. Cabernet Franc has perhaps the most beguiling bouquet of all Bordeaux grapes. And its flavor profile – while sometimes peppery or vegetal on the initial taste – still has the wherewithal to stand alongside its Bordeaux brethren Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And this is true when it’s produced in both in France and the New World.
So why is there not the level of prestige as for those aforementioned grapes?
“It typically doesn’t have the longevity to stand on its own,” says Marc Pucylowski of Binny’s Beverage Depot. “Malbec, as a single-varietal bottling, has been able to what Cabernet Franc can’t do: be cellared. Cabernet Franc needs the other varietals to help it achieve longevity.”
Still, if one finds a young, single-vineyard Cabernet Franc, it can be a great value. Plus, one thing Cabernet Franc has that allows it to “stand on its own” is that its profile and status aren’t being artificially inflated by marketing or score-infatuated critics. There are some available in the Chicago metro area’s market that combine the trademark fruitiness, soft tannins and a reasonable price point. Chicago Budget Wine Examiner suggests a few below:
Domaine des Ruettes Saumur-Champigny 2009: A great representation of French Cabernet Franc, especially for the price. Very dry and full-bodied, it has an aroma of pepper, black cherry and violet. The palate is earthy, but not so much that it overpowers the black plum and herbal elements. Serve with roast duck or grilled, rosemary-infused pork chops. $12.
Di Stefano “Sogno” Cabernet Franc 2007: Supple, yet heavy-duty with more than 15 percent alcohol. It’s a great option for an outdoor party that runs a fine line between refined and rollicking. Grill some lamb chops with thyme, sage and coarse black pepper, and enjoy the rich currant and blackberry fruit that lingers beautifully. $16.
Ricominciare Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: A big wine, with toothsome tannins – could “stand” to be on its side until fall, really. And, although the Cabernet Franc doesn’t stand alone, it’s the grape carrying the weight in this Argentine wine, with more than 60 percent. Aromas are of dark berries, cedar and mint, while the palate is a bomb of blueberry and a bit of cocoa – and a long finish. Steak. Done. Medium-rare. $13.