Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there grew grape vines. Cabernet sauvignon was a popular, well-liked variety. It's vineyard mate, cabernet franc, was not nearly as popular, but still very important for what it offered. This is the story of "the Cabernets," and why neither of them should be overlooked.
Let's begin with the popular Cabernet Sauvignon. Everyone seems to know this grape. It's one of the major grape varieties grown in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is thought to have originated. DNA testing at UC Davis, in the late 1990's, showed cabernet sauvignon to be the result of a crossing of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc that most likely happened sometime in the 17th century. Over time, it's heartiness and intense flavor helped it to become the worlds most planted wine grape (until the 1990's, when merlot, another major Bordeaux varietal, took over that title).
Perhaps the two flavors most associated with cabernet sauvignon are black currants (cassis) and green pepper. Blackberry, cigar box, vanillin, and leather are also common descriptors of this varietal, the intensities of which will vary depending largely on the soil and climate where it's grown. It's thick skin lends to the deep, dark color. It buds later than most varieties in the vineyard, and thusly, ripens later than most, increasing it's chances of mildew if early rains come.
While cabernet sauvignon seems to be known by many, cabernet franc usually garners raised eyebrows and perplexed looks from many a wine consumer. Perhaps this is due to the fact that cabernet franc is most often blended with other grapes (most notably it's offspring, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot, the other major Bordeaux grape variety).
Cabernet franc is believed to have originated in 17th century France, when Cardinal Richelieu planted cuttings in the Loire Valley. At one time, it was the sixth most widely planted grape variety in France, where it still dominates in worldwide acreage. One of the five major grapes used in making Bordeaux wines (along with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot), it is valued for the violet and spice it adds to many Bordeaux blends.
Similar to cabernet sauvignon in its flavor profile, it buds and ripens slightly earlier in the vineyard, withstands winter weather better, is prone to damage by spring frosts, and has a thinner skin. France still has the most acreage devoted to cabernet franc, but it does well in other grape producing areas, and in the United States, it is doing particularly well in Washington and New York, as well as California, where it most often shows up in a meritage.
The Cabs are both worthy grapes, resulting in remarkable wines. Get to know them both, individually and as a team!