Cabernet Franc is an international red grape variety from which very great wines can be made. Known mostly in blends with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux blends, it is capable of yielding very elegant and long-lived wines even when vinified alone. Its name indicates what is its most valuable characteristic: a “franc wine” is a wine that has in its bouquet a distinct scent that stands out from all others and makes it immediately recognizable.
Its wide distribution in the Gironde and Loire regions has long led to the assumption that the grape variety originated in France. However, some DNA analyses have shown a parent-child relationship with Morenoa and Hondarrabi Beltza, two vines from the Basque Country: it is therefore very likely that it arrived in southwestern France from Gipuzkoa or Navarre, in the northern Pyrenees, perhaps thanks to pilgrims returning from Santiago del Compostela.
Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley is thought to have landed around 1630 when Cardinal Richelieu sent some vine shoots to Abbot Breton, who was responsible for planting them in Chinon and Bourgueil. Then in 1997 it was discovered, again through DNA testing, that it was from the crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that Cabernet Sauvignon was born.
Cabernet Franc has come to occupy 45,000 hectares of vineyard area worldwide, of which 36,000 are in France. Here, it reaches its highest levels in the Libournais, where it is produced both in the Bordeaux blend and in purity, and in the Loire Valley, where tradition sees its use mainly as a single varietal.
Cabernet Franc is also grown in Italy, although to a lesser extent than previously believed: in fact, it has been discovered that many of the vines grown are actually Carmenère, a grape variety very similar to Cabernet Franc. Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto are the regions with the largest area under vine.
Tuscany, then, has distinguished itself by producing excellent wines made from both pure Cabernet Franc and blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grape variety is also grown in Sicily and Apulia, where it has adapted very well to the warmer climate. Worldwide, Cabernet Franc is found in Canada, California, Washington, Virginia, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Spain.
Cabernet Franc has even reached China, where it is grown between 2,220 and 2,600 meters above sea level on the slopes of the Himalayas.
Cabernet Franc is a vigorous grape variety that adapts well to many soils and climates. It withstands winter frosts and harsh climates well, so much so that it is also used as a base for making Ice Wines, but it also gives excellent results in warmer climates. It performs best in clay-limestone soils but also grows well in sandy and loose soils as long as they are well drained because it is sensitive to water stress.
Medium-late ripening usually occurs a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Although it is a vigorous vine, its productivity is not high, hovering around 30-40 hl/ha and exceptionally reaching 80 hl/ha in Languedoc. It has good resistance to pests and cryptogams but shows fair susceptibility to botrytis, esca, leafhopper and eutipiosis.
The various clones show some homogeneity although production potential can be quite different. The Cabernet Franc leaf is bright light green, medium-sized, pentagonal, three- to five-lobed.
The cluster is medium, cylindrical or conical, fairly compact and sometimes winged. The deep blue tending to black berries are medium to small, spheroidal, with thick, very pruinose skin. The pulp is juicy and has a more or less intense herbaceous flavor.
Cabernet Franc is used both in blends and in purity, for the production of red, rosé, white and Ice Wines. Red wines vinified in purity have a brilliant ruby red color that tends to garnet with aging. Its aroma is unmistakable, with smoky and bell pepper notes, given by the high amount of pyrazines in its grapes.
If picked unripe, the vegetal bell pepper note may be prevalent making the wine harsh. Harvested when ripe, the herbaceous notes will give way to smoky ones and hints of violet, raspberry, strawberry, ivy leaves and, after aging, licorice, graphite, cocoa, menthol notes.
The taste of Cabernet Franc wine is round, broad and pleasantly fresh. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, it is less rich in tannins and therefore ages more quickly and can be enjoyed in less time.
This red wine made from pure Cabernet Franc can be paired with the entire meal. Because of its herbaceous and smoky notes, it goes well with pasta dishes with meat sauce, game, grilled meats, stews, and roasts. It also goes well with semi-mature and aged cheeses.
From an ampelographic point of view, the two grape varieties are very similar, but Cabernet Franc buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also has fewer tannins-so aging can be faster-and fewer polyphenols and anthocyanins, which is why the color is less intense. On the palate, Cabernet Franc tends to have more herbaceous notes.