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Cabernet Franc 

Cabernet France grape cluster.Recent studies in ampelography, using the relatively new application of DNA fingerprinting, have determined that cabernet franc is one of the genetic parents of cabernet sauvignon (the other is sauvignon blanc). Cabernet franc was also found to be the common ancestor among many other grapes of Bordeaux, including carmenère, malbec, and merlot.

The differences between franc and sauvignon become apparent when grown and fermented in close proximity. Cabernet franc vines bear thinner-skinned, earlier-ripening grapes with lower overall acidity, when compared to cabernet sauvignon. Yields are similar, although cabernet franc normally buds and ripens somewhat earlier. Cabernet Franc leaf.Consequently vineyards in climates where rain is a harvest-time threat often plant this grape, in place of or in addition to cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet franc vines survive cold winters better than cabernet sauvignon, but are more susceptible to being damaged by Spring frosts. Overall, c franc prefers slightly cooler weather than c. sauvignon, within the range of 59° to 66° F, seasonally averaged.

France has by far the most cabernet franc plantings of any wine producing nation with over 35,000 acres. There are significant plantings of cabernet franc in St. Emilion (two-thirds of the blend at Ch. Cheval Blanc), the Loire Valley (where it is known as breton and used to produce both red and rosé wines), and south west France (aka bouchy).

There are cabernet franc vineyards in Spain's Penedes, in Romania, Hungary, the Balkans, and the Friuli region of north eastern Italy (aka cabernet frank). New plantings in the 1990s in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina show promise. In the United States, cabernet franc is planted in Long Island, New York, and in Washington state. Although first brought to the state in 1872, the grape was little-used in California until several acres were planted in Napa Valley in the mid-1960s. California now has about 2,000 acres, mostly planted since 1980 and over half that total in Napa and Sonoma.

Depending a great deal on vineyard practices, the flavor profile of Cabernet Franc may be both fruitier and sometimes more herbal or vegetative than Cabernet Sauvignon, although lighter in both color and softer in tannins. Over-cropping and underexposure each tend to accentuate the vegetative flavor elements1. More aromatic than most Cabernet Sauvignon, typically somewhat spicy and often reminiscent of plums and especially violets, Cabernet Franc is more often used as a secondary or tertiary element in varietally-blended red wines, such as Bordeaux or Meritage, although several producers in France, especially the Loire Valley AC's of Chinon and Saumur, as well as several in the United States and the Friuli region of Italy, along with a few in other countries consistently release stand-alone bottlings.

*Typical Cabernet Franc Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

FRUIT: black currant, raspberry, plum

OAK (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood

FLORAL: violet OAK (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar

SPICY: black licorice


VEGETAL: tobacco, asparagus, bell pepper, gooseberry (methoxy-pyrazine) BOTTLE AGE: musk, mushroom, earth, cedar, cigar box

(see our latest Tasting Notes [PDF] )

by Jim LaMar

1. The compound responsible for "vegetative" smells and flavors is methoxy-pyrazine, and is shared by all of the red Bordeaux varieties to some degree, as well as sauvignon blanc, in their DNA. RETURN

1. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

2. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

3. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

4. Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. London: Allen Lane/Penguin and New York: Ecco/Harper-Collins, 2012

5. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

6. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

7. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996


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