Cabernet Franc is a black-skinned French wine grape variety grown in most wine producing nations. The variety is most famously known as the third grape of Bordeaux and can be found in many of the world's top Bordeaux Blend wines. It most commonly appears in blended red wines, where it adds herbaceous accents of tobacco and dark spice.
Its varietal wines are light to medium bodied and often show vegetal characteristics, in particular green bell peppers. This has led many wine drinkers to incorrectly identify Cabernet Franc as unripe Cabernet Sauvignon, or even Carmenère. This has been highlighted in Friuli, Italy, where plantings thought to be Cabernet Franc were later classified as Carmenere.
Cabernet Franc is commonly compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, which is not without justification. Along with Sauvignon Blanc, the former is a parent of the latter. (Recent DNA profiling has also shown that Cabernet Franc is also one of Merlot's parents).
However, Cabernet Franc ripens at least a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. While it has thinner skin and lower acidity, it is also known for its hardiness and often grown as an "insurance" grape.
Cabernet Franc's home is widely accepted as Libournais in Bordeaux. Within this sub-region are the prestigious villages of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, which is where some of the most highly regarded Cabernet Franc wines originate. Examples include Cheval Blanc (typically around two-thirds Cabernet Franc) and Ausone (which is an even split of Cabernet Franc and Merlot).
The variety prefers cool, inland climates such as the Loire Valley. The appellations of Chinon (in Touraine) along with Saumur and Saumur-Champigny (in Anjou) are important bastions of varietal Cabernet Franc wines. The wines are prized for their aromas of ripe berry and sweet spices. Top examples can also be found in the Anjou Villages appellation, and in Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgeil in Touraine. (That said, all of these AOCs do permit minority portions of other varieties.)
Lighter examples from these regions generally exhibit graphite and red licorice notes, with darker wines showing more cigar and leather aromas.
The local Loire Valley name for Cabernet Franc is Breton. This is not a reference to Bretagne, the region just northwest of the Loire, but the name of the man credited with bringing the variety to popularity in the 17th Century. Abbot Breton of Bourgueil Abbey planted and tended to his vines with such care that local vine growers followed his lead. They began producing what was to become the Loire Valley's signature style of red wine. (© Proprietary Content, Wine-Searcher)
Outside France, Cabernet Franc is grown in Italy, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the Americas. In Canada, it is produced as a dry red wine, but perhaps more interestingly as an icewine in Ontario. Further south, in the United States, it is grown in California, Washington State and Long Island, most often to feature in Bordeaux-style blends.
In Argentina the variety has long featured – albeit on a smaller scale – alongside other Bordeaux varieties. As of 2017 it accounted for less than one percent of the red grapes grown here. However this still means there were 1042 hectares (2577 acres) recorded in 2017. Furthermore it is proving increasingly popular as a solo performer. Chile has over 1200ha (2965 acres) planted to the variety, though it is less common as a single varietal wine.
Synonyms include: Bordo, Bouchet, Bouchy, Breton, Cabernet Franco, Cabernet Frank.
Food matches for Cabernet Franc include:
- Rabbit rillettes
- Lentil soup with smoked ham hock
- Herb-crusted lamb rack