We have had several discussions at Azo Vino around the types of grapes that are available in California. One grape that is seeing limited, but very interesting growth and availability is the Cabernet Franc, also known as Bouchet, Breton, Carmenet, Grosse-Vidure.
In North America, this close cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon has adapted well to cooler areas, especially the northeast and Great Lakes regions. In particular, Long Island, with its maritime-moderated climate, has produced excellent Cabernet Franc.
With a climate similar to Bordeaux’s — and the successful presence of other Bordeaux cepages, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot — Long Island may be the best region in North America to emulate the style of real claret. In Canada, Cab Franc has progressed well on the Niagara Peninsula, as both a varietal wine and as a component of Bordeaux-type blends. Recent research has shattered long-held beliefs about the relationship between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
It now appears that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the progeny of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, and not vice-versa, as previously believed. Nevertheless, Cabernet Franc takes a back seat to Cabernet Sauvignon everywhere that they grow side-by-side.
This secondary role does not diminish the importance of Cabernet Franc. The often overly austere and closed nature of Cabernet Sauvignon (particularly in youth) benefits from complementary varieties like Cabernet Franc, which can mitigate these hard, unpleasant qualities. Cab Franc tends to be less deeply pigmented, more obviously aromatic and fruity in youth, with suggestions of raspberries, violets, currants and herbs.
When blended with the more astringent Cabernet Sauvignon, this less tannic grape also allows some of Cabernet Sauvignon’s more reclusive charms to present themselves. The importance of this blending grape role has been understood for well over a century in the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wines of Bordeaux’s left bank. However, this was only a recent epiphany to most New World Cabernet specialists, such as those in California.
Wherever Cabernet Franc makes a solo appearance — as in the central Loire appellations of Chinon and Bourgueil — the grape (known there as Breton) makes leaner, fresher styles of Cabernet, designed for earlier consumption. In cooler regions, Cabernet Franc’s earlier ripening is a significant advantage over Cabernet Sauvignon, which may not fully ripen. It is this ecological factor that makes Cabernet Franc the preferred Cabernet in the shorter season of cool-climate vineyards.
At Azo Vino we offer a couple of locally grown Cabernet Francs for you to choose from, so please stop in and pick up a bottle.