But wait, there’s more. As in more to say about cabernet franc.
I was remiss in not mentioning the wonderful cab franc-based blend from Virage, founded by former Minnesotan Emily Richer. I was also remiss in note interviewing the passionate and eloquent (check out her blog) Richer for the article.
Fortunately, she got in touch. I delivered a mea culpa (I’ve got a good bit of practice in that department; this business is forever humbling) and offered her a chance to share her thoughts on her favorite grape. Here’s her take on what makes it great:
“#1 – The aromatics. Even those who consider Cabernet Sauvignon’s ancient parent a ‘lesser blending grape’ know of very generous aromatics among its Bordeaux relatives.ã€€ From my perspective, if taste is 80% smell, Give me the Franc!ã€€
“#2 – The supple structure. Ripened fully, Cabernet Franc has exquisite depth and complexity supported by a more supple tannin structure than its wildly furry-in-youth offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. I liken it to a more feminine structure that bends and curves. Never bites your cheeks. (I want to chew my food, not my wine!). In my case, with the cooler-climate sourcing, the structure is strongly supported by acidity, bringing a mouth-watering finish ideal for accompanying meals, and supporting long aging.
“#3 – The flavors. Especially with food, the more-than-just-berry flavor profile really works for my taste. If I’m eating mushroom risotto or a roasted chicken or even a prime ribeye, I’m overwhelmed by “concentrated cassis.” I love the slate, stone, mineral, tobacco, dried herb flavors mingling with a range of fruit tones “” in our case, from the soils, fruit flavors ranging as the wine opens from bright rhubarb and pomegranate to black cherry and black plum.ã€€
“I think Franc has a bad rap simply by virtue of a good bit of unripe franc getting out into the world. This primitive varietal (I like to call the “heirloom grape”) does seem to have a narrower comfort zone for optimal ripening. Hence the cross, I suspect, that createdã€€Cabernet Sauvignon from crossing with hardy Sauvignon Blanc. Any unripe fruit, or wine made therefrom, is just not going to be delicious. There was certainly a time when many not-phenolically-ripe cabernet sauvignons from Napa also tasted like bell pepper.
“After my introduction to wine 14 years ago working for writer/educator Karen MacNeil, and many years consulting with other wineries (Quintessa being a favorite of them), I discovered all this somewhat by accident, and went on a quest to understand and produce this Franc/Merlot blend from cool-climate. … I’m pursuing the theory that later-ripening Franc is actually easier to fully ripen in cooler corners (mountaintops, or closer to marine influence where I am) where the long hang time allows even ripening of skins/seeds and brix. So the ‘solids’ and the ‘flesh’ are ripening together, rather than the sugars getting ahead of the phenolics that can happen in warmer, up-valley zones.
“I find many up-valley single-varietal Francs to taste delicious but have a molasses quality, or melted or dried fruit character that comes with the higher brix while waiting for phenolic ripeness. Don’t get me wrong: Take Crocker & Starr, delicious chocolate-covered cherry decadence, just delicious, but maybe I’d compare that chocolate to bittersweet cocoa in my case. Something for everyone :)”