Grape Deep Dive - Cabernet Franc
Air Date: Wednesday, August 23rd 2023
Cabernet Franc might not be a household name, but its influence in the world of wine is undeniable. Often overshadowed by its more famous offspring, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Cabernet Franc holds a rich history and distinctive flavors that deserve recognition. In this blog post, we'll explore the origins, characteristics, and popular regions of this fascinating grape.
Origins and Family Tree
Cabernet Franc's lineage is nothing short of impressive. It's a parent to some of the most renowned grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère. The story of Cabernet Franc begins in the Basque Country, an autonomous region in northern Spain. While debates persist about whether its origins lean toward the Spanish or French side of the Basque Country, what's clear is that this grapevine didn't originate in Bordeaux, where its offsprings took root.
From Basque to Bordeaux (and finally to the Loire)
Cabernet Franc found its way to Bordeaux, France, where it cross-pollinated with other grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, leading to the creation of Cabernet Sauvignon. But its true home was found in the Loire Valley, specifically at the Abbey of Bourgueil. Interestingly, in the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc was known as "Breton" for a significant period, likely due to the care it received from an Abbot named Breton. This region is where Cabernet Franc flourished, offering an array of green notes and high acidity.
Cabernet Franc's versatility and distinctive characteristics make it a beloved grape among winemakers and enthusiasts. It's a robust grape that ripens relatively easily, making it an excellent choice for blending. Its inclusion in Bordeaux blends, even in small proportions, can enhance acidity and fruitiness. The grape's flavors vary based on climate; cooler climates result in wines with tart fruit flavors, herbal and green notes, and high acidity, while warmer climates produce sweeter fruit flavors, less green notes, and higher alcohol content.
Unveiling the Green Notes
One of Cabernet Franc's most recognizable features is its green notes, attributed to a chemical compound called methoxypyrazines (pyrazines for short.) This compound creates aromas like bell pepper, spicy herbs, and even rustic earthiness. Believe it or not, you'll actually find this compound in both Cabernet Franc and a green bell pepper (hence why it smells like green bell pepper!) Beware though, an excess of pyrazines can lead to unpleasant aromas like asparagus water and mushy steamed bell pepper. However, careful vineyard practices such as sunlight exposure and proper canopy management can control their levels.
Favorite Styles and Regions
Cabernet Franc can be found in various styles and regions across the world. Some popular regions for this grape include:
While Cabernet Franc might not be a household name, its diverse flavors and historical significance make it a grape worth exploring. Whether you're savoring a Loire Valley classic or trying a unique Washington State expression, Cabernet Franc offers a journey through time and taste that's sure to captivate wine enthusiasts around the world.
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