Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meet Cabernet Franc - The Exchange Student

When I think about Cabernet Franc, I recall the first glimpse of that new, foreign countenance I had never noticed before. As soon as his name is discovered (It’s pronounced Frahnk), it is whispered on the lips of many others around him. He’s handsome in a unique way – lean and taut with a slender face, a prominent nose and an uncommon haircut that all suit him quite well. His style of dress is unusual but cool nonetheless, and if he does play a sport, he plays soccer and calls it football.

His speech is accented, and this works like a charm on anyone whom he encounters. Sometimes he is a little difficult to understand. Nonetheless, people who know he’s in the building want to know more about him. They approach him with a measure of awe, and they endeavor to partake in a cultural exchange that will enrich their lives in ways they haven’t even thought of yet. And when they do dig in and find out what he’s about, they become his newest fans.

There is a specific type of wine drinker who enjoys Cabernet Franc. That palate is stimulated by something rather unexpected – a red wine with the acidity and herbaceousness of a Sauvignon Blanc (they are from the same family) that is lean with hints of fruit but overall quite austere even when it is grown in warmer climates. This variety is not as widely grown as some others, by the way, but that’s what fascinates me and other Cab Franc-ophiles. Those who decide to grow and make wine from it are instant specialists who lay a keen eye on making sure it is true-to-type, because Cabernet Franc drinkers know exactly what they’re looking for and they never want to see him lose his accent and adapt.

His homeland is in the Loire Valley in France, specifically the village of Chinon in the Touraine subregion. The climate here is on the cooler side, being a northern location that is too far inland from the Atlantic coast to benefit from the maritime influence. As an interesting side note, it’s relatively dry in this region, so organic and biodynamic viticulture are easy choices and more prevalent than elsewhere. As far as food is concerned, think paté (goose or pork rillettes) and Andouille sausage, or you can use some Chinon wine to make Coq-au-Vin and then you have a perfect pairing at your table!

Its hard to say what comfort foods remind me of Cabernet Franc, because as a wine, its outside of many peoples’ comfort zones. If you grew up eating and loving lots of green vegetables you could dig Franc, especially if you grew up in Europe where traditional cooking does not exhibit very bold flavors in general. Or if sushi was always one of your favorite things, then you’ll appreciate the purity of this wine like you enjoy the purity of a piece of salmon sashimi without the help of soy sauce or wasabi.

Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 3 Cabernet Francs. Start with one from the Loire – look for Chinon or Bourgueil on the label. Then get your hands on a bottle of Schneider Vineyards Cabernet Franc from the North Fork of Long Island, NYS (look online). Bruce Schneider is one of the best Cab Franc specialists in the New World, and while I’m on the subject, I think the North Fork is the PERFECT home for Cabernet Franc and should produce much more of it than it does Merlot! For your third one look elsewhere in the New World wine sections (Old World is Europe in winespeak). California has a fair amount of Cab Franc for you to try.

And please avoid blends. Although it is one of the grapes blended in Bordeaux and is used in other parts of the world as a blending grape for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, give yourself a chance to cut through his accent and cultural differences and get to know him. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_ #CabFrancHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. This is going to be fun for YOU!

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