Cabernet Franc | Hardy Grape of the Loire Valley

Person clipping off Cabernet Franc grapes from the vines in France

Fast Facts

  • Primarily found in: Loire Valley (France), Tuscany (Italy), Sierra Foothills (California), Colchagua Valley (Chile)
  • Cabernet Franc is a parent grape to Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Referred to as the ‘Third grape of Bordeaux’
  • Synonyms: Bouchet, Bouchy, Breton

History

The first planting of Cabernet Franc is quite a long time ago, many hundred years, in the area in the southwest of France and on the edge of Spain, Basque country. With its well-known home in Libournais in Bordeaux, the varietal is used in some of the most elite Bordeaux blends among the Pomerol and St Emilion appellations. Expansion over the years has drawn out cabernet franc to the rest of the world, both northern and southern hemisphere with its hardy nature of growth.

Yet, it wasn’t until the 17th century that the grape varietal ventured further than Bordeaux. With a man named Abbot Breton, of Bourgueil Abbey, who planted vines of cabernet franc in the Loire Valley wine region. He tended to them with such care that they yielded delicious grapes that all the locals strove to replicate. With this leading to a boom of the varietal now in the Loire Valley, it is often referred to as Breton rather than Cabernet Franc, and now has become one of the most popular regions for its single varietal red wines.

Unfortunately, as it grew in the regions around Bordeaux, it has now drastically reduced in vine hectares. Replaced with large amounts of Merlot in the 20th century there is less and less Cabernet Franc blended into the famous wines.

Growing the Grape

As mentioned previously, Cabernet Franc is a hardy varietal. This means the vines are able to adapt to most climates, whether cold or warm, and can set roots within a variety of soils. These vines produce grapes with thin skins and low acidity as they ripen much earlier in the season in comparison to Cabernet Sauvignon. Helpfully, this means they are less susceptible to bad weather later in the harvest season. Hence why it is often grown as insurance in case the Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen properly and yields are drastically reduced.

With over 30,000 hectares of Cabernet Franc vines (2016) in France, they are the number 1 grower of the varietal. This then leads to Italy, America, and Chile with large supplies of the grapes that often utilise it to replicate the Bordeaux Blends.
Within France the grape does have some preferences of its own regarding its surrounding terroir. Within the Loire Valley, with it’s cool, inland climate, it thrives and produces an abundance of ripe grapes for the harvesting season. It’s home in Bordeaux is just slightly less cool and so less focused on creating single varietal wine from the vine.

Dominique Joseph tasting the grapes out of the truck after harvest. Sorting through the grapes to be unloaded into the vinification rooms

Drinking Cabernet Franc

Now to drinking this fine varietal. For our Le Club members there has been several opportunities to taste this delicious wines as we import some of the best from Petit Saint Vincent and Philippe Alliet. What you will find when you taste a single varietal wine is it presents many similar attributes to Cabernet Sauvignon with green and fresh notes, from leafy to green capsicum. This is due to the Pyrazinic element to the grape, a compound that gives capsicums and chilis their grassy and herbaceous aromas.

Within a blend, the Cabernet Franc is there to smoothen out and create a rounder mouthfeel for the drinker. The main difference between an underripe Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc is the lovely lightness that is presented, both of colour and mouthfeel. With its ability to age faster than Cabernet Sauvignon too results in more wines ready more often!

“These wines are often drinkable after only a year or two in bottle but the best can age beautifully too. With their relatively high acidity, they are not, unfortunately, the most fashionable wines (outside the bistros of Paris) but they respond well to being lightly chilled and so are particularly useful for red wine lovers in high summer.” - Jancis Robinson

Past Le Club Wines of Cabernet Franc

Single Varietal (100% Cabernet Franc)

Pithon-Paille - Bourgueil "Graviers" 2018 100% Cabernet Franc
Domaine Le Petit St Vincent - Saumur Champigny "Les Clos Lyzieres" 2018 100% Cabernet Franc
Philippe Alliet - Chinon “Coteau de Noire” 2018 100% Cabernet Franc
Domaine le Petit Saint Vincent - Cab a Bulles Rose Methode Ancestrale Pet Nat 100% Cabernet Franc

Bordeaux Blends

Château la Maison Blanche - Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2015 50% Cabernet Franc
Château La Grave Figeac - St Emilion Grand Cru 2016 35% Cabernet Franc
Château La Grave - Pomerol 2008 15% Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc grapes on the vine and wine bottles by Petit Saint Vincent and Alliet

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