Pennsylvania Wine School: What is a Cabernet Franc?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential wine words? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Cabernet Franc (pronounced Ka-behr-nay Frahng).

Grown: Across Pennsylvania.

Similar to: Cabernet Sauvignon.

For years, Cabernet Franc was a bit of a bridesmaid — often blended with bigger name grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create gorgeous wines. But in recent years, it has come into its own as a stand-alone varietal, and one that does exceptionally well in the slightly cooler climes of the northeastern United States.

This dark-skinned grape originated in Basque County in the Western Pyrenees Mountains (a region that spans the France/Spain border). In 1997, DNA analysis showed that Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc actually combined to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. That means that this is an old varietal, and one that has had a deep impact on the world of wine.

One reason Cab Franc is often used in red blends is for its stunning aroma — cherry, dark fruit, herbs, spice and violets. There is also an earthiness that reads as tobacco, forest floor and green pepper. It has been famously employed as a minority ingredient in world-renowned (and very pricey) Bordeaux blends, adding a peppery and herbaceous component. In France’s Loire Valley, the varietal has demonstrated its prowess as a solo artist, bottled under the regional names Chinon and Bourgeuil. The grape made a very successful jump to the New World, emerging as a favorite in California, New York and, of course, Pennsylvania.

Cab Franc is usually aged for at least six months in oak, which accentuates the tannins and adds even more spice. This is also a wine with a long and productive shelf life — many bottles can last a few decades in the cellar, acquiring notes of leather, dried fruit and nuts.

The varietal’s balanced tannins, medium-high acidity and savory flavors make it a very easy wine to pair. Drink it with roast chicken, seared steak or a hunk of soft cheese. It can also stand up to game meats such as rabbit and venison, or intense, briny flavors like olives, feta and preserved lemon.

Below is a sampling of award-winning PA Cabernet Franc wines for you to try.

Armstrong Valley Winery, Cabernet Franc
2017 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Bronze

Arrowhead Wine Cellars, NV Cabernet Franc
2017 PWA Wine Competition, Silver

Bucks Valley Winery, 2015 Cabernet Franc
2018 PA Farm Show Wine Competition, Silver

Mazza Vineyards, 2013 Cabernet Franc
2017 PA Farm Show Wine Competition, Gold
2017 PWA Wine Competition, Silver

Nimble Hill Vineyards & Brewery, Cabernet Franc
2018 PA Farm Show Wine Competition, Bronze

Penns Woods Winery, Cabernet Franc Reserve
2017 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Best in class

Presque Isle Wine Cellars, Cabernet Franc
2017 PWA Wine Competition, Best Dry Red
2017 PWA Wine Competition, Best Dry Red in Competition
2017 PWA Wine Competition, Double Gold
2017 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Silver

Rushland Ridge Vineyards & Winery, 2014 Cabernet Franc
2017 Sommelier Judgment Day, Best Red in Competition

The Vineyard at Grandview, 2015 Cabernet Franc
2018 PA Farm Show Wine Competition, Gold

Tolino Vineyards, Cabernet Franc
2017 Sommelier Judgment Day, Best of State
2018 PA Farm Show Wine Competition, Gold

 

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