This week, we will be exploring the grape Cabernet Franc! Cab Franc is a parent of more famous Cabernet Sauvignon. It is another of those grapes we refer to as ‘Bordeaux varietals’ because it is approved by French wine officials to be grown in the Bordeaux region. While this grape is commonly blended with other varieties, it can also be made into a single varietal wine. It is used to blend because it ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, and also has softer features such as tannin and alcohol. In vintages (growing seasons), when Cab Sauv can’t ripen fully, Cab Franc can be used as an insurance policy by being blended in higher amounts to tone down unripe qualities in Cab Sauv wines (rough tannins, green herbaceous notes). Merlot is another grape that is used in the same manner. It is incredibly common to have at least all 3 of these grapes in ‘Bordeaux Blend’ wines, as the grape varieties grow in the same climate. Even when traveling to places such a South Aftrica, Napa or Walla Walla, red blend wines will commonly be referred to as Bordeaux blends because they are a combination of grapes associated with the Bordeaux region.
With my recent trip to Walla Walla, I found a fun way to present this wine variety to you all! The first wine I will discuss is a 2019 Basel Blanc de Franc. This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc but you will notice, it is white! This is because when the grapes are harvested, they are treated like white grape varieties. This means, unlike in red wines, the grapes are pressed immediately then the juice moved to a tank where it is left to ferment on its own. With red grapes, grapes are crushed but do not get drained until later. The juice instead macerates (a fancy word for soaking) with its skins during fermentation. The heat produced during the fermentation process extracts tannins and color from the skin, which creates the color we see in wine. A vast majority of wine grapes have clear juice, so the soaking process is essential for instilling the color in the final product. In rosé, the juice is soaked on the skins for a shorter period of time than with red wines.
Blanc de Franc was first made by an Oregon winemaker as a nod to a sparkling wine from Loire Valley, France, that is made predominantly from Cab Franc, without time on those aforementioned grape skins. If I was not told the Basel Cellars version was Cab Franc, I never would have known what the glass of clear pale liquid was! It smelled of lemon pith, lime juice, pineapple, white grapefruit and wet stone. When I tasted it, I was surprised to find a nicely acidic, medium body wine that would pair nicely with fresh seafood on a warm summer day! The flavors of white grapefruit, lemon juice, white peach and minerality, would pair nicely with shrimp or white fish and mango salsa.
The second version I tried was a more traditional 2016 Basel Cab Franc. This glass was your standard medium brickish ruby. The nose had aromas of smoke, vanilla, butterscotch, red cherries, and cinnamon. Upon tasting it, this medium bodied wine had medium acid and alcohol, with flourishes of vanilla, toast, red cherries, red currants, and butterscotch chips. This lovely wine lingered in my mouth and made me think of spicy lasagna or a red sauced veggie lasagna, both served with an arugula and goat cheese salad!