Franc-ly Speaking… This holiday season, enjoy wine’s hottest grape!

Wine trends have always been a part of the greater wine landscape. Over the decades, both wine grapes and styles have emerged from the pack to become what is current and fashionable; from the white zinfandel blush craze of the 1990’s to the more recent bone-dry rose’ explosion. We’ve seen oaky-buttery chardonnays and the massively extracted red wines from the west coast both peak and decline, in both preference and priority.

There’s always a demand for something new, as winemakers introduce new varieties to older terroirs and innovative cellar techniques change a wine’s direction in both profile and style…at least for a while. That said, a wine grape that’s always flown steady under the radar sometimes (and finally) gets its well-deserved time in the spotlight…that time is now for cabernet franc.

A grape of Basque origin, cabernet franc has steadily risen in both plantings and production over the last 10 years, which is a fast-moving track of time in the wine world. Where it was once ranked the 32nd most widely planted worldwide grape, it’s now in the mid-teens with a bullet. It also has an incredibly rich history, as it’s the oldest grape in the carmenet (old synonym for CF) family lineage of grapes – cabernet franc is the parent grape of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, carménère of France and the great hondarribi beltza of Spain…that’s quite the impressive brood. It historically thrived in Bordeaux (mostly right bank) and the Loire Valley of France, but has emerged as a stand-alone wine around the world, including Italy, Spain and our coastal states. It’s intensely aromatic, known for red fruit, good acidity and an even tannic framework. I’ve always loved cabernet franc and have chosen a few to share with you here…

Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc 2017

Turns out that cabernet franc grows pretty well in our own backyard. And as I’ve written before, winemaker Michael Shaps knows a few things about making great wine. A Gold Medal winner in the 2020 Monticello Cup Wine Competition, Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc 2017 is indeed a wine of Virginia purity. Composed of 100% single variety, with fruit from the Monticello AVA vineyards of Rougemont (67%) and Carter Mountain (33%), it’s barrel-aged in both neutral and new French oak for 22 months, allowing for great depth and expression.

Shaps himself will tell you that cabernet franc has been one of his favorite varieties to grow and produce for years, indeed because of its unique expression and style. Here in the Commonwealth, cabernet franc ripens very well on the deep clay soils that permeate the land. As for the 2017 bottling, it’s a medium-weight wine, full of vibrant red fruits, gentle tannins and substantial length. It’s ready to drink now and will make for a great first bottle on your Thanksgiving table.

Land of Saints Cabernet Franc 2019

Three friends. Four cultures. One California sun. This is the symbolic welcome sign to Land of Saints Wine Company, a beautiful collaboration between partners Angela and Jason Osborne (A Tribute to Grace Wine Company), and Manuel Cuevas (C2 Cellars), in Santa Barbara, California.

LOS produces an array of great wines, but the one of note here is their Land of Saints Cabernet Franc 2019. Ruby red in color with a palette of red fruit aromas, LOS CF 2019 is fast-pleasing and easy to drink. Black cherries, pomegranate, wild strawberry and red plums complement the bell pepper, baking spice, and graphite undercurrents. Despite the abundance of fruit, it’s a dry wine, with a balanced core of acid, body, alcohol and tannin…right down the center lane. Pair it all day long with sausage and roast peppers.

Domaine de Pallus, Chinon, France

One would be very hard pressed to find a greater place for cabernet franc than Chinon, in the inimitable Loire Valley of France. A land globally known for its sauvignon blanc, it makes perfect sense that it’s also the perfect place for cabernet franc…after all, they are the parents of cabernet sauvignon. And as expected, a great land calls for great producers. Cue Domaine de Pallus

While achieving winemaking stardom in Spain, Bertrand Sourdais remained passionate about his native Chinon, and for its emblematic variety, Cabernet Franc…it was inevitable that he would someday apply his gifts at his family’s estate, Domaine de Pallus.

Of the half-dozen plus Chinon wines that comprise Sourdais’ line-up of cab franc greatness, there are two you should know: the youthful, but strong Messanges Rouge 2019, and the soaring flagship Les Pensees de Pallus 2016. All farming is biodynamic, all harvesting is by hand and the yields are small…vital components for wine greatness.  

Messanges Rouge 2019 is an exhilarating wine. Messanges is an old Loire Valley name for cabernet franc and Sourdais uses this line for a red (and rosé) from his younger vines. Vinified for drink-it-now accessibility, Messanges Rouge 2019 is perfect introduction to the Pallus style. Produced of course with 100% cabernet franc, it delivers on all levels of red fruit from healthy earth. The acid is strong, the tannins are even and the finish doesn’t end. The youthful vibrancy sets the stage for Sourdais’ jewel of Pallus, Les Pensées de Pallus…

Since the debut 2004 vintage, Les Pensées has grown in stature with each passing harvest. It is assembled from parcels on several different soil types, with the aim to define Chinon in a glass. It reveals classic Loire Valley cabernet franc aromas of red fruits, baking spice and hints of stem, with remarkable palate flavors. Displaying great depth and structure, it ages for 12 months in used Burgundy barrels before bottling and an additional 3 years before release. Only 2,500 cases were produced.

So, this holiday season, grab a bottle of the hottest grape going right now; whether from Virginia, California or the great Loire Valley, put some cabernet franc where it belongs…in your glass.

Until next time, Happy Vino’ing!  

Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 37 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He holds a WSET Level 3 (Advanced) certification through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. He is also a certified Italian Wine Scholar, graduating with Honors, through the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild. Both certifications are industry recognized post-nominal accreditations. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Warrenton with his family. Mark can be reached at info@winespique.com.

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