In the 1600s in southwestern France there was a pas de deux between a sauvignon blanc vine and a cabernet franc vine. The result was cabernet sauvignon, the dominant red grape of the last two centuries.
We know sauv blanc today as a terrific food wine that soars to heights in New Zealand. What about cabernet franc?
Poll wine professionals and you will find several prefer cab franc over cab in their glass. Nothing wrong with cabernet sauvignon, but cab franc has a lot going for it, too.
Cab franc is good on cold winter nights around crackling fires. Good, too, on summer days poured on ice. Its light-medium body, good acidity, and balanced flavors make it a go-to drinker as a varietal. Vexation comes when you try to find a pure cab franc play, especially outside Finger Lakes region of New York State and some West Coast producers.
You find cab franc in a wide range of red blends, where its inky black color, bell pepper hints, spice, and tobacco notes play well with other red wines. Bordeaux’s Left Bank blenders depend on cab franc to complement cabernet sauvignon’s strengths and address its weaknesses. Right bank merlot-led blends use cab franc, too. So do many, many other blends.
You may not be adventurous enough to seek out cab franc as a varietal pour. Wine is like playing in water. Some dare only kiddie pools, others shallow ends and hot tubs, others 20×40 backyard big boys, others Olympic natatoriums, still others white water streams and crashing ocean waves.
Cab franc is a nine-foot deep, 20×40 backyard pool. Not for floaties crowd, but you don’t have to be a Baywatch hunk to survive either. When you get a chance, give cab franc a chance.
• Nieto Senetiner Blend Collection Mendoza 2014: Inky color, bell pepper, black cherry; 60% malbec, 40% cab franc. $15
• Château de Pitray AOC Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2012: Outstanding power, flavors; 75% merlot, 25% cab franc. $15
• Spring Valley Vineyard Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc 2011: Checks every cab franc box; not as brawny as cab or as mellow as merlot. $52
Last round: I dream of a wine glass so large federal regulations require it to come with a lifeguard.