Cabernet Franc is an important grape variety for a variety of reasons: its progeny, its role as a ubiquitous blending grape, as insurance, and—finally—as a splendid lead grape in its own right.
In 1997, Cal Davis wine wizards proved Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, arguably world’s premier red grape. Stop there and Cab Franc is venerated in viniculture.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are Bordeaux stars, but Cabernet Franc is key part of the blends, bringing finesse and hints of raspberry, violets, and tobacco to the nose.
It also is Bordeaux insurance grape, dependably ripening two weeks ahead of Cabernet Sauvignon. In difficult years, when weather cripples Cabernet Sauvignon harvest, parent rescues vintage and vintner.
Cabernet Franc also makes world-class wine as lead grape, particularly for Chateau Cheval Blanc, where it is principle grape and Merlot the blender. Lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc generally lacks heft and structure for epic aging, but many critics proclaim the 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc the greatest wine of the 20th century. Want to pick up a case for special occasions? Sotheby auction price in May 2010: $71,500 (just under $6,000 a bottle). Something more affordable? Same May auction: $29,500 for case of the 1990 vintage (mere $2,458 a bottle).
Cheval Blanc plays roll in movie Sideways. Main character played by Paul Giamatti disses Cabernet Franc, but later guzzles his prized 1961 Cheval Blanc while eating at a burger joint. Replacement cost? Well north of $1000. Ouch.
• Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc Wahluke Slope. Velvety, cherries and currant, floral nose. Washington. $30
• Di Stefano Sogno Columbia Valley. Blueberries, currant, bittersweet chocolate. Cab Franc with small assist from Cabernet Sauvignon. Washington. $35
• Chateau Cheval Blanc 2005. According to Wine Spectator: Plump, padded and comfortable… finely structured and dense, with tannins that are sweet, flavors of dark chocolate to go with the roundness and enticing Cabernet Franc perfumes; 97 points. $999 at wine.com.