The often underappreciated wine is more than worthy of your attention.

By Brian Freedman
December 10, 2019

Cabernet Franc is one of the great secret weapons that winemakers often use to lend their reds a sense spice, herbal lift, and brambly-berry depth.

Top Napa and Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignons often contain a dollop of Franc, even when it’s not stated on the label. On Bordeaux’s Right Bank, Cab Franc is one of the two most important red varieties, alongside Merlot. Château Cheval Blanc, for example, has more Cab Franc planted than anything else.

The great appellations of the Loire Valley are where it’s most famously vinified into a single-varietal wine. The North Fork of Long Island excels with the variety. Even Ornellaia, the legendary Super Tuscan, leverages a bit of Cabernet Franc in its blend, and it’s becoming increasingly important in New Zealand and Argentina.

But for all of its importance in the world of high-end red wine—not to mention plenty of everyday reds and the occasional rosé and bubbly, too—it’s often underappreciated, overwhelmed by the fame and consumer adulation that other varieties receive.

Alina Tyulyu

But the variety is more than worthy of your attention. Here, then, are nine excellent Cab Francs, listed alphabetically. They’re produced in a range of styles and grown around the world. All of them are either 100% Cab Franc or in a blend that’s based on it. In addition to these, I also strongly recommend the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Franc, the Favia “La Magdalena,” and the Zuccardi “Q” Cabernet Franc, all three of which would have made this list had I not recently recommended other bottlings of theirs here.

2015 Glen Manor Cabernet Franc Virginia ($35)

Grown on the western flank of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this 100% Cab Franc shows the more brooding side of the variety, with aromas of blackberries, baker’s chocolate, and maduro cigar tobacco, and flavors of blackberries, black cherries, and spice, all of it lifted at the end with flashes of cedar and charred sage.

2017 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($100 for 375ml)

The juxtaposition between smoky and sweet on the nose provides a fantastic sense of tension. Flavors of dried cherries, golden raisins, and honey are lifted by spice and a hint of mint on the finish.

2018 Halcyon Wines Cabernet Franc Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino County, California ($45)

Aromas of cherries, forest floor, eucalyptus, and floral peppercorns get the mouth watering and prepared for a palate of precision, with flavors of wild berries, toasted fennel seed, high-toned spice, and a hint of savoriness, all of it lingering with coffee and cocoa powder. Halcyon’s Barsotti Vineyard bottling is also worth seeking out for its more floral expression of the variety ($35).

2016 Hard Row to Hoe “Burning Desire” Cabernet Franc, Glacial Gravels Vineyard, Lake Chelan, Washington ($55)

A nose reminiscent of Andes Mints in the best possible sense is complicated by ancillary notes of blackberries, black licorice, star anise, incense, and black peppercorn. It’s all concentrated and rich once you take a sip, with a charred tarragon and shiso edge to the blackberries, black cherries, licorice, and Aleppo pepper.

2011 Olga Raffault Chinon “Les Picasses” Loire Valley, France ($40)

Not the current release, but this beauty shows how brilliantly Cabernet Franc can age. Mature aromas of thyme, dried flowers, and dry-aged beef set the stage for a palate both anchored by savory flavors of soy sauce and cigar tobacco, and lifted by a treble note of mint-rubbed meat on the grill, black cherries and plums, and cracked peppercorns.

Sosie Wines

2015 Sosie Cabernet Franc Stagecoach Vineyard, Block K5, Napa Valley ($80)

Majestic, with classic notes of eucalyptus and blackberry joined by chocolate and green peppercorn. On the palate, this is a silky wonder, concentrated and vibrating with life, the sappy tannins carrying flavors of cherries, currants, cedar, graphite, and a finish marked by violets, green peppercorns, chocolate, and eucalyptus.

Millissime, Ltd.

NV Volage Cremant de Loire Rosé Brut Sauvage ($30)

Creamy and leesy on the nose, with ginger as well as fresh-baked biscuit spread with strawberry conserve. These turn to a palate of strawberry pastry crème, cherries, and mixed mountain berries, resolving in a dry and chalky finish, deeply mineral with slate and spice. Strawberries, cranberries, and flowers peek through at the end.

2017 Zolo Reserve Cabernet Franc Mendoza, Argentina ($19)

This estate-grown red is from Las Llamas Estate in Luján de Cuyo, more than 2,500 feet above sea level. Aromas of wild strawberries and currants dance with a whiff of cedar, and precede a palate of brambly berries, toasted spice, and tobacco flavors. With air, spearmint comes through, too.

Gamble Family Vineyards

2017 Gamble Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($95)

Generous and plush aromas of tobacco and brambly berries set the stage for flavors that wash over the tongue with waves of brandied cherries, blueberries, sachertorte, and spice. It can easily age for another several years, but there’s no need to wait.

Advertisement