Hello Prince Albert! The Cabernet Sauvignon grape varietal is extremely popular in Saskatchewan and even casual wine drinkers can often appreciate its intensely unique character; however, it overshadows another deliciously interesting and less-common option, Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Franc (some pronounce it as Frank or Fronk) is traditionally found in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley but has found success in newer regions like the Okanagan Valley, Niagara Peninsula, Washington and Oregon. This varietal is the parent grape for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and neither varietals would exist without it.
Among its many unique characteristics, Cab Franc contains a chemical compound sometimes found in Cab Sauv called Pyrazine. This aromatic compound in wine displays with notes of bell pepper/sweet pepper, grass or green vegetables (asparagus, green peas) and adds a subtle undertone to the typical red fruits found in Cab Franc like raspberry, strawberry and cherry.
The temperature of the growing region and seasonal conditions affect the type of flavors that pyrazine exhibits. For example, a cooler growing period would produce notes of green pepper or asparagus stalk while a warmer growing period would create flavors of red bell pepper or even roasted chilies. Spicy cocoa and/or mineral notes (crushed gravel/earth) are also common.
Wine made from Cab Franc also tends to react well to oak aging with some types of oak adding soft cedar and white pepper to aggressive oaking which tends to produce wines with higher tannins and a stronger black pepper bite.
Historically, the Cab Franc grape blends beautifully with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec but many other variations are being created and tasted including single varietal options.
The choice to age or drink a Cab Franc comes down to the specific style of the wine. If it is a simple wine with only fruit flavors and hardly any tannins then it should be drank soon. If the wine has some decent tannic structure and developing flavors like foliage, leather, mushroom, honeycomb or chocolate then it should be considered for cellaring.
When purchasing this grape varietal for the purpose of storing and aging, care should be taken to understand the blend of the wine (percentage of grape varietals in the blend) the oak program used (new oak, charred, French, American) and the amount of time the wine spent in the oak and the bottle. The initial age of the wine on the shelf is also important as we can quickly see at a glance how long the wine has aged. There are so many flavors to discover so you’ll have to get out there and taste some wines!
On a personal note, Cab Franc is an excellent choice to pair with cigars; specifically Cuban cigars. The reason for this is the overall lighter style of the grape with accenting flavors of mineral (reflected in Cuban cigars), pepper and cocoa or grassy/green notes which blend into the earthy, twangy style of cigars such as the Montecristo No. 2, the Hoyo de Monterey Epicure No. 2 or the Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill cigar. For less expensive non-Cuban options try Aladino which is made in the Cuban style from Honduras or the incredibly affordable Tierra Volcan line of cigars from Nicaraguan producer Mombacho.
Here are my wine picks of the week!
Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2019: (VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color. The nose is fruity and wild with balsamic blueberry, concentrated raspberry, white pepper and various field berries. Intense flavors of plum, blueberry, ground pepper and tart acidity fill the mid-palate while grippy tannins create a chewy mouthfeel. Savory toast and a long finish present lingering pepper, earthy mushroom and mineral stone. High concentration flavor makes up for higher acidity. Green pepper and bay leaf appear as wine opens. Pair with beef roulade, roasted meats or grilled steaks. Very good! $30, 14% ABV
Penley Estate Cabernet France 2019: (Coonawarra, Australia). Off-dry red, deep ruby color. Herbal spice, fennel, bay leaf and spearmint greet the nose with a drizzle of dark fruit balsamic. This Australian red is thick and heavy to the taste with low acidity and flat yet fruity flavors. Full body, herbal notes with jammy raspberry and medium tannins. Finish is quick and simple leaving traces of bittersweet honeysuckle. Out of balance and flabby, possibly tainted or heat damaged. Average. $28, 14.5% ABV
Melipal Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc 2015: (Mendoza, Argentina). Dry red, deep ruby color with visible fading at edge. Dark fruit leaps from the glass with figs, dark raspberry, cocoa, blackberry, pencil shaving and mint. Further sniffs reveal savory soya sauce and bush berries. From the first sip, dark cherry, licorice and minty berries fill the palate. High, fuzzy tannins cover the tongue and teeth which accents intense blackberry and savory black olives. Mocha, coffee and chocolate come through on the finish followed by white/black pepper, soft cedar and cocoa. Medium-plus body with medium acidity and a minty spice and berry finish. Pair with grilled steak, beef/lamb kabobs, olives, feta cheese or burgers. Very good! $25, 14% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!