Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Case For The Truly Noble Cabernet, Cabernet Franc

You know, I get that people love Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a full flavored, often densely textured wine that is high on the yummy scale, the thing that I never understood is what makes it a “noble” variety? I may have just come into wine too late to experience those great rustic, rugged, powerful Cabernets that everyone speaks about. The Cabernet Sauvignon now is often plush, juicy, chocolate laden wine with a thick body and soft-ish finish. Easy enough to suck back for sure, but what can you eat with that and what are they going to taste like with a few years in the cellar? I’ve seen professionals taste a big-in-a-juicy-fruit-way Cabernet Sauvignon and say things like, “It needs a few years”….huh? A few years to do what? Oak tannin doesn’t really soften, in fact with time I have tasted nothing but wood tannin in an aged once rich wine, no more fruit, or very little of it and harsh, bitter wood tannin, you really want your juicy wine turning into bitter wood juice? I think those juicy Cabernet Sauvignons should be consumed young and enjoyed for their lusciousness, but at the table….I think there is a better wine to accompany our meals, Cabernet Franc.

There is no better place to taste the purity of what I believe to be a truly noble variety than France’s Loire Valley. These wines are very fine, elegant, firmly structured and they just play so damn nicely with food. Something about the wines reserved textures and slightly savory flavors seem to lift even things as simple as a grilled steak to a whole other level. The acidity in the wines cut the fattiness of meat and the flavor of the meat brings out the fruit in the wines, harmonious pairings are easy to be found with a bottle of Loire Cabernet Franc on the table.

Think about the flavor of meat, it is a big, rich flavor, how do you best frame that flavor…with more big and rich? That is like drinking chocolate milk with pudding, just too much, what is needed and more balanced is a wine that is reserved, refreshing and has enough acidity, (not tannin) to lift that richness right off your palate leaving you ready for another bite.

While these wines may not hit that “sweet spot” for cocktail style consumption, (but truthfully once you have grown accustomed to the acids they become craveable) they are a far more food friendly than the more prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon, not to mention they are WAY more affordable!
Bring on the grilled steaks, spring lamb and the last of the slow cooked, richly braised foods, we have the perfect wine to showcase, (not lambast) those flavors, discover the nobility of Cabernet Franc.

2007 Domaine Bel Air Jour de Soif Bourgeuil ($15.99)
A cuvee from this estate that is meant to be consumed young, this fresh tasting little red is the perfect match for everything from beef to braised chicken. Light weight in the mouth with a lovely little Beaujolais like quality and a crisp almost crunchy finish.

2006 Domaine Bel Air Bourgueil ($16.99)
What a difference a dollar makes! Deep blue fruit with a core of rich minerals that reminds me of a freshly sharpened pencil. Medium weight in the mouth with a spicy and long floral finish.

2006 Yannick Amirault Les Quartieres Bourgueil ($26.99)
So powerful and hauntingly beautiful on the nose, cooked blueberries and wet stones with a punch of violets and black pepper on the very long but balanced finish.

2006 Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes ($28.99)
Such a sultry wine, tons of roasted meat and herby almost rosemary like aromas with a dark berry flavor that dominates the mid palate and an earthy finish that goes on forever. A very limited wine that deserves a spot in the very best of cellars.

2004 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny ($41.99)
One of the most sought after wines in the Loire Valley, and it is less than $50.00?! As refined a Cabernet Franc as you will ever find. This wine needs time or rigorous decanting to show all its, spice, dark, crunchy fruit and minerals but when it does show, it is a show stopper but still shines with the proper meal.

(Article written for The Wine Country Spring newsletter)


John M. Kelly said...

Oh Samantha thanks so much! Another secret previously known only to the cognoscenti that has now been subjected to an excess of "transparency"! Oh well. You should try some (and I mean some - some are awful) of the Cab Franc from the Sierra Foothills - it ain't Bourgueil but it can be beautiful.

And right on re: wine aging. Early in my apprenticeship I worked for a guy whose motto was "it has to taste good when it's young to taste good when it's old." I took this to heart. My wines don't "get better" with age - they evolve. They change. Sometimes they become something sublime, sometimes they peter out after a decade. My goal is for you to have an enjoyable experience whenever you open a bottle - today or 20 years from now.

Benito said...

I love Cab Franc, either in blends or on its own. Since you're an expert on the bubbly side of things as well, do you have any good sparkling Cabernet Francs to recommend? I've had a few (both red and rosé) with widely varying quality. Some were sublime and others were terrible.

Michael Hughes said...

I love, love, love cabernet franc. At Taste of Washington I had some truly spectacular cab franc that I'm dying to get picked up here in Memphis.

Samantha Dugan said...

First of all welcome, always cool when someone new stops in to drop a comment. So where is it that you make these today or 20 year wines? Would also love to hear which Sierra Foothills Cabernet Francs you might recommend, I'd rather not stumble on too much awful trying to find something beautiful (wink).
I have been leading a charge for Loire Valley reds for about 2 years now, I think they are truly amazing wines that are expressive as hell at the table and have that sexy little snap of tang on the finish that keeps us reaching for another glass...damn, I dig that.

I gotta be honest with you on this one, dry sparkling reds just weird me out, I think it too many years of Champagne buying. I taste them and buy them for the store but have yet to find one made from Cabernet Franc that I can feel good about putting on our shelf. I think Shiraz is chunky enough to pull it off...the one's made from Cab Franc I have been tasted on were a bit funky and shrill. I will keep my eyes out though.

So which wines spun your top there in WA?

Michael Hughes said...

Bergevin Lane
Nicholas Cole
Andrew Will (of course)
Airfield Estates
Bunnell Family

I just can't say enough about how WA state's wine quality has blown my mind.