Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Professor's Cabernet

I found a real bargain cab this week at one of my favorite wine shops. But I suspect few people will rush out to buy it because it's not the ever-popular cabernet sauvignon, it's cabernet franc.

Cabernet franc often makes for wonderful wines, but it has to be one of the most overlooked varietals produced today. Partly, this is what comes from a life spent in the shadows. You see cabernet franc is best known, in wine circles, as one of the five red grapes blended to make most red Bordeaux. As such, it has always taken a back seat to cabernet and merlot, either of which tends to dominate most Bordeaux reds.

In this country, cabernet sauvignon and merlot have emerged as star varietals, though merlot has lost some of its luster of late. But cabernet franc still is not produced as its own varietal very often, and when it is, it seems to be eyed with suspicion by many consumers. It's a shame.

Cabernet franc is closely related genetically to cabernet sauvignon. As a result they share many of the same flavor characteristics, such as black cherry and cassis. But cabernet franc is thinner skinned and earlier-ripening than cabernet sauvignon and, consequently, tends to have less structure, less tannins. As my wine shop friend says, "it's cabernet without the big finish."

What you typically will find in cabernet franc is plenty of fruit and a somewhat herbaceous quality. The cabernet franc I tried for the first time yesterday fits this description to a tee -- and for just under $10 a bottle. It's a 2003 estate-bottled Korta Cabernet Franc from Chile, and it made me think of my professor from last semester whose interests are tightly focused on great value wines. Professor, this cab's for you.

Judging by this wine, Chile may have weather ideally suited to producing this varietal. Of course, California could grow all the cabernet franc it wants, but their interests lie elsewhere. I've also had some very good cabernet francs at Long Island wineries. The varietal is popular with many wineries in the Northeast, probably because it does better in our weather than would cabernet sauvignon. Unfortunately, many are insipid. Just make sure you don't judge the varietal unless you've had it from a prime wine-producing area. And, with the prices they're charging, Chile may be a good place to start.


Blogger mikethewineo said...

I would love to link to your site if you link to mine.

2:27 PM  
Blogger g58 said...

I second your Cab Franc sentiments. Not being as big as Cab Sauv often means it fits in more readily at the dinner table. Plus it's more savoury, which is good too.

Niagara Peninsula (Canada) and Saumur in the Loire Valley are generally the two regions I like to look out for when it comes to this grape... I'll have to look out for Chile now too.

2:38 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Thanks. I'm hoping to get up to Niagara next spring for some great ice wine. I'll be sure to try their cab franc, too.

8:30 PM  

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