Cabernet Franc is a blue-black grape that is grown around the world, mostly for blending with other red wine grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but also for its own varietal wines. Cabernet Franc is also commonly used for ice wines in North America. The varietal wines created from Cabernet Franc grapes is bright red because of the light color of the grapes.
Cabernet Franc is far less famous than other red wine varieties, despite being one of the most planted wine grapes in the world and despite being a key ingredient in many of the world's best blended wines. This may be because it is not one of the Noble grape varieties and that, in turn, is because it lacks some of the internal structure to easily produce great wines on its own.
Cabernet Franc History
According to DNA analysis, the Cabernet Franc grape is one of two parents of the more famous and more commonly used Cabernet Sauvignon. The other parent is the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Cabernet Franc has also been determined to be a parent of other important wine grape varieties like Carmenère, Malbec, and Merlot.
The oldest home of the Cabernet Franc grape seems to be the Loire valley in France but it has been in Bordeaux that it has become most famous. The Loire Valley is so far north that proper ripening of even Cabernet Franc grapes can be difficult.
Cabernet Franc in Blended Wines
As noted above, the primary use of Cabernet Franc around the world is in blended wines — generally Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's low tannins, low acidity, and strong fruit flavors means that it can take a harsh edge off of stronger wines without making things worse. It adds rather than detracts from most of the wines it is combined with and is even used to make up for a host of problems.
Evan Mitchell and Brian Mitchell write in The Psychology of Wine: Truth and Beauty by the Glass:
When blended, this grape is a little like your kindergarten teacher (or perhaps like a dominatrix, if your kindergarten teacher was anything like Miss Anderson)—it imposes a taut restraint and discipline on the occasionally willful excesses of cab sav and merlot. This inclination to check unruliness and urge a little temperance perhaps comes from its parental status over its more famous cabernet progeny, sired on sauvignon blanc.
When unblended—in the Loire and increasingly in parts of the New World—it’s the epitome of structure and austerity. Still, in seeming ungiving it is not ungenerous—merely demanding that its imbiber tease out the pleasures on offer from less obvious hints than other varieties provide.
Cabernet Franc vs. Cabernet Sauvignon
Because Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon there are a lot of similarities between the two grapes. In fact, the strong similarities were noted as far back as the 18th century, leading to speculations about exactly what the relationship between the two was. Nevertheless, there are notable differences as well.
- Cabernet Franc buds and ripens about a week earlier
- Cabernet Franc can be harvested earlier, before inclement weather that damages other vines
- Cabernet Franc thrives in slightly cooler climates
- Cabernet Franc is more prone to genetic mutation
- Cabernet Franc has lighter pigments
- Cabernet Franc has stronger aromas
- Cabernet Franc has lighter tannins
- Cabernet Franc has lower acidity