Thursday, July 8, 2010

Impressions of Washington: Cabernet Franc

I was surprised at how much cabernet franc was presented to me as I tasted my way across Washington on the WBC or Bust tour bus. I guess I just did not expect to see so much of it, although it seems a natural fit among its Bordeaux counterparts merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Generally a blending grape in Bordeaux style blends cabernet franc has some devotees who love it as a varietal bottling from Chinon, parts of Italy, or from California. I did not realize how many Washington wineries are now producing it, although this has only really taken hold in the last 15 years.

Tending to be a little bit lighter, smoother, and more floral than cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc frequently can have vegetal aspects (leafy, green bean, even green pepper aromas and flavors.) In an effort to combat this many growers leave the berries to hang a little bit longer to guarantee they are ripe. We were told a couple of times while in Washington that cabernet franc is almost always one of the last grapes to be picked in the vineyards (along with cabernet sauvignon).

Overall the cabernet francs were pleasant but did not show the consistency of the outstanding merlots and cabernet sauvignons. I did not find the Washington cabernet francs to suffer from 'green' qualities, except for a bit of green olive that was present in several examples (however this is not something that I dislike personally). What I did find is that they were frequently overripe for me. They were a often a bit jammy and lacked the acid and tannic structure to prevent them from pushing towards flabby. This was not across the board by any means, but as a whole I would suggest that you will happen across better quality in the more widely produced varieties.

A few producers that I tasted however offered beautiful examples of cabernet franc. Those examples include:

Cougar Crest Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc - This Walla Walla winery produces award winning cabernet franc from their own vineyards just on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA year after year. This version was tasted while we spent some time with winemaker Deborah Hansen in these very vineyards. The wine offered up plenty of red fruit flavor with some great spice notes and hints of tobacco. There was plenty of the floral aroma that makes this grape appealing as well. Overall it was one of my favorite cabernet francs and is available from the winery for $35.

Fielding Hills 2007 Cabernet Franc - With very small production from vineyards on the Wahluke Slope this little winery regularly garners rave reviews. This wine was very berried, with some blueberry shining through. The more earthy elements, including coffee were buried a little deep but came through on the finish, all in balance with some nice acidity. This bottle sells for $30 and you will have to call the winery to find out if they have any left. If they do not, don't worry - the 2008 vintage is going to be released in early Fall.

However, for my palette cab franc shines as the Bordelais discovered long before Washington was here, and that is as a magnificent blending grape. One of the highlight wines of all 300+ wines I tasted while in Washington was a cab franc predominant blend:

Andrew Will 2007 Ciel du Cheval - 45% cabernet franc, 40% merlot, and 15% cabernet sauvignon this beauty offers dark berry flavors, and some beautiful milk chocolate. In blending I think that the winemaker was able to make a gorgeously structured wine that displayed some aging potential but is absolutely delicious right now. This one has a bit of a following, and shows it in the $68 price tag, but certainly shows why a Right Bank styled blend may just be one of Washington's greatest opportunities.


  1. Varietal Cab Franc isn't really one of my favorite wines but I'll looks fo rthese, I tasted the CC and AW durign the WBC and have heard good things about Fielding Hills'.

    Also, if you didn't know, Virginia makes some very nice Cab Franc. In my opinion, that's the grape that will shine for the state at WBC'11.

  2. The people from Fielding Hills were great too, seek them out when you have a chance.

    I can't wait for our trip to Virginia next year, because when cab franc is good it can be really good.