In the world of wine, cabernet franc seldom takes center stage. It seems perfectly content to play a supporting role, most often in a red-wine blend with a smattering of other varietals, backing up cabernet sauvignon or merlot as the lead character.
Cabernet franc is one of six red grapes permitted for use in France's Bordeaux region. As with many European wines, cab francs from this area generally place less emphasis on fruit flavors and display more of an earthy, herbaceous quality.
In terms of body style and acidity, cabernet franc usually falls in the middle of the road, although you're likely to encounter some fuller-bodied domestic versions from warmer growing regions and as the product of winemaker and consumer preferences.
Despite its primary use as a blending agent, it's not difficult to find cabernet franc as a stand-alone varietal, and the grape is particularly well-represented by an increasing number of Washington wineries. Here are some Washington cabernet francs I've enjoyed as of late:
Willow Crest Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $15) - Winemaker David Minick hits this one out of the park with an easy-drinking, completely underpriced cab franc from Yakima Valley. Lots of black plummy flavors on the palate glide into a finish that's slightly spicy and herby with a hint of minerality.
San Juan Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $19) - A friend of mine who is no slouch when it comes to wines took one sip of this and proclaimed it was "one of the best cab francs she'd tasted." Lovely cedar aromatics, understated cherry and blackberry flavors, and a trace of butterscotch on the finish highlight this nicely crafted wine from winemaker Chris Primus.
El Corazon Winery 2010 First Crush Cabernet Franc (about $28) - Although the alcohol level is a bit steep (14.8 percent), Walla Walla winemaker Spencer Sievers does a terrific job of balancing this out by producing a flavorful, full-bodied wine. The base suggests black tea, with layers of dark cherry, bittersweet chocolate and currant, and a smack of red licorice on the finish.
Barrister Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $28) - Spokane winemakers Greg Lipsker and Michael White have done it again with this huge, expressive wine. Dark berry fruits lead off, while the mid-palate of black currant, espresso, and anise finish with a dusting of dark chocolate and chalky tannins. Enjoy now or cellar for later; this is definitely one awesome cabernet franc.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.
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