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Cabernet Franc begins to take center stage

Charlie Hoppes, owner of Fidelitas Wines, also is the head winemaker for Gamache Vintners in Prosser.
Charlie Hoppes, owner of Fidelitas Wines, also is the head winemaker for Gamache Vintners in Prosser. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

It is likely that you are drinking more Northwest Cabernet Franc.

Known as “the third Bordeaux variety,” Cab Franc often has been hidden behind much more well-known Bordeaux grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But now it is coming out of the shadows and playing more of a starring role.

In Washington, Cab Franc is the No. 4 red wine grape, after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Last fall, winemakers crushed 3,400 tons of Cab Franc. While much of that undoubtedly was used in blends, it is no longer difficult to find dozens upon dozens of examples of Northwest Cab Franc being bottled by itself.

And it is delicious that way. Cab Franc tends to be a supple and complex red wine with aromas and flavors similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but with more approachable tannins. In a classic Washington Cab Franc, one might find aromas of dried crushed herbs or leaves alongside notes of plum and black currant.

In the vineyard, Cab Franc is known to handle cold winters better than most varieties, and its grapes ripen a little earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Here are six delicious examples of Northwest Cab Franc, all of which earned gold medals at this spring’s Cascadia Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Gamache Vintners 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $40: Winemaker Charlie Hoppes has crafted a Cab Franc with aromas of cherry pipe tobacco, cedar and vanilla extract. The drink is supple, with black currant and raspberry backed by tannins that add just the right amount of structure.

Wedge Mountain Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $28: Charlie McKee quietly crafts delicious wines in Peshastin, a tiny community not far from Leavenworth, Wash. Using grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope, he has produced a delicious Cab Franc with aromas of sage, clove and red cherry, followed by flavors of red and black fruit, along with licorice and a hint of spice rub.

O•S Winery 2013 Sonas Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $25: This winery in the south Seattle neighborhood of Georgetown has created a beautiful and elegant Cab Franc. Aromas of dried purple lavender and black cherry give way to flavors of huckleberry, vanilla cream and sweet dried herbs. It’s all backed by firm yet pliable tannins that lead to a memorable finish.

William Church Winery 2013 Tres Bien Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $36: This small producer in Woodinville’s warehouse district has a well-earned reputation for distinctive red wines, and the quality of this Cab Franc further burnishes that renown. It opens with aromas of luscious chocolate syrup, a hint of toasted oak and ample dark fruit. On the palate, it reveals flavors of olive, black licorice, plum and caramel, with classic crushed dried herbs in the background.

Ledger David Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc, Rogue Valley, $29: Based deep in Southern Oregon, this winery is gaining a reputation as a top Rogue Valley producer. Aromas of mild oak, vanilla and Bing cherry lead to flavors of dried herbs, blueberry and a hint of cocoa powder. Everything is backed by remarkable acidity and mild tannins, making this a classic example of Northwest Cabernet Franc.

Plain Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $28: This little winery north of Leavenworth in the town of Plain, Wash., has been on our radar for a couple of years, thanks to the immense quality of its red wines. Aromas of succulent spices from 100% French oak aging meld with notes of black currant and olive. On the palate, it reveals flavors of plum, sage and gravelly minerality, all backed by approachable tannins and perfect acidity.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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