In many ways, cabernet franc leads a tortured life as a red-wine grape.
It’s often viewed as something of a lesser grape amid classic Bordeaux varieties, perhaps the little brother to the often magnificent cabernet sauvignon. In the media glare that “King Cab” receives in Bordeaux, Napa and Washington’s Columbia Valley, it’s little wonder how cab franc often is quickly dismissed.
The irony, of course, is that cabernet franc is a father figure to cabernet sauvignon, which came about by a chance crossing between cab franc and sauvignon blanc, a dalliance that occurred in a vineyard in southwestern France a couple of centuries back. In 1997, researchers at the University of California-Davis proved the parentage.
Cab franc is a sturdy grape that ripens late and results in wines with ripe flavors of plum, blackcurrant, dark chocolate and, most notably, a fresh herbalness. Tannins are more refined and less pronounced that its more famous offspring.
Cab franc is starting to shine when presented on its own, and this became apparent during Wine Press Northwest magazine’s 19th annual Platinum Judging, where several examples stood out as exceptional. Here are a few of the top performers. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the wineries directly.
Fly Rod Cellars 2015 Trico Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $29: Troy Mandeville and John Richardson of Convergence Zone Cellars in the Cascade foothills town of North Bend work with cabernet franc from acclaimed Dineen Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills for the second vintage of this brand and its tribute to the tricorythodes mayfly — a friend to those fly fishing for trout. Perfumed aromas of violets and graphite shout out cab franc. The floral note continues while flavors of strawberry-rhubarb, black raspberry, graphite, hints of tar, anise seed, followed by smoky spiced oak and cigar box notes unfold.
Spangler Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc, Southern Oregon, $28: Wine Press Northwest’s 2018 Oregon Winery of the Year used this vintage to notch its third career Platinum for work with cabernet franc. Black cherry and vanilla notes jump from the glass. Inside, it’s deeply fruited with black plum, fresh-picked blackberries, licorice, chocolate-covered cherries and sarsaparilla coating the mouth.
Walla Walla Vintners 2016 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $35: Co-founders Myles Anderson and Gordy Venneri are credited with helping to put cabernet franc on the map as a stand-alone bottling in the Northwest, and a winemaker Anderson helped train — William VonMetzger — continued that tradition with Walla Walla Vintners’ third career Platinum with the variety. Expressive aromas of dark berries and a touch of spice are fully engaging.
Kitzke Cellars 2013 Kitzke Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $33: Seth Kitzke has taken over the winemaking for his folks in Richland, and they planted their Candy Ridge Vineyards in what is poised to become the Candy Mountain American Viticultural Area. However, highly respected Charlie “Wine Boss” Hoppes helped launch their wine program, and the Kitzkes give the Fidelitas winemaker credit for this suave cab franc. Delightfully aromatic, it offers up florals and lead pencil shavings, followed by black currant, ripe blueberries, wild blackberries and sage.
Whidbey Island Winery 2015 Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $22: Puget Sound winemaker Greg Osenbach used Yakima Valley fruit to notch a pair of Platinums, including this remarkable work with cabernet franc. Beautiful scents of a floral bouquet and minerality set the stage for a mouth-watering entry. On the palate, blackcurrant, sage, plum, wild berries, black licorice drops and cedar join up with pronounced minerally notes.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.