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Cabernet Franc sure got around: It’s a parent of four of the other grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Carménère—used in Bordeaux wines. Utilized mainly for blending in Bordeaux and for making accessible reds in Chinon, Cabernet Franc is reclaiming its status in wine regions around the world, where it’s made into single-varietal standouts that showcase its voluptuous flavors, rich tannic structure, and aging potential.
You’d be hard-pressed to get your hands on a premium pure or high-percentage Cabernet Franc from France—just try to find a bottle of Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Le Bourg from the Loire Valley. Meanwhile, the options among single-varietal or Cab Franc–dominant blends from Napa, Sonoma, and elsewhere around the globe are dizzying.
One of Sonoma’s best-known is Vérité Le Désir, made by Bordeaux natives Pierre Seillan and his daughter, Hélène. According to Hélène, Cabernet Franc is “suitable for long aging” provided it’s the product of “great terroir and the correct viticulture.” There are many fine examples from Tuscany, especially in Bolgheri, which provided inspiration for Sicily’s Planeta family over 25 years ago. “In the mid-’90s, we visited Bolgheri and saw the first experiments of Cabernet Franc in estates that later became legends in Tuscan wine production,” says winemaker Alessio Planeta. “We immediately appreciated the interaction of this variety with the climate, the environment, and the landscape—in our opinion, these elements are similar in Menfi and Bolgheri.”
Cabernet Franc is known for its bold fruit flavors: Expect black cherry, blackberry, purple plum, and cassis along with notes of flowers, smoke, and flint. “It has a great richness and concentration of tannins without ever becoming overbearing,” Planeta adds. “Perhaps the beauty of Cabernet Franc is that, despite creating dense wines with high tannins, it’s capable of retaining balance and finesse and always remains vibrant and smooth.”
Alejandro Vigil, co-owner of and winemaker for Argentina’s El Enemigo (who is also the chief winemaking director at Argentine powerhouse Catena Zapata), likewise believes in the variety’s maturation potential, particularly those from higher, cooler areas, citing “tannin content and a natural acidity that make it highly recommended for aging.” Christopher Carpenter, winemaker at Caladan, in Napa Valley, agrees, saying that its “naturally stable acidity and tannin component allow for the preservation of the baseline fruit characters over an extended period of time.” In short, while you wouldn’t be faulted for opening one of these beauties below and enjoying it now, we recommend laying them down for a decade—or two—for ultimate satisfaction.
Vérité 2019 Le Désir
Made with 83 percent Cabernet Franc, Sonoma’s Le Désir offers aromas of blackberry, cherry liqueur, slate, and herbes de Provence that transition seamlessly to the palate. Polished tannins, vibrant acidity, and gorgeous mouthfeel make for an exquisite sipping experience.
Gran Enemigo 2017 Gualtallary Single Vineyard
Hailing from a high-altitude region in the north of Argentina’s Uco Valley, in Mendoza, this wine has 15 percent Malbec in the mix. Aromas of purple plum, cigar box, violet, and river rock pave the way for flavors of black currant, cherry, espresso bean, and a hint of salinity in a web of luxurious tannins.
Caladan 2018 Cabernet Franc
Winemaker Christopher Carpenter started this project to give some love to “Bordeaux” varieties other than Cabernet Sauvignon. Made with grapes from four vineyards, this Napa Valley wine has a nose of cherry pie and ground coffee, with plush tannins and flavors of cassis, blackberry, lavender, and sage that sail to a lengthy finish.
Planeta 2017 Didacus Sicilia Menfi
From a Sicilian vineyard located 1,300 feet above the Mediterranean, this pure Cab Franc offers a heady bouquet of dark berries, baking spice, mocha, thyme, and saddle leather. A sheath of opulent tannins and bold acidity is wrapped around flavors of black cherry, cassis, dark chocolate, eucalyptus, and cigar box.