Drink Locavore Challenge: Cabernet Franc
If you want to experience a unique incarnation of local wine, drink Cabernet Franc. Although most people have not heard of this grape, many wine snobs derisively dismiss Cabernet Franc by saying, “oh, it’s just a blending grape” (emphasizing the words by dragging them out, “blenndiinng graaype.) By that, they mean it’s used in blending Bordeaux or Bordeaux-style red wines, where it plays albeit a background role along with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. But as with all wine snobbery, this sort of close-mindedness serves no purpose. (I mean, people have no problem drinking Argentine malbec, and technically, that’s a “blending grape,” too.)
To make matters worse, Cab Franc was viciously blasted in that wine movie, Sideways. If it already garnered little respect prior to then, it surely seemed like it never would. (After all, look how Sideways almost blasted Merlot into oblivion.)
I suppose if you’ve only ever sampled the over-ripened, mostly afterthought Cabernet Franc from California, you probably won’t think it’s anything special. Cabernet Franc is a tricky grape – it can taste harsh or one-dimensional or vegetal, but if nurtured in the proper climate, it can be sensationally full of ripe fruit with a spicy kick. If you’ve ever attended Megan Wiig’s Bordeaux seminars at Alliance Française de Chicago, you will hear her sing the praises of French Cabernet Franc. (In fact, Cab Franc is dominant in Right Bank Bordeaux wines. Pétrus uses some Cab Franc to mix with prized Merlot in its wines.) It is also featured in Loire wines.
The outlook may be changing for eclectic Cab Franc. James Suckling (until recently, of Wine Spectator) proudly blessed a Michigan Cabernet Franc made by 2 Lads. Alpana Singh recently included a local Cab Franc on the wine menu at Big Bowl restaurants. In this NY Times piece published earlier this summer, titled, “A New Look for Two Oft-Maligned Varieties,” it was acknowledged that the error with Cab Franc occurs because it is “planted in the wrong place and managed poorly.” (See also this Sacramento Bee article comparing Cab Franc to Jan Brady and Fredo Corleone.) The Midwest, especially Michigan with its cooler conditions, is an ideal place for growing well-managed Cabernet Franc. So, during this year’s Green City Market Locavore Challenge, I challenge you to give Cabernet Franc a second look, and to try some made locally.
One pointer, though: 2007 was a great year for local Cabernet Franc. So, if you can get a hold of a 2007 vintage, do it. I know that 2 Lads’ much-lauded ’07 vintage is long gone, but their ’08 is tasting just fine. My current favorite is Peninsula Cellars’ ’07 non-reserve vintage, which is available online, or locally at House Red in Forest Park or Dobby’s Liquors in Palatine. You won’t be disappointed by the perfumed nose, full, ripe black cherry, plum and red raspberry flavors, soft, oaky tannins and peppery-spiciness. It pairs well with barbecue, and its medium body makes it especially apt as a fall wine to ease the transition from whites and rosés to heavy reds. I also recommend Bowers Harbor’s 2007 Cabernet Franc, Erica Vineyard — an oakier, more structured version, it is likewise redolent of dark sweet cherry, plum and spice; and Black Star Farm’s 2008 Arcturos Cabernet Franc, which, in addition to all the dark fruit and spice, exhibits some herbaceous qualities as well. (This is available at Green Grocer in Chicago.)
If you’ve had any local Cab Franc that you enjoyed, please share with us!