In April, it's hard not to "think green" on many fronts. Our landscape starts to turn verdant (in non-freakish years). Earth Day reminds us how far we have come and how far we have to go ecologically. And many of us are handing over moolah to our Uncle Sam.
But that's not why this is the perfect time to sample perhaps the "greenest" of grapes, cabernet franc. Instead, it's because cab franc's flavor profile and soft texture make it the perfect match for the foods of the season.
"Cab franc's complex savory layers and balance both stand up to and complement many proteins, vegetables and sauces," said Chad Johnson, a Wisconsin native who makes a dandy cabernet franc at his Washington winery, Dusted Valley. Timely pairing options, he added, range "from pepperoni and olive pizza to endive salad to a morel pasta."
Another West Coast winemaker with local roots, John Skupny, cites the grape's "green edge, a herbaceousness. A lot of people say cab franc is the ultimate food wine because of that green. It's like hops in beer; it helps to clean the palate for the next bite of food."
Skupny's Lang & Reed is the only cab franc-only winery in Napa Valley, and perhaps California. His $27 North Coast bottling has the characteristic earthy elements and smooth, stylish dark fruit. I'm also a huge fan of the $35 Smith Wooton and the $37 Gamling & McDuck, the latter made by Minnesota transplants Gabrielle Shaffer and Adam McClary.
Perhaps a more appropriate introduction to this grape could be found in its native land, France. Cab franc is a highly favored blending grape in Bordeaux, particularly in the St.-Émilion area and most famously in one of the world's foremost wines, Cheval Blanc ($).
To the south, the Loire region has three nexuses for more affordable cab francs: Chinon (which provides a boatload of "house wines" for Paris bistros), Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny. Nearby Touraine also produces tasty renditions. Two wonderful "starter" cab francs, both priced in the mid-teens, are the bright, blueberry-laden Domaine De Vieux Pressoir "Les Silices" Saumur and the juicy, peppery, surprisingly complex Domaine Des Corbillieres Touraine "Les Demoiselles."
Even Italy is getting into the game: The soft and savory Bonotto Delle Tezze Veneto cab franc is a swell buy at $13.
Thanks to the increasing availability of these French offerings and more focus domestically on cab franc, we have more options than ever to embrace this grape and put behind us the days when it was considered a "poor stepchild" of cabernet sauvignon (which is especially ironic given that cab franc is one of two "parents" of cabernet sauvignon, along with sauvignon blanc).
As Johnson notes, cabernet franc "is a little lighter on its feet and more elegant than most cab sauvs. It is at its best when it shows its savory varietal character of slate, mineral, olive, herb or tobacco along with its beautiful layers of violet and luscious fruit. I also enjoy its round velvety texture and smooth tannins."
Sounds about right to me.
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org