Cab Franc from the U.S. -The Next Big Thing?

Dracaena 1

While the Loire Valley is ground zero for varietal Cab Franc wines, there are wonderful examples made in other parts of the world, including right here at home.  Recently I had the opportunity to taste two American versions: one from Kestrel Vintners in Yakima Valley, Washington; the other from Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles, California.  If you’ve followed my last few posts, you’ll know that I’m currently on a Cab Franc adventure, exploring wines made from one of my favorite grapes in places other than France.  Most recently I’ve delved into the Cab Francs of Argentina, and had a really great time savoring the lush, opulent and somewhat atypical wines crafted there.  To date, my experience with American-made Cab Franc has been pretty shallow, a situation I intend to correct with this post.  So, about these wines …

I ordered the 2012 Kestrel Cabernet Franc Winemaker Series while out for dinner with my husband.  I’m always intrigued by a good wine list, especially if there’s a category called “Interesting Reds.”  Never before had I encountered a varietal Cab Franc on this list, not even from the Loire Valley, so I went for it.  Dark purplish-red in the glass, this blend of 90% Cab Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Olsen Estates Vineyard reminded me a little of the Guarda from Argentina – very dense, all the way to the rim.  Aromas of blue and black fruits jumped out of the glass, along with a somewhat muted floral note.  And the first sip gave more of everything: blueberry, black currant, blackberry.  Initially I wondered if I were drinking Syrah!  The wine was smooth, with nicely integrated tannins and just enough acidity to keep all that exuberant fruit in check.  A beautiful wine deserving of the perfectly grilled steak and potato gratin gracing my plate.  As the wine opened over the course of dinner, earthy notes emerged – mocha and something a little spicy, like cinnamon.  Both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the Kestrel Cab Franc, and I hope I have the good fortune to meet it again.

The last wine in this leg of my Cabernet Franc odyssey comes from Dracaena Wines, a labor of love created by Lori and Michael Budd, two scientists, in honor of Draco, their canine companion of many years who passed away in 2011.  Draco, a weimaraner, whose portrait graces the label of each bottle, was named after the dragon constellation familiar to astronomers everywhere.  The name also refers to the Dracaena genus of plants, better known by their common name, draco.   In naming their Paso Robles wine venture, the Budds payed homage to their faithful friend as well as their scientific backgrounds.  Dracaena’s tagline also evokes their feelings about wine’s place in the world: “Our Wines + Your Moments = Great Memories.”  In my opinion, that’s exactly what wine is all about.

When wine enthusiasts think of Paso Robles, they’re probably more inclined to imagine powerful Zinfandel or Syrah rather than Cabernet Franc.  And, unfair as it is, many folks regard Cab Franc as a mere blending partner, à la Bordeaux or Napa, not realizing how great it can be on its own.  But the Budds have lots of love for Cab Franc, and have devoted all of their energies into crafting a superb varietal specimen.  They have even taken up the charge to designate December 4th as Cabernet Franc Day, in commemoration of all the beautiful wines made from that grape.  I, for one, am on board!  (Go to jump on the bandwagon.)

Grapes for the 2013 Cabernet Franc come from the West Side Ranch in Paso Robles, which has supplied high-quality red grapes to winemakers for years.  This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petit Sirah, and was aged for two years in French oak barrels.  It is an intense, deep red in the glass, the color of a perfect ruby.  Seductive aromas of blackberry and raspberry waft above the rim, along with subtle hints of brown sugar.  There’s even a little black pepper, to boot.  A sip takes all these sensations to a deeper level; all the fruit is there, plus an earthier element, maybe tobacco.  The finish is long, and serves up a soupçon of licorice.  It’s a well-balanced wine with silky tannins and a ribbon of acidity to tie all the elements together.  Medium-bodied, and lip-smackingly delicious, I’d love to have this wine as an accompaniment to thick-cut pork chops dressed in a blackberry-mustard glaze.  Next time!

If you haven’t yet explored the delights of varietal Cabernet Franc, wherever it comes from, you owe it to yourself to do so.  With so many intriguing versions available, all from uniquely different terroirs, it’s like watching a gifted actress reinvent herself time and time again!

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