Shake Up Your Next Wine Pairing Menu – With Cabernet Franc*

Grouper in Puttanesca Sauce

One of the reasons I love Cabernet Franc so much is its affinity for food – all kinds of food!  The wines offer an exquisite balance of fruit, acidity, and mild tannins that complement a wide variety of entrées, from freshwater fish to roasted pork or grilled beef.  In the Loire Valley of France, local chefs love to feature the area’s bounty of seafood and wild game alongside one of the esteemed Cab Franc-based red wines from Chinon or Bourgueil.  In Bordeaux, where Cab Franc often teams up with Merlot to produce the structured wines of the famed Right Bank, you’ll see it paired with scrumptious beef and lamb dishes.  How can one grape make wines that so easily accommodate such different dishes?

Although Cab Franc shares many traits with its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon, one striking difference is that Cab Franc ripens faster.  In relatively cooler climates this distinction is important because it renders Cab Franc less vulnerable to poor weather conditions (rain or frost) at harvest.  Growers located in rainier, cooler regions can depend on their grapes getting to full phenolic maturity, resulting in well-balanced wine.  Grapes grown in cooler conditions also tend to maintain a higher level of acidity, a quality that that is discernible in the finished wine.  It’s that racy, almost citrusy tang that underlies the beautiful red and black fruit flavors.  And it’s critical to successful menu pairings because it allows the partnership between wine and food to work; neither outshines the other.  Both taste better because the flavors all balance together.

So there’s a bit of the science on why Cab Franc loves food.  Blah, blah, blah!  Let’s get to the good part:  some menu pairing ideas and recipes.  As a long-time lover of Cab Franc, I’ve tried it with just about every type of food out there.  Short of a plate of raw oysters, I can’t think of any dish that would be specifically off-limits, but I have to say that pork is my favorite.  Charcuterie platters, pork chops, roast pork – all simply wonderful with these wines!  That said, chicken makes a splendid partner, as does a meatier fish, like grouper.  You’re only as limited as your imagination.  To get you thinking about which way to go, here are some recipes I’ve tried recently; give them a try.  Bon appétit!

(* This post originally appeared on May 16, on, where I was invited to participate as guest blogger.)


Fresh Grouper in Puttanesca Sauce

1.5 lbs fresh grouper filet, cut into large chunks
½ white onion, roughly chopped
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ tsp red pepper flakes(more if you like it hot!)
12-15 Kalamata olives, halved
28 oz. can of tomato puree
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon capers
¼ cup dry white wine
chopped fresh dill and grated Pecorino cheese for serving
1 box whole wheat spaghetti

Sautee the onion, garlic and fennel in olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.
When softened, add white wine and reduce.  Add olives, pepper flakes, capers, tomato puree and paste and stir together.  Reduce heat, partially cover and let cook about 15 minutes.

While the sauce cooks, heat the pasta water.  When it’s ready, add the spaghetti to the water and the fish to the sauce.  Pasta will take 12-15 minutes to cook which should be enough to cook the fish through.  Serve the fish in the sauce over top of the pasta.  Garnish with fresh dill and Pecorino.

My wine pairing is fairly untraditional here: I’ve selected a Cabernet Franc.  It has enough acidity to stand up to the tomato sauce, and the earthier elements of the sauce bring out similar notes in the wine (dill, olives).  And it’s a great complement to the meaty grouper, which is the star of the show!


Chicken Thighs

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Vegetables

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
1-2 shallots, roughly chopped
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Juice of half a lemon
Two bay leaves
1 small lemon, cut into wedges
1 sprig rosemary, leaves roughly chopped
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add shallots and cook until soft.  Add chickpeas, tomatoes, lemon juice, broth, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper, and stir together.  Season chicken with garlic powder, salt/pepper, and smoked paprika, and place atop the vegetables in the skillet.  Add the lemon wedges.  Cook at 400 F for about 30 minutes, until chicken is nicely browned.


Roasted Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Roasted Stuffed Poblano Peppers

4 Poblano peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
1 lb. mild Italian chicken sausage (if links, casing removed)
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large shallot, chopped
Shredded manchego cheese

Rub the outside of the peppers with olive oil and set on a baking sheet.
Sweat the shallots in some olive oil over medium heat until soft.
Add the cherry tomatoes and cook two minutes.
Add the chicken sausage and cook through, approx. 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and place in large mixing bowl to cool.
Stuff each pepper half with the sausage mixture, topping each with shredded Manchego cheese and some smoked paprika.
Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes until warmed through and cheese melts.

Cabernet Franc matches well with dishes prepared with peppers, as there is an herbal element to the wine that complements the same green notes in the dish.  The wine also has lovely fruit and enough structure to complement the dish without overwhelming it.

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