Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is another of the major dark skinned wine grapes of Bordeaux, thriving alongside Merlot on the thicker soils of the Gironde's Right Bank and across Bordeaux's Côtes, while serving as a complementary blending agent for the more forceful Cabernet Sauvignon in the Médoc and farther south, in the Graves. Cabernet Franc is also grown to great success throughout the Loire Valley. There it is blended across other varieties at low to mid-market price-points in Touraine, while reaching its apogee as a straight varietal expression on the limestone crests contiguous to the Loire in appellations including Anjou, Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur. Cabernet Franc appears throughout Friuli in Italy's north-east, Slovenia and in the New World also. In Margaret River and Coonawarra for example, it is largely blended with varying percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux vein.

Cabernet Franc is a grape variety of medium levels of pigmentation, brisk acidity and marked tannins that are neither as linear, nor as obdurate, as those of Cabernet Sauvignon. The variety ripens somewhere, often propitiously, between the precocious Merlot and the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. This gives it a vintage-redeeming usefulness in years such as 2004, when other varieties failed to ripen in much of Bordeaux. Nevertheless, attention to yields and canopy management are intrinsic to controlling the variety's pronounced leafiness, and ensuring that it is not accentuated to any overt degree that imposes on a wine's balance. The compounds responsible for this organoleptic trait are known as methoxyprazines.

Perceptions of just how much leafiness is considered 'overt' are highly relative, and to a large extent, dependent on the wine-drinking culture. Americans, for example, generally negate any hint of methoxyprazines in their wines by maximizing ripeness levels in the vineyard and/or blending it out. Many American winemakers eschew Cabernet Franc. It is with interest, therefore, that Tim Mondavi's new project 'Continuum' relies on a solid dollop of Cabernet Franc in the blend for lift and savoury appeal, much in the same way that Chateau Cheval Blanc, in Saint-Émilion, is comprised of up to 60 per cent of Cabernet Franc.

As important as vineyard management techniques are, a judicious approach to vinification and tannin management in particular, is of equal importance when crafting Cabernet Franc. Excessive extraction and oak deter from the sappy, crunchy and gorgeously scented light to mid-weighted wines that define Cabernet Franc at its apotheosis. Cabernet Franc is not necessarily a light wine but nor is it heavy and brooding. Its appeal is in its charm and eminent drinkability.

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