Cabernet Franc


Cabernet Franc varietal photo from

Whether Cabernet Frank (northeast Italy), Bouchy (Madiran), Bouchet (St. Émilion), Breton (Loire), or Carmenet (old Médoc synonym) – it is the luscious varietal we call Cabernet Franc in Northern California.

One of the five Bordeaux varietals and parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (with Sauvignon Blanc) it has often been used in Bordeaux blends or Meritage, but Cabernet Franc is sufficiently widely grown to be one of the world’s 20 most planted cultivars and a fabulous varietal when vinified alone.

photo by John Compisi

Christopher Sawyer, Pam Starr, and John Skupny (left to right) photo by John Compisi

For the first in our 2015 Single Varietal Tasting Series, we chose Cabernet Franc because it is an incredibly friendly wine either directly out of the barrel or paired with food.

John Skupny, Lang and Reed, was our varietal expert and Christopher Sawyer, The Sommelier Files, moderated the blind tasting of 27 unique Cabernet Franc wines.  The goal of this Single Varietal Tasting Series is to showcase the diversity of the varietal in different Northern California terroirs and with different winemaking styles to the Sommeliers and Wine Buyers working in the industry in Northern California.  We are hoping through education and exposure to the varietals showcased to increase their presence on wine lists and the demand from wine buyers.  Additionally, by supplying the depth of regional varietal coverage, we would like our frontline Sommeliers to be able to knowledgeably showcase the varietal to our visitors and locals alike.

The terroir required for Cabernet Franc is reasonably warm, much like Cabernet Sauvignon, although Cabernet Franc buds and ripens earlier and is less susceptible to frost.  Pam Starr, Crocker & Starr,  said in the vineyard Cabernet Franc is more difficult than Pinot Noir and quite the wild child throwing laterals and second crops, but worth the effort because Cabernet Franc will always a be a winedrinkers drink.

Cabernet Franc profile

Architecture of Cabernet Franc by Lang & Reed

“Cabernet Franc is an older Bordeaux variety and it is said that it is closer to its wild parentage.  Vines that are more closely related to wild vines are generally more sensitive to the terroir in which they are grown and show more of the characteristics of the specific terroir.” Aaron Pott, winemaker, said in Edible Marin & Wine Country, Spring 2013.  This is what we found in our blind tasting, the architecture of the grape (see chart from Lang & Reed) was wildly diverse and presented itself in many wonderful nuances and exotic combinations.  Some Sommeliers commented that it refreshing to be offered a change from the reigning diet of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Others said that had never seen as many quality Cabernet Francs presented in a single varietal tasting and found the diversity of the varietal within Northern California enlightening.

Napa Valley Vintners lists 139 wineries Sonoma County Vintners list 43 that produce Cabernet Franc, so when the pendulum swings away from super-concentrated, high-alcohol reds, Cabernet Franc may be expected to benefit and the variety available in Northern California will give continue to give pleasure to our ravenous Francophiles and newcomers alike.

Winemaking styles for this versatile grape showed most winemakers lookinIMG_7534-Smg for a ripe flavor and minimal pyrazines; all removed stems; most used at least some French oak, and completed malolactic fermentation in the barrel.  But there the similarities parted.  Harvest occurred between 23-28 Brix, 3.6-3.85 pH, 5.0-6.5 g/L TA from night to early morning, some favoring cold soak and others using none at all.  New oak varied from 25%-100% and time in barrels from 15-36 months with some Winemakers favoring light and others extensive maceration.  The state alcohol varied from 13.0%-15.4% Many Winemakers agreed that due to limited availability they might release the wine ahead of when they would under perfect conditions due to consumer demand.

California Cabernet Franc wines included in the blind tasting:

Winery Year Percent
Cab Franc
Other Varietal(s) Appellation Sub Appellation Vineyard  Retail Alcohol
Acorn 2011  88% 7% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Malbec Sonoma County Russian River Valley Alegria – Estate Vineyards  $    34.00 13.0%
Ballentine 2010 100% Napa Valley Calistoga Pocai Estate Vineyard  $    32.00 14.8%
Cairdean 2011 76% 24% Malbec Napa Valley Coombsville Acquaintance Estate Vineyard  $    84.00 13.5%
Crocker & Starr 2012 100% Napa Valley St Helena Crocker Estate Vineyard  $    80.00 14.8%
Delectus 2009 96% 4% Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Knights Valley next door to Delectus Estate Vineyards  $    78.00
Detert 2012 100% Napa Valley Oakville Detert Estate Vineyard  $    75.00 14.7%
Duckhorn 2012 95% 2.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Malbec Napa Valley 40% Three Palms Vineyard, 30% Suscol Bench Vineyard, 10% Patzimaro Vineyard (Estate), 10% Stout Vineyard (Estate), 5% Monitor Ledge Vineyard (Estate)  $    70.00 14.5%
Ehler’s Estate 2012 100% Napa Valley St Helena Ehler Estate Vineyard  $    60.00 14.2%
Imagery 2012 100% Sonoma County Sonoma Valley Sunny Slope Vineyard + Others  $    44.00 14.8%
Kenefick Ranch 2012 85% 8% Petite Verdot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Calistoga Caitlin’s Select, Kenefick Estate Vineyard  $    50.00 15.4%
La Jota 2011 96% 4% Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Howell Mountain LaJota Estate Vineyard  $    75.00 14.5%
Lang & Reed 2012 100% Napa Valley Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard  $    48.00 13.8%
Louis Martini 2012 100% Sonoma County Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso  $    60.00 15.0%
Merriam 2009 100% Sonoma County Russian River Valley Windacre Estate Vineyard  $    40.00 14.5%
Merryvale 2010 85% 15% Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stanton, Hossfeld, Sugarloaf Estate Vineyards  $    65.00 14.7%
Peju 2012 80% 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot Napa Valley Rutherford Estate Vineyard, Persephone Estate Vineyard (Pope Valley), Wappo Vineyard (Calistoga)  $    55.00 14.5%
Pride 2012 83% 17% Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Pride Mountain Estate Vineyards  $    65.00 14.2%
Ravenswood 2012 100% Sonoma County Sonoma Valley Bedrock Vineyard  $    37.00 14.9%
Robert Keenan 2011 100% Napa Valley Spring Mountain Keenan Estate Vineyard  $    64.00 14.3%
Soda Rock 2011 100% Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley Warm Springs Estate Vineyard  $    45.00 14.1%
Thumbprint 2013 100% Sonoma County Alexander Valley Ramazzotti Vineyards  $    53.00 14.7%
Trefethen 2012 99% 1% Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Oak Knoll Main Ranch Estate Vineyard & Hill Spring Estate Vineyard  $    40.00 14.5%
Viader (Dare) 2013 100% Napa Valley Howell Mountain Viader Estate Vineyard  $    60.00

Additionally wines from France and other US regions were included as ringers to bring the number of wines to 30.

Our next Single Varietal Tasting in Syrah with Ehren Jordan of Failla wines on May 5.  If you work in the industry and would like to attend one of our events, please contact me directly with your information (

If you are a winery that would like for us to consider you wine for inclusion in our tasting series. Send me information on the wine you would like to submit and the basic technical information on the wine, such as vineyard, percent of varietal, etc.

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