How Well Do You Know Franc?

Illustration of purple grapes

When wine drinkers refer to a “Cab,” more often than not they are referring to Cabernet Sauvignon, not the Hudson Valley’s newly claimed signature grape, Cabernet Franc. Below is a short list of characteristics to help differentiate the two Cabs, adapted from Hudson Valley viticulturalist J. Stephen Casscles’s, Grapes of the Hudson Valley And Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada [Flint Mine Press, 2015].

  • It is now known that Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the other parent of Cabernet Sauvignon being the white Bordeaux grape Sauvignon Blanc.
  • There are several theories on where Cabernet Franc came from, ranging from the Basque area of Spain, further north in Bordeaux, or even further north in the Loire Valley or Brittany.
  • The big advantage of Cabernet Franc is that it is probably one of the most winter-hardy red vinifera varieties.
  • Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, the relatively lean tannin structure and medium body of Cabernet Francs have a very welcoming presence of soft earth, cigar box, and light chocolate.
  • Its flavor profile, unlike the serious, big, and dank flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon, is far more approachable and aromatic.
  • Cabernet Franc wines can have many layers of berries, cranberries, some light red cherries, and a round body that makes them interesting to drink over the course of an entire dinner.
  • Cabernet Franc is also a very good blender that gives more presence and complexity to already complex red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chambourcin, Chelois, or Chancellor.
  • The aging potential of Cabernet Franc is good, with lighter ones peaking in three to five years, while more “serious” ones peak in seven to ten years.
  • The Hudson Valley is uniquely suited to produce both big, complex Cabernet Francs and the kinds of lighter-bodied reds that are currently being made in the Loire Valley.

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