I love Cabernet Franc. There, I've said it. I know many people who are disinclined to this often vegetal-tasting/smelling grape varietal, but I quite enjoy it. Perhaps you've had it and you haven't even realized it. It is a grape that often plays second or third fiddle in Bordeaux blends. If you're palate has taken you to the Loire Valley of France and you enjoyed a red wine from Chinon or Saumur-Champigny, you've enjoyed this varietal on its own. Likewise, you may also have tried a bottle from a California producer, where the grape is increasingly getting a chance to play the lead role. But if you're really lucky, you'll have tasted some from the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Finger Lakes is an up-and-coming wine region here in the US. Cold as You-Know-What up in those parts, the Lakes do play a critical role in moderating the otherwise frosty climate. With proper vine grafting, Riesling has done tremendously well (as has Chardonnay). In fact Dr. Frank's Rieslings are thought to rival those of Germany's Saar region. Reds are starting to get some more attention, too. Cabernet Franc from this region has even caught the attention of world-reknowned wine writer, Jancis Robinson. And with good reason.
My mentor gifted me a bottle of Red Newt Cellars' 2004 Cabernet Franc several months ago. She knows my palate enjoys a good frolick with cab franc and she is in the less-inclined category I mentioned earlier. She is also from upstate New York and knew this would be a good opportunity for me to taste this up and coming New York state wine - wines that are nearly impossible to get hold of here in Massachusetts. I knew it was going to be a fun wine to drink so I bided my time waiting for an opportunity when the weather (temperate) and my dinner menu (something "earthy" involved, e.g. mushrooms, eggplant, rosemary, etc.) were in sync.
Only the comfort of Chicken Marsala, garlic/rosemary mashed potatoes and snow peas would ease our pain from having watched Tom Brady injure himself in the first quarter of last Sunday's game. The evening was gorgeous, too. And so the stars had aligned to pop the cork of the Newt Cab Franc in my cellar.
What we found was a treat. Red Newt Cellars produced a lighter-styled Cab Franc, with gentle tannins and moderate acidity. The fruit was the most distinguishing characteristic, offering bright, ripe red fruits - cranberry and raspberries seemed most evident to me - followed by soft spice and earth. In a blind taste test I may have said it was a Pinot Noir - being both more accustomed to the bigger, bolder Cab Franc offerings I'm used to drinking from CA and lacking (in a refreshing way) the strong bell pepper notes so often evident in wines from the Loire.
True to form (having experience the wine for myself first), the next day I took my notes and went online to see what the winemaker or other "experts" had to say about the wine's characteristics. The winemaker certainly hoped I'd have the experience I did! For the 2005 vintage he writes, "cranberry and raspberry with overtones of smoke and spice make an elegant red that shows well young and ages beautifully. Cabernet Franc is one of the most promising red varieties ever introduced in the Finger Lakes. Structure is typically complex, complete but delicate. Color is moderate to dark and tannins soft." Complete but delicate were probably my happiest memories of the wine - I couldn't have said it better myself!
What's your experience with Cab Franc? Are you as inclined as I to pick up a bottle? Or, is this a new one on you - and one you might take for a test drive in future?