Looking for a delicious, affordable, and trendy new grape varietal to dazzle your friends at impromptu wine tastings? Look no further than Cabernet Franc, an all too frequently overlooked varietal that pairs well with a wide variety of winter-themed cuisine.
As an accomplished or aspiring wine geek, you may already know that Cabernet Franc is one of the five red grape varietals that make up a Bordeaux Blend. However, in nearby Chinon and Bourgueil, as well as Anjou-Saumur and Touraine, wine is made using this grape alone. Producers in Canada are using the varietal to make sweet ice wine, and in the North Fork of New York, many producers are creating seductively good dry table wine from this varietal as well.
So why Cabernet Franc? Why now? Let us start with the season. As a self-described CF fan I will drink this wine all year round, careful to serve it slightly chilled in summer as the French locals do. Yet the rich, ripe, red-fruit oriented flavors in this wine warm the soul during the cooler months and pair well with winter dishes such as lamb stew. In flavor, the wine is not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon and offers some spice on the nose and palate, mostly from long oak aging (especially in France).
Beyond taste, this wine is usually a good value, particularly in France where small, quality producers take a great deal of pride in turning out nicely-crafted wines that typically sell for around $15 a bottle. If you love high-end, fine dining restaurants, you can usually find a delicious bargain with a Cabernet Franc.
As a member of Manhattan’s prestigious Wine Media Guild, I’ve recently had an opportunity to taste this varietal from many regions during our monthly luncheon with cuisine paired under the direction of celebrity chef Lydia Bastianich at her Felidia restaurant in New York. Speakers included author/importer Richard Johnson, Wolffer Estate winemaker Roman Roth, and charismatic Paul Grieco, co-owner and sommelier of the restaurants Hearth, Insieme, and Terroir.
Among the many wines was one of my go-to favorites, Famille Grosbois Chinon Vielle Vigne 2007 (importer Martin Scott Wines) that sells for $17. I also enjoyed the Chateau de Coulaine "Bonnaventure" 2006 ($23, importer Skurnik). Both are exceptionally well balanced and characterized by lush red and black fruit and balanced spice. Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon 2005 Picasses (importer V0S) was quite extracted and had an unexpected finish of bitter chocolate. Chateau de Vaugaudry offered a Plessis-Gerbault 2003 Chinon that was substantial and full-bodied enough to stand up to grilled steak (Frank Johnson Selections, $20).
I very much liked the USA wines, especially the Schneider Vineyards Cabernet Franc La Cloche 2005, which sells for $60 (Schneider Selections). The flavors were exceptionally balanced, delicate, and well crafted. The Wolffer Estate Vineyards Caya Caberet Franc 2005 ($40, importer Winebow) was just delectable; red, jammy, medium-bodied, and versatile enough to go with everything from lamb to a composed summer salad.
Felidia’s team put together a great multi-course lunch with an entrée of meat pie and delicious pasta dish of risotto in a gorgeous purple beet sauce. What surprised and delighted me most was the salad of briefly braised radicchio and endive with thin apple slivers and blue cheese that went surprisingly well with the Cabernet Franc.
If you would like to experience the world of Cabernet Franc, I suggest you befriend a local wine store and ask the clerk to find you samples of this varietal from various regions in France and the USA to compare their styles. Either way, I’m sure y ou will find this charming wine fresh, affordable, enchanting, and versatile to sip every day.
So! Now that the official article is posted, here are some behind the scenes pics. Regular readers, I would love for you to email me and tell me if you like the pics, or if you just do the RSS or ATOM thing and speed read the copy on your blackberry.
The WMG lunch begins as always with members tasting the wines the distributors and/or producers were generous enough to provide. Here are pics of Lydia Bastianich, who hosts our lunch in her restaurant, posing with members and with me. What is amazing about her, aside from her culinary skills and media friendly personality, is the elegant way she dresses and composes herself. Below Lydia is flanked by Peter M.F. Sichel and Louisa Thomas Hargrave in the group picture.
As you can imagine, we have a lot of fun during our seated, multi-course lunch. Here is a typical "grab across the table."
And finally, a pic of two of our three speakers. Typically we have at least one speaker
and the pic below represents member Frank Johnson, an importer who is also a member (wearing a tie and jacket), and speake Paul Grieco, described as a co-restaurant owner and sommelier of those restaurants.