Let’s be Franc: This is good wine

Say the word “Cabernet,” and most wine lovers will assume you’re talking about Cabernet Sauvignon, the majestic red grape of Bordeaux, Northern California and quite a few other world wine regions that reach for greatness.

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But if you find yourself sampling delicious red wines in parts of Northern Italy or the Loire valley in France, among others, a reference to “Cabernet” is likely to point to Cabernet Franc.

If we’re personalizing grapes, we might speak of Cabernet Franc as a member of an ensemble, one who rarely stands up for a solo riff or operatic aria but plays a key supporting role, adding its personality to a memorable chorus.

Bordeaux magazine explains it clearly from the standpoint of the region’s basic blend: “Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied and tannic, providing blackcurrant, licorice, and mint. Merlot is a supple and opulent grape, often expressing dark cherry, plum, and grilled notes, whereas Cabernet Franc is a softer grape, with more vegetal notes such as bell pepper. Blending the three provides complexity and balance to the wine, which is what blending is all about.”

That seems simple enough, although with Bordeaux things are rarely as simple as they seem. First, every produces may, and usually does, vary the proportions of the blend, and they may add portions of Petit Verdot and Malbec as well. And occasionally Carménère. And – although I hope it’s going to be a long time coming – Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional, the latter best known for Port, may now legally be used in the Bordeaux blend in the sad event that global warming makes the Bordeaux climate too hot to support the traditional varieties.

Cabernet Franc grapes

Cabernet Franc grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon usually – but of course not always – dominates the blend on the left bank of the rivers that divide Bordeaux’s vineyards, but Merlot takes the lead over on the right bank. Usually. But look for the sought-after wines of St.-Emilion, and you’ll find … wait for it … Cabernet Franc usually dominating the blend. (The ultimate example, if you can afford it, is surely Chateau Cheval Blanc St.-Emilion.)

I think you’re starting to get the picture. Cab Franc may not get the respect that it deserves. And if you want to talk about bragging rights, consider this:Recent DNA studies suggest that Cabernet Franc came first, a wild grape that migrated naturally from the Spanish Pyrenees to Southern France after the last ice age; and Cab Franc is actually a parent of the crosses that became Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot!

So, by name and by tradition (at least since Ice Age days), Cabernet Franc is a French grape. But it thrives in Northeastern Italy and has found an amiable home especially in Fruili-Venezia Guilia and the Veneto since the 1800s. It’s not always easy to find in the U.S. Today’s featured wine, Tenuta Maccan 3028 Friuli Cabernet Franc, is a delicious, relatively affordable example, aged in stainless steel with no oak exposure, so its fruit flavors and minerality remain pure and fresh. Unfortunately it’s not in wide distribution, but it’s worth looking for the wine or other Italian expressions of the grape.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Tenuta Maccan 2018 Friuli Cabernet Franc ($17.99)

Maccan Friuli Cabernet Franc

Maccan Friuli Cabernet Franc shows a pretty, dark-purple color in the glass, shading to an intense garnet at the edge. Distinct cherry fruit shows in the aroma, a blend of fresh tart cherries, dried cherries and Kirsch cherry liqueur. Delicious, fruity but dry cherry flavors carry over on the palate, sharply focused with mouth-watering alcohol and fuzzy astringent tannins, with delicious tart-cherry fruit and a back note of stony minerality in a long finish. It’s made from organic and certified sustainably farmed grapes. The label lists 13% alcohol. U.S. importer: WineCraft, Cincinnati. (July 27, 2021)

FOOD MATCH: A Cincinnati retailer linked below suggests pairing this wine with game or cured meats like prosciutto – maybe best of all, Prosciutto di San Daniele from the Friuli region that’s also home to this wine. We enjoyed it very much with a simpler Italian dish, a hearty spaghetti with meatballs made from Beyond Meat plant-based beefy crumbles.

WHEN TO DRINK: This 2018 vintage is drinking nicely now, but the combination of intense fruit with good acidic balance and marked tannins suggests that it should keep, and may improve under good cellar conditions over at least the next three to five years.

My local price is in line with Wine-Searcher.com’s $18 average U.S. retail. It’s a very good value at that price.

This short fact sheet is available from Cincinnati wine shop Hart & Cru.

Check prices and find vendors for Maccan Friuli Cabernet Franc on Wine-Searcher.com.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of other wines from Fruili-Venezia Giulia.

Read about Cabernet Franc and browse listings for a variety of Cab Franc wines at this Wine-Searcher link.


Wine Focus: Talk About Cabernet Franc

We have just a couple more days in our July Wine Focus exploration of Cabernet Franc, which built its reputation on the right bank of Bordeaux, as well as in the Loire Valley. It’s expanding its reach these days, with excellent examples from too many places to count, from the Pacific Northwest to Virginia, to Patagonia. Join us! Taste a Cab Franc – try the Maccan Fruili Cab Franc if you can find it – and click to come talk about it with us: Wine 301: Cabernet Franc.


Good wines under $10.99! (Updated!)

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!

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