Pairing With Cabernet Franc
It was during our video voyage last summer to the right bank of Bordeaux that I fell in love with that “something special” that Cabernet Franc brings to a wine. I can still hear Cheval Blanc director Pierre Lurton exclaiming that Cabernet Franc drives the wine while the blended Merlot just “goes along for the ride.” Cabernet Franc is an integral component in the style and profile of right bank Bordeaux wine. And while its most commonly found as a blend throughout St. Emilion and Pomerol, it stands tall on its own in the Chinon and Bourgueil regions of France’s Loire Valley. It’s also grown in Argentina, New Zealand, Chile, Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, and the US. You’ll also find some Cabernet Franc blended with left bank Bordeaux wines, as well, but it takes a back seat to the renown Cabernet Sauvignon.
Alone, Cabernet Franc is a medium bodied, dry wine, the variety bringing forward a rather distinct aromatic and flavor personality: notes of currant, raspberry and strawberry, dried herbs, spice, smoke, licorice, graphite, mint, a somewhat pungent tobacco scent, a green and weedy flavor and moderate tannins and acidity. For this reason, it’s a grape that does much better in blends (Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon) than solo. It’s also found as an element in late harvest dessert and Canadian ice wines and in Cremant de Loire sparkling wines.
Genetic mapping has confirmed that Cabernet Franc is actually one of the “distinguished” parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Sauvignon Blanc. Interestingly enough, Cabernet Franc is used in the Madiran region to “soften” the tannic structure of the Tannat grapes just as it does with the left bank Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon.
As mentioned, Cabernet Franc stands proud in the Loire Valley, where wines from the Chinon and Bourgueil present with a somewhat fresher, some would say leaner, style than in Bordeaux, resulting in a wine that’s quite approachable earlier in its life. This style is simply delicious with fresh black raspberry, notes of mint, herbs and flowers. The grape is also successful in producing Roses and late harvest dessert wines.
As you might imagine, pairing dishes with Cabernet Franc is largely dependent upon the regional origin of the grape as well as oak influence. Wines from the Loire, with their attendant freshness and minimal oak, pair differently than a Bordeaux blend or one from California, which tend to be overly oak infused. As herbal, leafy characteristics are so pronounced in the wine, it makes perfect sense to pair it with herb accented dishes using sage, rosemary and other earthy elements. The wine’s forward acidity and well structured tannins invite meaty, herb accented food companions if the oak influence is kept to a minimum. Those that are oak “bombs,” often from California, somewhat lose the natural aromatics and flavors of the pure grape, dominated by oak, caramel, and vanilla nuances. In this case, pairing may require you to more address the oak influence than the grape itself.
So what foods specifically should you look for to pair? Well, something as simple as an herb spiced beefy burger with ketchup or bbq sauce and pickles is great (and very affordable). Veal saltimbocca rubbed with rosemary, sage, or thyme or a rosemary marinated pork is a natural as would be any slow cooked meat stew with fresh earthy herbs. And as an alternative to meats, try freshly made pasta or risotto, accented with earthy ingredients such as onion, pancetta bacon or sausage, garlic and herbs.
While not my top picks, Cabernet Franc can work well with spicy Mexican cuisine, especially meat based dishes with tomato sauce, garlic and a red chili sauce. In the dessert category, think about an intense chocolate dish with raspberries.
There are also a number of cheeses to play with, among them chevre, garroxta from Spain, aged gouda and gorgonzola (always easy to fine at your local food market) & goat cheese. In fact, add the latter to a pasta dish with some herbs and you’ve found yourself a delicious pairing.