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Cabernet Franc Delights and Favorites | ICONIC LIFE

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Historically used as a blending wine, Cabernet Franc is finding its own spotlight.

Iremember my first taste of Cabernet Franc well. I was so delightedly stunned by its refined, elegant flavor that I immediately invited a wine-loving neighbor to walk over and enjoy the experience with me. Even now, several years later, I can easily recall the exact bottle and vintage that swept me off my feet. It was rich, berry-like, and almost chocolaty. And I still relish the neighborly camaraderie that the bottle forged. That tasting ignited in me a quest to experience more of Cabernet Franc, and judging by the varietal’s current popularity, I’m not alone. 

Historically used as a blending wine, Cabernet Franc is finding its own spotlight. When blended, it adds complexity and depth to other wines. On its own (or as a 75%+ majority grape) it is bright, aromatic, nuanced, and a bit lighter than its more powerful “big brother” Cabernet Sauvignon. (Recent DNA analysis has proven that in the familial sense, Cabernet Franc actually is the “parent” grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.) Several years ago, wine lovers were unlikely to encounter this varietal on its own, but times and tastes have evolved, and Cabernet Franc is ready for its close-up. Here are some of my California favorites:

Ehlers Estate 2019 Cabernet Franc ($77)

Fran Miller

Organically farmed, Ehlers Estate makes this complex and elegant wine from two of its best Cabernet Franc blocks within its 42 vineyard acres in the Napa Valley. With this wine, winemaker Adam Casto, who has worked at wineries in New Zealand, Chile, Australia and France, creates a deep ruby red elixir with signature aromas of dry spice rack, dry herbs, violets and unripe berries. Full bodied with concentrated flavor and a well-balanced tannin structure, this Cabernet Franc features a long, velvety finish. Drink now, or hold onto it for 15 to 20 years for optimal lusciousness. 

PATRIMONY 2020 Cabernet Franc ($275)

DAOU Vineyards

Brothers Daniel and George Daou, proprietors of DAOU Vineyards, created PATRIMONY wines with a philosophy of perfection. As the purest varietal expressions out of Paso Robles, these wines aim to please, and the PATRIMONY 100% Cabernet Franc does just that. Supple black and blue fruits are followed by notes of Fresh sage, tobacco leaf and mineral undertones of graphite and granite. Its full-bodied palate is vivacious, with delicate tannins and fresh-balanced acidity. Its long-layered finish is rich in notes of tart cherry, plum, pomegranate and raspberry. 

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Naidu 2021 Cassata Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($59.99)

Naidu 2021 Cassata Vineyard Cabernet Franc

Naidu

Raghni Naidu never planned on being a wine industry trailblazer, but as the first female Indian immigrant to found and own a winery in the United States, she is exactly that. Based in Sebastopol, California, her Naidu winery portfolio includes single vineyard, single varietal, sustainably made wines from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs. Pinot Noir, Viognier, a Rosé of Pinot Noir, and this juicy Cabernet Franc are specialties. This wine features boysenberry, blackberry and vanilla aromatics. On the palate, the flavors continue to blackberry, cassis, black cherry and dark chocolate. The finish is smooth and silky with lingering, subtly sweet fruit flavors.

Merriam 2021 Windacre Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($60)

Fran Miller

Tucked at the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley, certified organic Merriam Vineyards has maintained a relatively low profile for its 23 year existence. Mostly direct to consumers, their wines, made by Sonoma native William Weese, are word-of-mouth finds. Their lovely 100% Cabernet Franc is an elegant wine, highlighting aromas of dried rose petal, baking spices and fig jam. These notes continue seamlessly on the palate with added complexity from simmered orange peel, leading to a caramelized finish. You’ll have to join the Merriam wine club for this one; it’s reserved for members. 

 2021 Acumen PEAK Cabernet Franc ($135)

Fran Miller

Acumen is located in the more remote and mountainous Atlas Peak district of Napa, where winemaker Phillip Titus oversees the winery’s organically certified vine acreage. With grapes so fine that high end wineries clamor for the fruit that the winery sells to others. But the estate’s finest blocks are reserved for Acumen’s small production PEAK wines, such as this mountain-grown Cabernet Franc. It entices with aromas of plum, pomegranate and currant, mingled with hints of oak spice, cigar box, leather and black tea. It is oh so smooth, featuring bright red berry flavors, and a bit of roasted coffee. 

Chappellet 2021 Cabernet Franc ($115)

Julia Crane

This beautiful and powerful mountain grown Cabernet Franc hails from high atop Napa Valley’s esteemed Pritchard Hill, home to family-owned Chappellet Vineyards. A traditional Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Franc at its majority base, this wine is elegant and intense, showcasing Cabernet Franc’s natural complexity. Aromas of red currant, blueberry, black tea, mountain sage and roasted coffee are followed by hints of cedar and cigar wrapper. The plush palate features flavors of wild berry, anise and white pepper. The texture is silky, and notes of earthy richness add sophistication to the long, wonderfully balanced finish.

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Charles Krug 2021 Limited Release Cabernet Franc ($80)

 

Charles Krug 2021 Limited Release Cabernet Franc

Fran Miller

Charles Krug, founded in 1861, is one of Napa Valley’s bedrock wineries. Purchased by the Mondavi family from Charles himself in 1943, the winery is now run by the Mondavi family’s third and fourth generations. This Cabernet Franc is a rare bottling, offering the best of what Cabernet Franc is known for: notes of candied cherry notes accented by hints of bay leaf, coffee bean, brown sugar, cocoa powder, warm cherry and milk chocolate. On the palate, the wine gives bright cherry and black currant with notes of tobacco leaf, brown butter and a touch of cedar. Savor this one with a classic burger, or a serving of rich pâté

2020 El Alma de JONATA “The Soul” Cabernet Franc (SRP $155)

Fran Miller

Produced by renowned Santa Barbara County Winemaker Matt Dees who has been at the helm of JONATA since its inception in 2004, the 2020 El Alma de JONATA is sourced from sandy soils on JONATA’s Ballard Canyon estate in Santa Barbara County. Perfumed and energetic, Dees remarks that he can’t recall another “Alma” with this much intensity, complexity and ultimate pleasure, calling it “supercharged.” With notes of sage and rosemary, counterbalanced by cassis, blackberry and cacao, this is a dense and muscular wine with powerful yet finessed tannins. Drink now, or store for several years. 

2019 Gamble Family Vineyards Koa Cabernet Franc ($125) 

2019 Gamble Family Vineyards Koa Cabernet Franc

Fran Miller

Founded by third-generation farmer Tom Gamble in 2005, Gamble Family Vineyards farms is approximately 175 acres of prime estate vineyards from many of Napa Valley’s most respected AVAs – Oakville, Yountville, Mt. Veeder, and Rutherford. Named after proprietor and third-generation Napa Valley farmer Tom Gamble’s beloved rescue dog Koa, this bottling is one of the winery’s “Connoisseur” wines—those that are truly remarkable. Koa hails from the St. Helena AVA and is a prime example of the exquisite potential of this oft-overlooked variety. It shows angular yet gentle tannins with prominent notes of savory spices, rose petals and herbs. 

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