Of the six classic red Bordeaux grape varieties, it seems that interest in Cabernet Franc is on the rise in the Pacific Northwest. More is being planted, being used in blends, and being bottled as a stand-alone wine.
In 2016, Washington state winemakers brought in 4,300 tons of Cabernet Franc. That’s up a bit from the previous harvest and up nearly 1,000 tons from a decade ago.
Cabernet Franc is considered a blender in its native Bordeaux, and that’s how winemakers often view it in Washington. The grape tends to add a spiciness and herbal notes to Cabernet Sauvignon, while also smoothing out Cab’s famous tannins. Winemakers use it to add complexity in the cellar.
While there is no movement to plant a lot of new Cabernet Franc (as there is with Malbec), whenever a new planting of Cab goes in somewhere, count on a few rows of Cabernet Franc being part of the mix.
Here are a few bottlings of Cabernet Francs we’ve tasted recently that we recommend trying. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Walla Walla Vintners 2015 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $35: William vonMetzger continues the tradition of excellence at Walla Walla Vintners with Cabernet Franc, the lesser-known Bordeaux grape that now-retired founders Myles Anderson and Gordy Venneri used to help launch their brand with in 1995. Aromas of Bing cherry mingled with eucalyptus create cravings for beef and vegetable stew, followed by flavors of cherry, blackberry and cedar backed with high acid and mellow tannin to provide a lingering finish of cranberry. This was awarded best of class at three judgings in 2017 — the San Francisco International, Great Northwest Invitational and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition.
Colter’s Creek Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc, Lewis-Clark Valley, $28: Spokane native Melissa Sanborn learned winemaking at Washington State University, and now she and grape-growing husband Mike Pearson are helping to raise the profile of the historic Lewis-Clark Valley through their Colter’s Creek project. Classic Cab Franc notes of crushed leaf, earthiness and cherry are joined by milk chocolate, coffee and earthiness. Its rewarding tannin structure and juicy acidity bode well for wild game, meaty sandwiches or vegetable-driven soup.
Leah Jørgensen Cellars 2013 Mae’s Vineyard Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc, Applegate Valley, $75: Mae’s Vineyard, owned and farmed organically near Jacksonville, Ore., by the Quady family, has been a critical piece of Leah Jorgensen’s program, and this Cabernet Franc exudes class from start to finish. There’s beautiful balance to the dark flavors of blueberry and cherry, which make for a silky, rich and long finish.
Dusted Valley Vintners 2015 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $42: The Wisconsin boys appropriately describe their latest Cabernet Franc as “Franc-o-licious,” and their barrel program of new French oak doesn’t get in the way of the high floral notes of lilac and evergreen forest that include blueberry jelly and smoky plum. Its structure shows superb balance as splashes of Merlot and Petit Verdot provide fine-grained tannins and depth to the lingering flavors of mountain blueberry, dusty plum and dark cherry.
William Church Winery 2014 Diane’s Vintage Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $36: Dineen Vineyard from Diane’s vintage earns all of the spotlight under the watch of winemaker Noah Fox Reed in this unblended Cabernet Franc offering. The harvest of Oct. 4 from this stellar planting in the Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley leads to aromas and flavors of bright cherry, baked blackberry pie and chocolate include a pinch of tomato leaf, black currant skin and slice of green olive.
RAM Cellars 2014 Alder Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $25: Portland-based Rodger Marks, inspired by an experience on Red Mountain at Kiona Vineyards, went onto a winemaking education through Washington State University. His red wine program relies on Alder Ridge Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills, and this work with Cabernet Franc is a product of his debut commercial vintage. A bit of decanting yields aromas of Horse Heaven Hills chalkboard dust, dark cherry, blueberry, toasted oak and horehound earthiness. Long flavors of black raspberry and red plum.
Daven Lore Winery 2014 The Apprentice Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $45: Founding winemaker/owner Gordon Taylor gives full credit to Sonya Simmons — his apprentice of more than two years — for this project. Enticing aromas of salted chocolate, black cherry and minerality includes pinches of lavender and rose petal. Inside, it is velvety and luscious as Bing cherry and plum flavors are met by tannins that offer only finesse. Sweet herbs and dark boysenberry make for a delicious finish.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com