Cabernet Franc

It is my conviction that any true lover of wine has had some moment (or moments) of decisive shift in his/her journey with wine; moments that incite a paradigm shift. I wrote previously about such an experience of mine with riesling. Now I shall account for a similar experience of mine with cabernet franc.

My first taste of cabernet franc was likely at the age of 24, when I was voraciously taking in all I could learn at my local wine shop’s weekly tastings. I recall being poured a taste of 100% cabernet franc, from my beloved Loire Valley in France, learning that this grape was commonly used in blends elsewhere. Once I tasted it, I could understand why. “Why,” I thought to myself, “would anyone want to drink a wine of 100% cabernet franc?” It tasted like licking a barn floor (and smelled that way, too). It didn’t have the fruitiness or luscious body I had come (wrongly) to expect from all red wines (thanks, CA?). It was certainly an interesting learning experience, to be sure, but I left that day pretty sure that I would not be desiring a bottle of 100% cab franc anytime soon, if ever.

Fast forward just a bit of time, and I found myself at a lovely little winery in New Mexico. My husband and I had taken a trip down to explore, and savored some delightful experiences with both tea and wine. We got to taste seven wines; I don’t recall all of them, but the most memorable were a viognier, a port (accompanied with a spoonful of some lovely chocolate ganache-like substance), and—you guessed it—a cabernet franc. Would you believe me if I told you we walked out with a bottle of the viognier and TWO of the cab franc?

That’s part of the magic of terroir. I don’t know if it all boils down to soil type and climate, but if you know New Mexico and you know the Loire Valley, they are very different. This dry, arid climate produced a beautiful cabernet franc. It took me in. I was transformed. Never again would I snub cabernet franc; I grew to love it, and (even more so now) it’s French forms as well. I probably drink it more frequently than its child, cabernet sauvignon, these days.

To come full circle, this experience did not merely turn me on to cabernet franc from the New World. It showed me the merits of this delightful grape from a certain context, and contributed to a lesson I’ve been learning for years: that I could find new wines to enjoy from all over the world. Whenever I hear someone say that they don’t like something (especially food-wise), I ask them how they’ve had it prepared. Steaming Brussels sprouts does not put them in the best light. But roasting them . . . now we’re getting somewhere. Not to say that you can’t steam Brussels; they can still be tasty that way—the point is that such a cooking method is not a palatable entry point to the untrained, unfamiliar, or unassuming palate.

That New Mexican cabernet franc was absolutely lovely; and you know what? So are Loire Valley cabernet francs. They are different, but they still showcase the beauty of this noble grape variety. While I was not ready to jump on the Chinon or Bourgueil bandwagons at my first taste, I have come to appreciate the merits of these wines on my own time, in large part thanks to a more approachable style from the New World.

All this being said, I can’t overlook the fact that, between my first taste of French cabernet franc and now, I’ve also continued to try various other wines in the meantime. Thus, my palate has come to appreciate dry, acidic, mineraly, even slightly bitter wines in their own right. Approachable styles can introduce us to unfamiliar grape varieties. And, reaching beyond approachability, continued exploration can open us up to receiving unique wines from various places, willing and ready to receive them—even delight in them—on their own terms.

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