Cabernet Franc is best known as one of the six classic Bordeaux varieties, and it has become a favorite among Washington winemakers not only as a blending grape but also as a reliable friend of vineyard managers.
Grown in the Evergreen State for many decades, it is known as a hardy variety that can withstand the occasionally harsh winters that descend upon the Columbia Valley.
Cabernet Franc also is known as a late ripener, meaning it can hang in the vineyards nearly until Halloween. Winemakers appreciate Cab Franc often as a blending component because its softer tannins can help bring some finesse to the bold tannin structures of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grape’s natural notes of black pepper and fresh herbs are known to add a level of complexity to proprietary red wines.
A decade ago, DNA testing revealed that a natural crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc resulted in Cabernet Sauvignon.
Here are a few delicious examples of Cabernet Franc that were produced as a single-variety wine, a growing trend among Washington winemakers. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or order directly from the winery.
Walla Walla Vintners 2016 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $35: The red-roofed barn along Mill Creek Road in Walla Walla also helped set the standard for Cabernet Franc in the Pacific Northwest. Apprentice-turned-winemaker William VonMetzger crafted the winery’s 21st release of Cab Franc into another award-winner. The natural leafiness of Cab Franc wasn’t enough, so VonMetzger included a bit of Carménère (3 percent) to work in the background with the added tannin structure of Merlot (6 percent). The influence of 36 percent new oak barrels stays behind the dark fruit tones of black cherry and blueberry as those hints of chocolate and black licorice complement the pleasing mouth feel.
Columbia Winery 2015 Cabernet Franc, Horse Heaven Hills, $35: As part of its “AVA Series,” Columbia Winery and head winemaker Sean Hails continue to focus their efforts with Cabernet Franc on the Horse Heaven Hills. The results are true to the variety - and then some. Dense herbaceousness and dark blue notes hint at black cherry and blueberry with Italian herb mix and red bell pepper aromas. They are mirrored on the palate as more herbs get sifted into the nicely managed tannins and pie cherry acidity. On the way out, there is a sprinkling of brown sugar and long trail of charming black cherry flavors.
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $37: Marty Clubb and Mike Sharon have been producing as single-variety bottlings of Cabernet Franc since 2006. It’s a special project from blocks that reach back to 1997, and some lots earn their way into the prized Perigee blend each year. A third of the French oak barrels involved were new, and the ultra-ripe vintage of 2015 makes for smoky black cherry and blackberry notes backed by dark chocolate and a lingering trail of blueberry juice.
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2014 Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley $42: The Hansens planted Cougar Hills Vineyard in the southern end of the Walla Walla Valley, not far from venerable Windrow Vineyard, and Cabernet Franc is a significant part of their wine program. Their latest release shows classic hints of sweet herb with plenty of black cherry blackberry and blueberry notes joined by baking spices. Sandy tannins and a long chocolaty finish make this a rewarding drink. In addition to its winery/tasting room on Frenchtown Road west of Walla Walla, Cougar Crest also operates tasting rooms in Spokane’s Cork District, Woodinville and Dundee, Ore.
Mosquito Fleet Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $32: Dineen Vineyards in the Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills is well into its second decade as a go-to source for some of the Washington’s top boutique wineries, and Brian Petersen continues his success with clone 214 Cabernet Franc. There’s a dustiness to the nose of ground savory, cherry, plum, black pepper and lime peel. The hallmark of this bottling is the superb tannin management, which allows for long and full enjoyment of the bold plum and Bing cherry flavors capped with a hint of pepperoni.
Wit Cellars 2015 Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $45: Longtime winemaker Flint Nelson’s work with Cabernet Franc adds more validation to Wine Press Northwest magazine’s selection of Wit Cellars as its 2017 Washington Winery to Watch. Wonderful fragrances of blackberry, plum, violets, subtle smokiness and a hint of root beer lead to a juicy consistency with tingling tannins and blackberry jam in the finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com