Paso Robles Cabernet Franc

While some may view it as “the other Cabernet” or an “unappreciated grape”, to me Cabernet Franc is a star either standalone or as a component of a Bordeaux-style blend. It is after all the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape known as the king of red wine.

Last month I attended a panel discussion about Cabernet Franc at the WiVI Central Coast Conference hosted by Wine Business Monthly. The panel was interesting and they selected three different wine regions with a winemaker from each region participating in the panel and discussing 3-4 Cabernet Francs.

 

Venue

This month the Paso Robles CAB Collective held their annual Trade and Media event “CABs of Distinction” at the bucolic Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles, California. CAB in this case stands for Cabernet and Bordeaux, with the collective “promoting the full potential of the Paso Robles appellation in producing superior quality, age-worthy, balanced, classic Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux varietals to consumers and media worldwide”.

CabFrancFlight

I attended the En Primeur & Current Vintage Walk-Around Tasting and was delighted with the wines I tasted. I was, however, saving my palate for the panel session “The Other Cabernet”. Needless to say the panel was discussing (and tasting) Cabernet Franc. This time the panel was moderated by Bob Bath, a CIA Sommelier, and the discussion was dedicated to wines produced in the Paso Robles AVA.

Consistent comments from the panel:

  • Cabernet Franc, as a noble grape, deserves more credit
  • Often plays the role of “Best supporting actor”
  • “Coming out” in Paso and around the world
  • Paso Cabernet Francs are not as herbaceous, tend to have a nice ripe quality
  • Cabernet Franc is the “ultimate foodie wine”
  • Does extremely well when planted in “choice” hilltop sites

The panel included the following winemakers who discussed the wines we tasted:

Jeremy indicated only 3 acres of Cabernet Franc are planted on the estate vineyard. As a winemaker he felt Paso was well suited to the varietal since the grape is able to ripen and have a nice level of acidity. The decision to make a standalone Cabernet Franc is made each vintage based on what the grape delivers. The 2013 Cabernet Franc Viking Vineyard Signature Series we tasted clearly made the cut. With less than 300 cases made, this wine is mostly sold to club members and guests of the tasting room.

For Damian, making an estate Cabernet Franc was accidental. When he purchased the property, the fruit was not sold, so he brought it into the winery. The Cabernet Franc on his property was grafted onto old Chardonnay vines planted on the top of a hill with calcareous soils. Although Damian had experience with Cabernet Franc in Europe, Astralia and Napa, he wasn’t really a fan until he worked with the estate Cabernet Franc. The black tea leaf appealed to his tastes and he has now made the varietal a part of his offering. In some vintages he will do a little blending. We tasted the 2013 Cabernet Franc which had a little Malbec in the blend — I would say this was the best wine of the ones tasted during the seminar.

As a 4th generation winemaker, it was interesting to hear from Anthony about a California winery that has been making wine for 99 years. They do not grow any Cabernet Franc in their Paso Robles vineyards, but instead purchase the fruit from other growers. The reason given for this was that the varietal often has vineyard disease such as red blotch. We tasted the 2012 San Simean Cabernet Franc — it must have been a very limited production since I couldn’t find it on-line.

Mike actually let us sample two wines. The 2013 Margene Cabernet Franc which was very approachable, a little floral — this one was made by his wife with a little creative blending and I would say it had lovely feminine notes. The second was 2012 Cask 7 Cabernet Franc and was 100% Cabernet Franc made in 100% new oak. I have to say it may need some time. Of the two I give my vote to Margene. Once again, both of these wines are likely very limited in production since I was unable to find them on-line.

Overall, I think the panel made some good points, and I do believe there are some very good Cabernet Francs in the Paso Robles area. I do, however, appreciate and enjoy Cabernet Franc from a couple of regions in France as well as Napa. While the panel all emphasized how “ripe” Paso Cabernet Franc could be and how less herbaceous it was, I actually like the clove, tea leaf and herbaceous side of the varietal. Don’t get me wrong, I love the violet, floral nose and some ripe fruit, I just think if you let it get too ripe you have lost the essence of the varietal.