Without cabernet franc, Bordeaux blends on both banks would lose much of their complexity. Both cabernet sauvignon and merlot benefit from the grape’s emphatic aromas, which range from pretty violets to burly tobacco and leather. Flavor components can include cassis and raspberry, often with a peppery edge.
Yet it’s easy to forget that the grape has a long and illustrious history of being bottled on its own, especially in the mid-Loire appellations of Bourgeuil, Chinon, and Saumur Champigny. When I lived in Paris years ago on an apprentice architect’s salary, these were the red wines of choice for me, Bordeaux and Burgundy being out of reach. And, yet, I’ve all but ignored them in the decades since, rushing from one hot, new wine and region to another. It was time to make amends — and to explore the inroads cabernet franc has made outside of its homeland.
This Omniboire was hosted by Mark Bohanan and Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafoods, with sommelier Laz McGill setting up the snazzy glassware and sous-chef James Williams in charge of assembling an impressive spread of bruschette, fruits, and cheeses — including an English Double Gloucester and a French Morbier. Laz and I were joined in the tasting by Eric Heileman of Vino Volo, a wine bar that has recently landed at Terminal One of the San Antonio International Airport, and Cecil Flentge, long-time wine guy about town, who’s currently serving as a food and wine consultant under the umbrella of Grapes & Groceries. Bohanan’s catering director, Jenny Rabb, sat in but didn’t vote. We were tasting blind as usual, and we did have to eliminate one Chinon from Marc Brédif due to a corked bottle.
The cutoff for inclusion in the article is 13 points out of a possible 20, but as Omniboire made these rules, we can also bend them. The excuse is that the wines of Ravines Cellars in New York’s Finger Lakes region showed very well at the New World Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting in November, and their cab franc just missed the required minimum. The comments were better than the scores, in any case. “Approachable summer-style red … you could turn somebody on to this and have it lead to something else,” thought Heileman — who also found “groovy, little dirt.” “It’s a pretty wine — which I don’t often say about cab franc,” confessed McGill. “Great for just sipping,” concluded Flentge.
Which reminds us that high scores aren’t everything. Many wines that will never impress Robert Parker, Wine Spectator — or even Omniboire — have their place in everyday drinking. Listen to your local wine merchant — the one who doesn’t depend on 90-point shelf talkers alone to move product.
2005 DeRose Cienega Valley Cabernet Franc, $26
Classic, big, and meaty with violets, roses, and cassis
And the winner was … from California. “This is sexy … like a corsage of violets and roses pressed in a book,” enthused Flentge. “I loved this one … I could drink it all night, `though it’s` not an introductory wine,” seconded McGill. “Big, round, and wonderful,” added Heileman, who also found leathery qualities. Louis Vuitton leather, opined Omniboire.
2006 Frederic Mabileau Les Rouillères St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil, $20
A blend of violet, cherry, and tobacco, improves with time
Wine number two was a Loire Valley product, and it was appreciated precisely for the qualities derived from that region. “It’s a fun little ride … balanced from nose to end of palate,” said Heileman. “This is getting into the violet nose I anticipated. It’s a girly wine, all flowers and cherries,” offered Flentge — “and this is a good thing.”
“Exciting and full-bodied,” thought McGill, who expressed surprise at how accessible it was for what he assumed to be an old-world wine.
2004 Beaucanon Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, $33
Earthy, with mature black fruit, good acid, and spice
Though it didn’t rate high on Omniboire’s scoring sheet, the 2004 Beaucanon Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Franc garnered the bronze with comments such as “It `expresses` earth at first, then forest-floor stuff — not barnyard, though,” from Heileman. “I liked the way its acidity worked with the floral, spice, leather, and red fruit,” commented Flentge, while McGill simply admitted to loving all Beaucanon wines once he learned whose it was.
2005 Dare Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, $30-$35
Atypical, but rich and leathery with rewarding finish
Derided by Omniboire for its pretentious label, Viader’s 2005 Dare Cabernet Franc nevertheless scored respectably. “Big and full,” thought Omniboire. “Rich, friendly, and perfect for a steakhouse,” claimed Flentge. “It has leather on the tongue,” commented Rabb.
2005 Conn Creek Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, $20-$30
Mellow and smooth; let open up and serve with food
“I couldn’t get past the meatiness … it smelled like meat,” sniffed McGill. “I thought it was very food-friendly and opened a lot with the white-bean `bruschetta`,” countered Flentge. Both Omniboire and Heileman agreed that food was necessary.
2005 Domaine de la Noblaie Chiens-Chiens Chinon, $19
Light nose, somewhat grapey, well-made but short-lived
From the warm 2005 vintage, the Domaine de la Noblaie Chiens-Chiens Chinon was found to be “grapey” by two tasters, but “mellow and well-made” by McGill — who didn’t like it as much when he re-tasted it. Heileman agreed, saying that it “fell off quickly” so “open, insert straw …” Omniboire’s take was “tight and lean,” though the wine did hold up remarkably after several days under cork in the refrigerator and seemed to be in need of a good game bird. •