Characteristically compared to its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc ripens earlier, is thinner skinned and lower in acidity. Both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are versatile, hardy varieties and the former - perhaps for this reason - is often grown as an insurance grape, to be called upon should its more famous offspring fail to fully ripen in cooler conditions.
In the Bordeaux region, particularly in the appellations of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, Cabernet Franc combines most notably with Merlot to produce a number of acclaimed wines of which the ‘Grand Vin’ of Château Cheval Blanc is amongst the most renowned. Contributing aromas of tobacco, peppers and cassis, as well as a certain charm to the blend, the role of Cabernet Franc in the huge commercial and critical success of Bordeaux wines should not be underestimated.
Established in southwestern France in the seventeenth century, Cabernet Franc now accounts for around 37,000 hectares of the country’s viticultural land, two-fifths of which lie within the Bordeaux region. The grape is widely planted across Europe, in Italy, Spain, Croatia and in Hungary - where it is vinified to produce a full-bodied, mono-varietal wine with a good tannic structure and excellent ageing potential. The variety is also gaining popularity in South Africa and is established in the United States - particularly in parts of California, where producers use it to create their own Bordeaux-style blend.
An adaptable vine, Cabernet Franc can flourish in a range of climatic conditions and soil types, however it finds its perfect terroir in sandy, chalk soils and where temperatures are slightly cooler, such as the Chinon and Saumur-Champigny appellations of the Loire Valley. Here, the grape produces mostly mono-varietal wines which are generally fruit-forward and slightly spicy with a light to medium body.