Speaking Francly: the polarizing grape sparks debate

Writing in Friday’s Globe and Mail of Toronto, Beppi Crosariol, the paper’s wine columnist, weighs in on the topic of Cabernet Franc. Provocatively, he writes “Most cabernet francs resemble red sangria that has been steeped with bell peppers and unlit cigarettes instead of fruit, but I’ve found three Canadian ones I like very much.”

He’s not a fan of the grape. Talking about the two top growing areas in the Loire, Chinon and Bourgueil, he writes, ironically: “Virtually all the people I know who rave about Chinon and Bourgueil are wine geeks, the kind of people who champion varieties nobody else does precisely because nobody else does. You can find many of these same people downloading unsigned artists to their iPods.”

guion_bourgueilFunny, I like great Chinon and Bourgueil but I’ve never downloaded an unsigned artist to my iPhone! I just like them for the low alcohol, high acidity for food friendliness, and the low prices–the “undiscovered” discount. Take the delicious but, yes, slightly herbaceous, Domaine Guion, Cuvee Prestige 2006, which I just bought for about $12.50 (with case discount)–a tasty bargain if there ever were one, but certainly not one for fruit bomb lovers.

I tweeted about the article at 8:56 AM today and the responses came flooding in; here is a selection. (Follow along on Twitter) If you haven’t weighed in, do you love or hate Cabernet Franc? Which actor is the most apt comparison?

gonzogastronomy @drvino ouch! I happen to love cab franc!
candidwines @drvino Your Cab Franc critic cites “cedar, tobacco + vanilla” in the CF he loves. My description of him: “Starts w/ J, rhymes w/ mackass”.
Randall Grahm @drvino There are truly 2 populations of wine drinkers, those who love and those who detest cab franc. One generally wishes to avoid latter
voxinferior RT @gonzogastronomy: @drvino ouch! I happen to love cab franc! (I like it too, but there’s some pretty legit. criticism in that piece)
James Molesworth @RandallGrahm @drvino Cab Franc is an acquired taste. Acquired at birth or never…
Lauren-BacallHoward Goldberg @RandallGrahm @drvino When I think of cabernet sauvignon, I think of Catherine Deneuve. And when I think of cabernet franc, Lauren Bacall.
candidwines @drvino @RandallGrahm Overcropped, machine harvested Cab Franc is to real CF as January tomatoes are to garden heirlooms: worlds apart.
theconcierge @drvino I think the ‘Globe and Mail’ statement on Cabernet Franc is harsh, there are bad wines made with any varietals
Randall Grahm @howardggoldberg @drvino Deneuve is Burgundy; Bruce Willis is Bordeaux. But I like the smoky, peppery Bacall association w/ cab franc
Randall Grahm @jmolesworth1 @drvino @howardggodberg What gets me is the absolute vehemence of cab franc’s detractors. But francly, I don’t give a damn
megmaker @RandallGrahm @howardggoldberg @drvino Agree Cab Franc is Bacall, or maybe K Hepburn: throaty, acerbic – but what a woman.
tallywineguy @drvino I think pinotage is more divisive than CF. RT There r 2 populations of wine drinkers, those who love & those who detest Cab F

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30 Responses to “Speaking Francly: the polarizing grape sparks debate”

  1. As one of the fellow Tweeps, I think the article was painted with very broad strokes. Any varietal grown/picked/aged inappropriately will be a poor representative of its brethren. Cab Franc happens to be one of my absolute favorite grapes, period. And for the first time ever I will disagree with Randall…I LOVE those who can’t stand Cab Franc. Because of them there is more for me 🙂

  2. In a Parkerista world, I am not surprised that someone would write what the Toronto (Tonto) writer did about cabernet franc.

    Ah, the joys of a fine bottle of Bourgueil and a French picnic bought from village stores in the Loire Valley.

    As to Goldberg’s Denueve/Bacall comparisons, beside showing lust in his heart, shows splendidly good taste in women.

    In fact, I have always said that the only wine I would pay $100 for is a great old bottle of a fine Barsac served to me by Catherine Denueve in her boudoir, but that would have to be Catherine in her prime (no it wouldn’t!), the wine served in the Holy Grail and a Rastafarian joint rolled in the Sunday edition of the New York Times as a side.

    But, for cabernet franc lovers,though the wines, except for one on which Jay Miller laid a desorbitado score, of the Ribeira Sacra cost no where near $100, I can heartily recommend them to Cab Franc lovers.

    Mencia married to the slate in this region is as close to great cab franc as you can get, though it is not the same grape–they say–but it does taste like a long acclimatized clone of that noble grape.

    Ribeira Sacra is a racy redhead, you fill in the blanks (Rita Hayworth, Susan Hayward, Ann-Margret, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet); women readers nominate your own. They have racy acidity, delicious deep fruit, a profound depth of minerality that is not overblown, overblousy. They are beautiful, have great balance and, for the most part, are not consigned to a hard oak coffin before their time.

    This in no way is meant to be a plug, but if anyone does want to read more about Ribeira Sacra, check out my article on the subject, which was just published in Wine News, for which Mr. Goldberg is also a distinguished contributor.

  3. I think that the issue with the herbaceousness or vegetal quality present in many Loire CFs is due to picking grapes that are not fully ripened.

    I’ve recently come across a producer who’s entry cuvee at about $12 was very good with good fruit concentration, but no offputting vegetal qualities. The only thing missing was a bit more concentration which was to be found in the upper end wines.

    Chris Kissack has written alot about Loire CF and as he writes there is a debate going on now in Loire about CF and concerns the picking of fruit, with many producers still opting for an earlier harvest and thus not fully ripe grapes giving the vegetal qualities. Many producers feel this gives you the rue Loire CF, but others a bit more open minded are getting better ripened fruit with which to make the wines.

    I’m in the latter category as the wines are much better, IMO, and still stay true to the terroir.

  4. Cab. Franc might be my favorite varietal. It’s the whole vanilla, tobacco, and cedar thing. That being said, his disparaging remarks echo the bad ones I’ve tasted. It’s a bit racist (varietalist?) to condemn the lot of the varietal for some strikingly bad examples.

  5. Lang & Reed (Napa California) make a wonderful Cabernet Franc. I’ve had their ’05 and ’06, and both were fab’ with enuff fruit to please anyone. Price @$18 a bottle. Not cheap but worth it. Sadly I only have one ’05 left….

  6. I have to admit that I try to foray into Loire reds quite often, and yet they always seem too lean, too green, with no flesh to sink into. For me, if they are a woman, they are an anorexic with a pretty face and nothing more. But if that sounds too harsh, I must say that my impression changes greatly when the format is a franc-heavy bord blend. Much happier then. Often then I feel there is leanness with softness too.

    Perhaps they are right, acquire at birth or never at all. But I’ll continue to try, because tastes, like all things, must change with time.

  7. I agree that for many “modern” palates, there is a taste to be acquired for Loire Valley Cab Franc wines and that is best done with food. As to Ribeira Sacra, you may find those cabernet franc like wines more to you liking, but you will still have to acquire a new set of taste parameters and not judge them in the company, nor by the standards of the “inky monster” school of wine.

    “It is important to understand that Ribeira Sacra wines are unique originals that should be judged on their singularly distinctive merits. Even though the wines naturally may exhibit certain characteristics reminiscent of Burgundy, the Loire or Priorat and a few producers seem to be trying to imitate some of those styles, Ribeira Sacra wines are usually quite unique. Because of the region’s historic isolation, indigenous grape varieties and climate, the style and provenance of these wines may take some getting used to because they are indeed a river of wine unto themselves, a wine river well worth exploring in depth.” From the Wine News article.

  8. I’m not so much a fan of single varietal Cabernet Franc as I am when it’s blended. I find more merit in its ability to elevate other varietal qualities.

  9. I went crazy over the 2007 Domaine de la Petit Marie Bourgueil — one of the best balanced Cab Francs I’ve had, perfect with Salmon!

  10. Apparently no one knows what makes Pichon and Cheval Blanc such great wines ?
    But then you’ve never had Cosentino Cab Francs (Napa Valley) from the late 80s, have you ?

    Want to talk obscure yarietals to champion be try harder than Franc.

  11. Hey, i like great Chinon and Bourgueil too and i drink them while I smoke my cigars. They are really lovely.

  12. Okay, Beppi, try a bottle of Château de la Bonnelière Chinon 2005. I await your opinion.

  13. Cab Franc simply needs mature vines and granitic soil in order to hit its pinnacle. Picked at the right (high) brix, which the Loire folks have trouble attaining, it creates a wine showing violets and black cherries. Non-interventional wine making makes Franc that is smooth as silk with none of the vegital elements or sharp tanins. It’s safe to say that none of the top-knotch El Dorado Francs will ever make it to Canada to change Crosariol’s mind – they sell out like hotcakes here…

  14. Love Cab Franc, which is ironic because I do not like the taste of capsicum (or bell) peppers.
    Love that violet tinged, nervous quality. I think this was the varietal that helped me grasp what was meant by a ‘nervy’ wine.
    Cheers, Amy

  15. To get back to the original article and its mention of Canadian versions, look a little further south to northern Michigan where two ex-patriot South Africans are turning out quite Loire-like–and cleanly made–versions of the grape: the Brys Estate and Two Lads Winery.

  16. @Amy…hah, I don’t like bell peppers either, and yet adore that nervy quality you describe in cab francs. I actually find that many carmeneres have that green pepper quality.

  17. Cabernet Franc is my favorite varietal because it is food friendly and can be pleasantly imbibed by itself after a long day. When done well as it is by Seth Meranda of Meranda-Nixon Winery, Greg Pollmann, winemaker at Valley Vineyards, or Ron Barrett at Kinkead Ridge Winery all in the Ohio River Valley there is no comparison. We have the mineral soil, rain in the spring, warm summers, and the fruit generally can hang into October for maturity and the right touch of the winemakers to make it very approachable here. Yes, it is used as a blending wine like Merlot and Petit Verdot, but that doesn’t make it a bad choice.

  18. With no disrespect levied to Mr. Molesworthy, here is what I posted as a responce to Mr. Beppi missive about Cabernet Franc,
    “At first,I wanted to scold Beppi for starting a nice and sort of complimentary article on Cabernet Franc with the same old playbook – that Franc is some destitute, insipid, uninspiring wine that disappoints him, and therefore anyone else, on a regular basis – then I remembered all the thousands of people who really like variety and adventure in their lives, many of whom like and drink Cabernet Franc on a regular basis and whom I never detect being wine snobs. This is perhaps due to the fact that Cabernet Franc is a people’s wine and not a wine reviewers wine. It is becoming more widely grown both in Canada and the US because it is able to ripen in places that many other vinifera grapes cannot. So in spite of Beppi’s proclamations and disappointments, Cabernet Franc’s popularity may rise from it’s grass roots beginning and shine brighter than it did in Miles’ paper cup at the hamburger stand!”

  19. And John Skupny knows what he is talking about on this theme. John,I am coming to Napa and want to drink some Cab Franc with you. Un abrazo fuerte, Gerry

  20. Re Patrick Fegan’s note re Michigan CFs: Brys Estate, Two Lads, Peninsula Cellars and 45 North all released wonderful ’07 Cab Francs this year. I bought a few bottles from each this summer.I would say, though, that ’07 was a particularly good year for most northern Michigan grapes. In less-stellar vintages, Michigan CF tends to have, to my palate anyway, an unpleasant ashtray-like finish on its own, but has blended well with Michigan Merlot.

  21. After this discussion, I *had* to pour the Domaine Guion, Cuvee Prestige, 2006 for my NYU class last night. I poured it blind. Before I told them anything about the wine, all but four of them (out of 33) said that they liked it. Cab franc lovers! I should have asked them if they had any unsigned artists on their iPods…

  22. Smashing article, Beppi! I say! Yes, yes, really good show old boy! I always knew you were one of us. I can spot a Claret man a mile away and you sir are a Claret man. The way you turned the tables on these preposterous wine geeks and made them the snobs for once! All I can say is it’s about time. I’m sure that a Chinon can serve its purpose – if you’re desperate or in a bistro which is the same thing as far as I’m concerned. O Beppi you certainly know how to call a spade a spade. Let’s face it – it’s a ghastly little wine! Let’s repair to my club and toast this splendid moment with a fine Claret. Good man well met.

  23. BY the by- as an unsigned artist (I assume he was talking about music) I’d love more people to download me to their ipods!
    Cab Franc is fun stuff, but for really geeky perhaps mondeuse?? Savignin, or Bracul?
    (unabashed wine geek- though they still have to taste good!)

  24. I’m delighted that there are people who detest Loire Cabernet Franc as it helps to keep the price down. Ausone and Cheval Blanc have a majority of Cabernet Franc and look at the price of these wines.

    I gather there are also some poor souls who detest Chenin Blanc.

  25. It seems I’m very late to this party. I love Cab Franc, but I’m not so partisan as to suggest that it’s always good. The funny thing is, neither is Pinot Noir. The fact that great Pinot must be expensive to be great make it special. Yet for Cab Franc, it makes it inferior. Why is that?

    The reality with inexpensive Franc is that it is a gamble in the $10-$20 range. You may find something brilliant, you may find something rather green. If you know your producers and vintages, though, your odds improve significantly. Even a wine that’s too vegetal instead of sublimely earthy won’t bankrupt you, hoewever. Good producers in good vintages make great wines rarely for more than $30. They aren’t fruit bombs or hedonistic oak juice. Just well-made wine, ripe yet expressive of varietal and terroir.

    I had a nicely aged Cali Cab Franc that was simply exploding with cigar box aromas. It was heavenly. I’m not a smoker, either. Some people just like tobacco in their wine. Most like jam and vanilla, however.

  26. Hmm, so the idea is that for some people cab franc is always and forever the same wherever it’s grown? I actually like it, but I also like it in its various forms, whether Chinon or from Walla Walla or Napa or Lake Balaton or Kincaid. When it doesn’t get enough sun it does have a lot of bell pepper notes, a trait it shares with related grapes like merlot and cabernet sauvignon, but with adequate sun those notes can be reduced or even eliminated. Which is the “real” cab franc? The one with the bright red cherry flavors or the one with the bell-pepper and herb flavors?

  27. Let’s be sure to include in ‘Related Grapes’ Sauvignon blanc which as one of the progenitors of that later day Cabernet [Sauvignon],shares the name with it’s other parent, Cabernet Franc [you know – a one night stand out in the field about 400 to 500 years ago, supposedly in Bordeaux!]… Genetically it all makes sense, doesn’t it?.. The original/first Cabernet [Franc] is the one that marched from Mesopotamia [referrenced by Pliny] to Eastern Europe, then Western Europe and then to the new world… with much more adaptability than its progeny… and as a very ancient variety, a bit more delicate in presentation, but not it’s ability to grow and ripen in a wider band than thay child….

  28. […] Guion, Cuvee Prestige, Bourgeuil, 2006 (about $12): After our discussion online about cabernet franc, the polarizing grape, I had to add this wine to the following lineup. All but four people really liked it (about 90% of […]

  29. I am a red wine lover, so of course there will always be a place in my heart for Cabernet Franc. If I had to compare it to an actor…I would probably say Pauly Shore. He never gets old, and can be considered a little fruity.

  30. […] Moving to the reds, hipster love of the Loire continues, as I decided to include a value wine in the form of the Domaine Guion, Bourgeuil, Cuvée Prestige, 2009 ($14). Cabernet franc usually shows well for the uninitiated in warmer vintages and this one convinced most people while others found it to be green. What can you do? It’s a polarizing grape. […]


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