I just returned from a fascinating wine tasting held at the New York Wine and Culinary Center (in Canandaigua, NY). It was an all cabernet franc tasting — 21 different cab francs, 17 from the Finger Lakes (all from the 2007 vintage), three from the Loire region of France, and one from Long Island.
Cabernet franc is one of the most interesting and under-appreciated wine grapes, IMHO. The most famous cab franc-based wine in the world is Cheval Blanc (two-thirds cab franc, one-third merlot) from St. Emilion. Miles is seen drinking a 1961 Cheval at a fast food restaurant at the end of Sideways; the 1947 Cheval regularly shows up in “best wines of the 20th century” lists. More frequently, cab franc is produced in a somewhat more humble style in the Loire region (Chinon, Bourgueil); these wines are usually, but not always, a big lighter. Cab franc is also grown in the Finger Lakes, where it is the region’s most successful red wine varietal by most accounts.
Flavorwise, cab franc is similar to cab sauvignon but with more of a distinctive vegetal note — mint, pepper, mocha, chocolate. The fruit tends to be a bit less dark than on a cab sauvignon (raspberry rather than currant) and the body is usually lighter than a cab sauvignon. It’s also a bit more food friendly than cabernet sauvignon.
Today’s tasting went almost exactly as I thought it would. My favorite producers are Daminai, Shalestone, and Ravines, and I ended up scoring those the highest (it was a blind tasting), along with an interesting no-oak cab franc, called T23 (I don’t know where this name comes from), from Lamoreaux Landing. Unfortunately, Shalestone and Damiani are next-to-impossible to find, unless you visit the tasting froom. Lamoreaux Landing and Ravines are a bit easier to find — some shops in New York City should carry them and they may be available elsewhere. The Lamoreaux Landing T23 in particular is only $15 and would appeal to people who like lighter red wines, like typical pinot noirs. It has lovely raspberry fruit and a nice spicy component. It would go well with just about anything except shellfish (on one end of the spectrum) or beef or lamb (on the other). I recommend checking it out if you ever see it at a store. If you ever seen any of the others, I recommend those as well. They are a bit more expensive, but the Shalestone and Damiani in particular are big, rich, chocolatey wines that should be real crowd-pleasers.
I also learned about a great wine science blog that I’ll be talking about more later.
Update. If you’re not in the mood to discuss wine, could you tell me where I can find the Shatner Palin video now that it’s down off YouTube?