Old World / New World Cab Franc Explorations (#WinePW)


Today, we’re taking deep dive into one of my favorite red grapes –– Cabernet Franc! It’s often cast aside in favor of its more famous child, Cabernet Sauvignon, but we buck that trend in this house. For one thing, I find this grape’s complex aromas to be extremely compelling, and for another, I find Cab Franc to be one of the most food-friendly of red grapes.

This is actually the second time we’re putting this grape under the proverbial microscope on this blog. Last year, we took a look at 5 Cali Cab Francs;  today we’re going to compare three bottles from France, California, and Oregon.

Cab Franc is an ancient grape, and like a lot of grapes that have roaming around this earth for a long time, it’s origins aren’t 100% certain. It’s likely though that it was born either in southwestern France or in the Basque region of Spain –– so on one side of the Pyrenees mountains or the other. From there it made its way to Bordeaux and to the Loire Valley. It’s said that Cardinal Richelieu chose this grape to be planted at the Abbaye de St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil in the Loire by an abbot called Breton, because it was already well-respected in the South West. Thanks to this connection, “Breton” is still used as a synonym for the grape in the Loire.

As is also often the case with ancient grapes, this one has been quite promiscuous over the years and has had many children. You could say that Cab Franc gave rise to one of the greatest dynasties in the wine world. Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a tryst between Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s also a parent to Merlot and Carmenère. Therefore, Cab Franc is responsible for the majority of the BDX clan of grapes.

The Cab Franc Family Tree. Borrowed from WineFolly.com.
 

While Cab Franc might be the OG of BDX, it tends to get third place in importance there, coming behind two of its kids. Cab Sauv holds dominion over the blends of the Left Bank, and Merlot presides over the Right Bank. (The wines of Château Cheval Blanc are one famous exception, as they do give Cab Franc the lion’s share of their blend.)

Cab Franc found its own kingdom in the Loire Valley, specifically in the sub-regions of Touraine and Anjou, where it gets to be the star. Chinon and Bourgueil are probably the two most famous appellations for the grape here. Here it makes elegant, often aromatic wines with bright acidity, medium body, and moderate to low-tannins that are extremely food-friendy. There are also plenty of good bottles to choose from that aren’t very expensive, and often from small, conscientious producers. It basically checks all the boxes on my list of requirements for a go-to red wine that easy to pair, so we drink A LOT of it.

I love it, but I do recognize that Cab Franc can be divisive. This is largely due to the fact that the grape tends to be high in pyrazines, a set of compounds that create green notes in a wine, which can show up as anything from herbs to full-on green bell pepper or jalapeño. These notes put a lot of people off, but they can come across in such different ways that I really think it’s worth exploring different styles. Also, if you’re a veggie-lover that loves red, Cab Franc should really be on your radar, since it’s a natural companion for a lot of green veggies.

Loire Valley Cab Francs can show red to black fruit flavors like raspberries, blackberries, and currants, hints of graphite, pencil shavings, and stones, and cigar box. Most particularly for me, there’s usually there’s a bouquet of wildflower, pepper, and mixed herb notes that waft out of the glass.

New World styles can vary, but will often have much deeper, darker fruit notes, often accompanied by chocolate notes, and a range of pepper notes that range from bell pepper, to jalapeño, to roasted peppers. They can also sometimes register like a Cab Sauv with less aggressive tannins and comparatively more of those green notes. There are a few of those in last year’s round-up of California examples.

The examples from Oregon and California in today’s line-up, though, could be described as Old Wolrd-style New World wines. The first night, I poured tastes for Greg and me using my Corvin, so that we could compare them side-by-side. What I happily found was the three wines were very much in dialogue with each other. It was kind of like they were all speaking the language, but with slightly different accents. I’ve gotta say, I really enjoyed the conversation.

I received the New World bottles as samples for participation in Cab Franc Day on December 4th (started and organized by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines), and as part of the celebration, I participated in a Twitter Chat that also included the winemakers. I asked both of them about the Loire influence, and sure enough, both said they’d spent time there and that the wines played an influence in their style. As well, both of those wines come from cooler climate areas, which also likely plays a big factor in putting these closer in style to the Loire Valley than versions from warmer regions in the New World.

We’ll take a look at each wine specifically, but here was the line-up for the evening:

(Note: While two of these bottles were samples, no other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.)

 

On the first night, we tasted the wines, we tried them with herby lamb meatballs with Israeli couscous with root vegetables lightly seasoned with za'atar and a little labneh on the side (recipe follows). All of the wines worked solidly well with the meatballs, but the two of us were agreed on a definitive favorite pairing for the dish. Not to worry though, the other two wines got to shine with their own parings on subsequent evenings.

Olga Raffault 'Picasses' Chinon 2012



Average price: Currently $45 for this vintage. I think I purchased it in the low $30’s a couple of years ago, which is inline with the usual release prices.

This is a classic example of quality, a ageable Cab Franc from the Loire, which is why I chose it to be my control subject and standardbearer as an Old World representative in this line up. I personally have lots of good memories with these wines as well. It’s a great option at a restaurant when you when something that’s likely to fit many things at the table, but would rather not get a really pricey bottle, and I’ve ordered it more than once for that very reason. For one example, and a particularly happy memory, we had a bottle of Olga Raffault when we had dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns shortly before we moved from New York.

The estate has a really interesting history. Olga and her husband Pierre operated it together until he died unexpectedly just before harvest in 1947, leaving her to run the business and raise two small children. She luckily found help in Ernest Zenninger, a German prisoner who had found refuge and work at Raffault at the end of the war. Ernest stayed on, becoming the winemaker (Olga herself was never the winemaker) and working closely with Olga’s son Jean Raffault. The two of them ran the estate as a team for decades, under Olga’s watchful eye. Jean’s daughter Sylvie and her husband Eric de la Vigerie have been running the estate for over 10 years.   

The farming is certified organic and the grapes are harvested manually. They take a minimalist approach in the vineyard and the cellar. Les Picasses is their flagship Cabernet Franc coming from a renowned ­lieu-dit. Les Picasses is the most structured, powerful and age-worthy of their reds.

Geeky Details


Taken from tech sheets here and here


100% Cabernet Franc
Vineyard and Farming: Les Picasses is the most famous lieu-dit in Chinon, close to the village of Beaumont-En-Véron on the north bank of the Vienne River. It is a slope with full southern exposure and chalky clay-limestone soils, the combination results in fully ripened, structured wines. The Raffault family owns a considerable amount of the lieu dit, around 50% of its 20+ hectares. While other producers bottle as Les Picasses, the Raffault's is viewed of the benchmark expression of this famous terroir. A big reason of that is the family's patience in releasing the wines when they deem them ready to drink: on average six to seven years after it was harvested. The farming is certified organic and the vines are harvested by hand.
Age of vines: 40 to 50+ years old.
Winemaking: The fruit is destemmed and the whole, uncrushed berries are fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tank; fermentation and maceration last for 25-30 days, depending on the vintage. The wine is aged for 2-3 years in oak and chestnut foudres ranging from 30-50 hectoliters; it is then bottle aged until deemed ready for release (often a minimum of four years).  Three grams of S02 are added per hectoliter on the harvest and with an addition of one to three grams at bottling.
Alcohol: 12.5%

Tasting & Pairing Notes 

This was the oldest wine in the line-up and it was showing some signs of age in the flavor profile, but in an attractive way. On the nose there were notes of dried flower petals and orange skin mixed in with red fruit notes. On the palate, black cherry, raspberry, currant, and a little cranberry mixed with mixed herb notes, bay leaf, tobacco, black tea, and savory green tapenade.


This was my 2nd favorite wine with the lamb meatballs, as more fruit emerged from the wine in the combo, but also more notes showing the dried leaf character. We revisited the wine a couple of nights later with pork chops flavored with cumin seeds and mustard based on this recipe from NYT Cooking (I also added some thyme), along with a side of roasted broccoli rabe and few roasted potatoes, and the wine really came alive then. It showed more brightness in that pairing and resonated beautifully with the savory flavorings.


Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Franc Yorkville Highlands 2018

Price: $38 (Sample)


Deborah and Edward Wallo are the founders and growers of Yorkville Cellars. They read about Mendocino County in Sunset magazine in the mid-eighties and were inspired to check it out. They started looking for land the week after their first visit. They quickly fell in love with a 110 acre ranch in Yorkville with three beautiful ancient oaks that they also intuitively felt had the potential to grow excellent grapes.

The property already had a few acres of Sauvignon Blanc that had been sorely neglected. They employed the help of a dedicated vineyard manager and began to apply organic practices, and gradually revived those vines and expanded the vineyards to 30 acres over time. They bottled their first estate wines in 1994.

The couple each grew up in families where wine was regularly on the table at dinnertime. Moreover, they had the chance to in various places around Europe, including in Italy, Germany, and France. These experiences expanded their love of wine and influenced their style.   

Geeky Details


Taken from the tech sheet.


100% Cabernet Franc.
Vineyard and Farming: Rennie Organic Vineyard.


 

Winemaking: After a careful field selection, the grapes were gently crushed, and cold soaked for three days before inoculation with Pasteur Red yeast. Fermentation was held at a constant 80°F for 14 days and then the wine was gently pressed and racked to French oak barrels for aging. After 14 months the wines were settled, fined, and gently filtered before bottling. Lovely now, or hold up to 3 to 8 years.
Alcohol: 13.5%

Tasting & Pairing Notes

This wine was new to me and we both really enjoyed it. On the nose their were notes of black cherry, a splash of cranberry, sprigs of mixed herbs, and hints of sweet spice. Bay leaf and black tea joined in on the palate. In many ways, the profile was very similar to the example from the Loire Valley, but the fruit quality was a little richer and riper, and it also has plenty of brightness. I thought it stuck a really nice balance in terms of California Cab Franc styles – it wasn’t as big as many, but not as light as others. It showed both nice California fruit character and also good varietal typicity. Well balanced all around.

This was the favorite pairing with our lamb meatballs for both Greg and I. I found the pairing tamed a hint of bitterness I found in the wine’s herbal notes and rounded out the wine. Greg added that the wine elevated the richness of the dish and brought a little something new as well. Given that, we opened up the bottle and finished it with the meatballs.

Their website also notes: “We often serve Cab Franc with roast pork or turkey as it is very versatile and food-friendly. It is ‘The Cab for White Meat.’”

Leah Jørgensen Cellars Cabernet Franc Southern Oregon 2018


Price: $25 (Sample)

I first had the chance to try Leah Jørgensen’s wines a couple of years ago, and was very excited to receive samples for the Cab Franc Day event! Cab Franc is the focus of her production, eventhough she does work with a few other varieties.

Jørgensen’s grew up in Washington, DC metropolitan area. She developed a passion for the Loire Valley while she lived there, working for the wholesale company that represented Louis Dressner Selections.

In 2004,  she made her way out to Oregon, where her dad grew up and ended up working in many aspects of the wine industry there. She started out working in national sales, marketing, and communications for pioneering wineries in the Pacific Northwest, and then moved on to offering marketing consulting for a handful of wineries. She also worked harvests and spent two years doing cellar work at Shea Wine Cellars, while making plans for her own wine. She debuted her first vintage in 2011 with an unusual choice – just a barrel’s worth of her now signature, limited Blanc de Cabernet Franc. (I also received a bottle of this and will hopefully be returning to it here soon. I’ve had it before, and it is truly cool and unique.)

On her website she also answers a list of 10 “Proust-ish” questions that make me like her all the more. Perhaps most of all, I love that she refers to herself as a Pirate Princess in her title in addition to being the owner and winemaker. I too have always wanted to be a Pirate Princess.

Geeky Details

Taken from the tech sheet.

100% Cabernet Franc
Vineyard and Farming: Grapes were sourced from Crater View Ranch and Sundown Vineyard. Both are L.I.V.E Certified. You can also read more about Jørgensen’s commitment to sustainability here.
Winemaking:  Both lots were sored, de-stemmed, and crushed lightly (half whole berry, half crushed) , followed by a 4-day cold soak. Fermentation commenced at 55°F, so as to maintain a slow and steady fermentation, with manual punch downs twice daily. The wine was aged in mostly neutral French Oak barrels, along with some stainless steel, to tone down the intensity from the skin and wood tannins. A slow-steady malo-lactic fermentation completed in three months. The wine was racked, blended, then filtered prior to bottling.
Alcohol: 14%

Tasting & Pairing Notes

This was the most aromatically effusive of the three wines. A pretty bouquet of herbs and wildflowers jumper right out of the glass on the nose, along with sweet black cherries. The wine also showed notes of sweet smoke, which particularly came out on the second night we tried the wine after allowing it to get some air. It was also very expressive on the palate with bright cherries, raspberries, and cranberries, as well as notes of thyme, lavender other wild flowers, and mixed peppercorns.

This was Greg’s 2nd favorite pairing with the lamb meatballs, as he felt it matched the tone of that dish nicely.

Jørgensen participated in the Cab Franc Day Twitter chat, and I have to say I really appreciated that she was very engaged in answering questions. As such, I reached out and asked for some of her favorite pairings. She kindly responded via Twitter message: “pasta with any red sauce - esp arrabbiata. Roast chicken and root veggies, pan seared or smoked trout with rosemary, garlic and buttered potatoes.” 



The trout and garlic potatoes recommendation intrigued me, but I was unable to find any at the store, so I went with a pan-seared salmon, to which I added garlic, thyme, and a lavender and lemon herb salt. I roasted sliced potatoes and added sliced garlic during the last few minutes of cooking. It paired beautifully! The smoky notes in the wine worked perfectly with the toasty notes in the potatoes, garlic, and crisped salmon skin. It didn’t over-power the fish and resonated with the herb notes. 



The tech sheet also recommends the following pairings: Barbeque (especially dry rubbed ribs); steak frites, and other meats like lamb, duck, or beef filet with aromatic herbs; pizza; vegetables dishes – especially with broccoli and mushrooms; Mediterranean foods (Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern); cheese (blue, Camembert, Gorgonzola, aged or smoked cheddar, Gouda, and Wensleydale.

Altogether, we had three lovely Cab Franc evenings!

Meatballs, Lamb, Couscous
dinner
Mediterranean
Servings: 4 to 6
By: Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Print
Herby Lamb Meatballs with Israeli Couscous and Za’atar Spiced Root Vegetables

Herby Lamb Meatballs with Israeli Couscous and Za’atar Spiced Root Vegetables

Prep Time: 15 MinCooking Time: 43 MinTotal Time: 58 Min

Ingredients

For the Carrots and Cauliflower
  • 1 bunch of carrots, sliced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • ½ to 1 tsp za’atar
  • Sliced green onions, for garnish
For the Israeli Couscous
  • 1 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 1 ½ cup chicken stock or water
  • ½ tsp salt, or as needed
  • Olive oil
  • Green onions, for garnish
  • Cilantro, for garnish (if you don’t like cilantro, feel free to swap in parsley)
For the Lamb Meatballs (Makes approximately 21 medium meatballs)
  • 2 lbs ground lamb meat
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp Cavendars Greek seasoning
  • 3 to 4 finely sliced green onions
  • ¼ to ½ cup cilantro (if you don’t like cilantro, feel free to swap in parsley)
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds, dry toasted in a pan and crushed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Cooking oil
  • Labneh, for serving (optional)

Instructions

For the Carrots and Cauliflower
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Toss vegetables with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Spread the vegetables in a single layer in a baking pan and loosely tent with foil. Place in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Toss the vegetables with za’atar and additional olive oil if needed. Return the vegetables to the oven and continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes (30 to 40 minutes total), until the vegetables are cooked through and browned to your liking.
  4. Once cooked, remove from the oven and keep warm until ready to serve. Toss with sliced green onions once ready to serve
For the Couscous
  1. Bring the stock to a boil and add salt and olive oil. Stir in the Israeli couscous, then cover the pot with a lid, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Or cook per according to package instructions. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  2. Once ready to plate, stir in green onions and cilantro.
For the Lamb Meatballs
  1. Combine all ingredients other than the oil in a large bowl.
  2. Make a small test patty. Heat a small amount of oil in a large pan. Cook the test patty, taste, and make any adjustments desired to the seasoning.
  3. Form the rest of the lamb meat mixture into balls.
  4. Heat oil in the pan, then working in batches, cook the meatballs, turning occasionally until browned on all sides and cooked through.
To Serve
  1. Serve the couscous topped with roasted vegetables and 3 to 4 meatballs per serving, and a dollop of labneh on the side, if using.
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator

 For more posts related to Cab Franc pairing check out  

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The rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend Blogging Group (#WinePW) is exploring Cabernet Franc this month. Be sure to check out the rest of their posts:  

 

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10 comments

  1. A+ on each of those pairings! I, too, sampled the Yorkville CF and agree it struck a nice balance between Loire Valley and new world styles. On a separate note, I'm making those pork chops this week. :-)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Lauren! And let me know how those pork chops turned out :-)

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  2. Oh Cab Franc with fish?! The lamb meatballs also sound fantastic but I am so intrigued by the fish pairing.

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    1. I was too when she suggested it! That's why I had to try it out. The tannins on hers weren't too aggressive, and it wasn't a big burly wine, which I think is why it worked well.

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  3. More great minds thinking alike! I tasted one of Leah's Cab Franc's too, the 2016. I really enjoyed the wine and did find that it needed time to open up. It was better the second day (like a good stew!). I had not thought of pairing it with trout! I did a great pairing with a Pinot a while back that I bet would go great with this wine.
    I always so enjoy your posts. It's like sitting with a friend who is telling you a fascinating story about what they are passionate about.
    Cheers!

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    1. Thanks so much Robin! And I have to say I feel the same way about your posts. I often feel that we're one similar wavelengths. :-)

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  4. Love your descriptions of these "Old World-style" New World wines, and great to see a fish and red wine pairing in the mix! Lamb meatballs were a hit in our house, too.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! And that was a fun pairing. I was also intrigued when she suggested it .

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  5. Replies
    1. Thanks, I have to admit I liked that line too. HeeHee :-)

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!