Cabernet Franc is best known for its ability to excel in a supporting role, but this is not an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” situation. There are delicious examples of Cab Franc vinified either as a single varietal or at least as the majority of a red blend, these bottles just tend to be skimmed over as the wine-loving masses search for something more familiar.
Thing is, Cabernet Franc is delicious. It deserves to be consumed, and not just as the also-ran in a Bordeaux. It’s a supple grape, elegant even, but that femininity comes with an edge—flashes of pepper and tobacco leave hazy wreaths around pretty hints of violet and cassis. It’s good. Try it in its “diamond” version, or explore a few more budget friendly options listed below.
If You Like This…
Jonata El Alma de Jonata, 2013 – $130
You’d be forgiven for thinking the most shining examples of Cabernet Franc would come from France, where the grape originated, but today some of the best bottles are birthed in California. The Jonata team prides itself on sustainable winemaking, creating magic out of the awkwardly quilted soil that makes up the Santa Ynez Valley.
El Alma is a sexy wine, period. The aroma is downright intoxicating, with ripe black cherries and blackberries mingling with dark chocolate, clove, and tobacco. An herbaceous splash of balsam and rosemary lurk in the background—it could be too perfumey, but instead it’s a big glass of intrigue you’ll love to puzzle over all night long.
Local: Smith Story Cabernet Franc, 2015 – $43
Run by the husband and wife team of Eric Story and Alison Smith-Story, Smith Story Wine Cellars is truly a passion project. The couple very much brings their personal tale into their professional sphere—even their dog, an adorable goldendoodle named Lord Sandwich, is omnipresent in marketing and on social media—but they’re passionate about the land behind the wine, too.
The Smith Story Cabernet Franc is a sure-footed expression of Sonoma wine but with a respectful nod to old-world Loire traditions. It’s practically vibrating with fruit, with many of the more vegetal and earthy notes banished to the background or missing completely, and it offers a soft, almost delicate finish.
A Little Far-Flung: Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot, 2014 – $26
This wine is stupid cheap considering the value it delivers. If you’re the kind of wine drinker who loves to score a killer deal and then brag about it while you grill some steaks with your bros, you have a purchase to make.
So what makes this so good? For less than $30, you get a masterful French wine created by talented father-son duo of Bernard and Matthieu Baudry. The paid focus solely on Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, growing their grapes on 32 hectares of land scattered across Chinon. A little limestone clay here, some sand and gravel there—it all comes together seamlessly, thanks to the Baudry’s talents.
But enough overpromising. The proof is in the peppery punch of spice that proves Le Clos Guillot is anything but shy. A tart lashing of sour cherry, inky black fruit, and a lengthy finish all make this wine a keeper. Drink it down or save it for a decade or so to see how it mellows.
Out There: Maquis Cabernet Franc, 2014 – $19
Cab Franc from Chile? Why not. The Colchagua Valley is Chile’s golden child, a region slung between two mountain ranges and boasting a wine-friendly Mediterranean climate. Hot days and dry soil mean that grapes take their time on the vine, leading to big, concentrated flavors that rival the stuff you typically find in France and—and indeed many of the varietals that thrive in Bordeaux, Loire, and the Rhone are unfettered successes in Chile
Maquis takes all the benefits of its valley location and adds in the contributions of two rivers. Four generations of the Hurtado family have worked the land and whipped noble grapes into shape. Single-vineyard wines, fully artisanal methods, a sustainable approach, and a dedication to fresh, balanced wines helps Maquis stand out—all at a price tag your wallet will love.
The 2014 vintage was particularly good for Marquis. This Cabernet Franc is soft but fresh, bright with acidity but carefully balanced, tannic but not aggressively so. It’s easy-drinking, which isn’t always the case with Cabernet Franc, and it’s proof yet again that you can find stellar, affordable wine almost anywhere if you just take a moment to look.