Recent studies in ampelography, using the relatively new application of DNA fingerprinting, have determined that cabernet franc is one of the genetic parents of cabernet sauvignon (the other is sauvignon blanc). Both cabernet varieties are among the five major grapes of Bordeaux. The differences between franc and sauvignon become apparent when grown and fermented in close proximity.
Cabernet franc vines bear thinner-skinned, earlier-ripening grapes with lower overall acidity, when compared to cabernet sauvignon. Yields are similar, although cabernet franc normally buds and ripens somewhat earlier. Consequently vineyards in climates where rain is a harvest-time threat often plant this grape, in place of or in addition to cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet franc vines survive cold winters better than cabernet sauvignon, but are more susceptible to being damaged by Spring frosts.
France has by far the most cabernet franc plantings of any wine producing nation with over 35,000 acres. There are significant plantings of cabernet franc in St. Emilion, the Loire Valley (where it is known as Breton), and south west France (aka Bouchy). There are cabernet franc vineyards in Romania, Hungary, the Balkans, and the Friuli region of north eastern Italy (aka cabernet frank). New plantings in the 1990s in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina show promise. In the United States, cabernet franc is planted in Long Island, New York, and in Washington state. California has about 2,000 acres, mostly planted since 1980, over half in Napa and Sonoma.
Depending a great deal on vineyard practices, the flavor profile of Cabernet Franc may be both fruitier and sometimes more herbal or vegetative than Cabernet Sauvignon, although lighter in both color and tannins. Over-cropping and underexposure each tend to accentuate the vegetative flavor elements. Typically somewhat spicy in aroma and often reminiscent of plums and especially violets, Cabernet Franc is more often used as a secondary or tertiary element in varietally-blended red wines, such as Bordeaux or Meritage, instead of as a stand-alone varietal bottling.
|Typical Cabernet Franc Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors|
|Varietal Aromas/Flavors:||Processing Bouquets/Flavors:|
|Fruit: raspberry, cherry, plum, strawberry||Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood|
|Floral: violet||Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar|
|Herbal: bell pepper, stems||Bottle Age: musk, mushroom, earth, cedar, cigar box|