Cabernet Franc Winners With Osso Bucco, Squash Gratin #WinePW


As the weather cools and as the days get darker and the nights longer, we turn to rich foods that will warm our homes, our bellies and our souls.

How fitting, then, that Cabernet Franc Day is celebrated each year on December 4 as Cabernet Franc is a wonderful wine to pair with these earthy, root vegetables and braised meats to kindle the fire within! Read why Cabernet Franc is celebrated Dec. 4 and six more reasons to celebrate Cab Franc on that day!

To be honest, Cabernet Franc is not one of my “go to” wines.

Unlike Que Syrah Sue, I’m not a big fan of  jalapeño or bell pepper or other “vegetal” phenolics like those in my wines (or in my food!), and that so-called vegetal quality is an important facet Cabernet Franc wines more or less depending on the terroir.

But I like to keep an open mind… and I will always remember a Chinon I tasted at an after party during my first Wine Bloggers Conference as well a Chinon that music writer (and wine blogger) Tony Fletcher shared with me at Burning Man one year… and I was quite impressed recently with one from Andis that I tasted on a pre-conference excursion to Amador County (another really warm area!) during this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference.

Sue, on the other hand, has become more and more of a Cab Franc fan over the years as she has become more familiar with the characteristics of the grape. So when we learned that this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend would focus on Cab Franc, I told Sue we’d have to go for it!

For our wines, we decided we wanted to compare and contrast three. How might two regions in California differ? How might these compare with one from Idaho?

And I have to say that all three won me over!

For our first wine, we chose Cantara Cellars because it’s familiar (particularly to Sue because she works weekends in the tasting room) so it’s a great place to start with a profile we know and enjoy.


For our second wine, we chose Four Brix Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles, giving us grapes from a different region yet still California, and both regions are quite warm in the summer.


For our third choice, Sue offered up and surrendered a wine from Hat Ranch from her cellar that she picked up on her vacation last summer to the Snake River Valley in Idaho which also boasts very warm summers. Of interest also for a Cabernet Franc lover is that this region of Idaho has the same latitude as France, and offers great potential for growing traditional varietals like Cabernet Franc.


For our menu, we started with three cheddar cheeses from Snowdonia Wales–a ginger spice, a whisky, and a smoked, plus brie, blue, salame and olives. It was fascinating and surprising how the three cheddars played with the three wines! The fruitier Four Brix needs a fruitier pair like the Ginger Spice cheese while the smokier Hat Ranch loved the Amber Mist with whiskey and the elegant Cantara lent itself to the smoked cheese.

Because of the versatility of Cabernet, it was quite easy to find something in the meal that set it off perfectly. If only tasting one winery this might have been challenging, however with three completely different wineries with completely different flavor profiles, each paired well with something different in the meal.

But braising seemed to me the way to go, and when I found beef shanks on sale, I knew we were in for a treat because beef shanks can be transformed with a team and in INSTANT POT into OSSO BUUCO which we spooned onto russets mashed with marscopone. Sue also made a house favorite of her family, a spinach casserole with fresh roasted squash which she grew in her garden and with an acorn squash from the samples from Melissa’s Produce.

Oh yes it was quite a feast!

All three wines has similar crimson coloring, with a coral ring around them. By sight it is difficult to tell these wines apart. With all three Cab Franc wines, when put with food it is just wonderful. But on the nose and palate, all of these wines had their own unique individual characteristics.


2011 – Cantara Cellars – Cabernet Franc – – Lodi -13% alcohol

This wine has the most finesse of the three; this is a very refined, elegant expression of Cabernet Franc.

The nose is not that expressive, with, to Sue anyway, a very nice vegetal nose with bell pepper and leaves. The smoked cheese brings out the vegetal qualities in the wine. The cheese actually made us think of a BLT sandwich, because it bring out the richness in the wine.

This wine can stand up to strong foods and cut through them to either tame or marry.

It goes really well with blue cheese or cheeses with strong bold flavors and of the three Cheddar, it went best with the smoked.

With the osso bucco, the Cantara Cabernet Franc brought out a beautiful mineral characteristic in the wine as well as baking spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice that were not present in the cheese pairing. This came out most when I paired the marrow with the Cantara.

Sue pulled this 2011 Cantara wine from her cellar as it is all sold out at the winery; unfortunately  there wasn’t enough of the 2012 after it was used in several popular blends, and the 2013 hasn’t been bottled or released yet! 


2012 – Four Brix Winery – Cab Franc – Paso Robles – 14.3% alcohol

This wine is much fruitier than the Cantara wine: full of dark, stone fruit, but not overripe.

In fact, this wine is downright exuberant on the nose and the palate with much more fruit than you might expect.

In terms of vegetal characteristics, there is more sage in this wine. We thought it would work with device brie, but this is not this type of wine. It did go really well with our ginger spice cheddar cheese. Once we tried this with the ginger spice cheese with mango crackers, it changed. This wine just beamed with these types of foods.

We could see lamb shanks with apricot preserves rather than the root vegetable Oso Busco that we were preparing tonight. This wine would be nice with a lightly sweet fruit dessert with cheese.

This is Paso fruit is so different than the Lodi!

This wine is in very limited supply and only available to wine club members. Four Brix provided this wine as a sample for us to review.


2012 – Hat Ranch – Cabernet Franc – Snake River Valley -14.8% $29.95

This Cabernet Franc wine is 88% Cabernet Franc and 12% Malbec with only 49 cases produced. On the nose, it presents lovely floral herbal characteristics. It has the classic vegetal notes but they are integrated so well, not over the top, and more of fresh anise or fennel plant, especially on the finish, with some sage. It is smokey, with earth, girth, depth, and complexity. Super nice expression of the varietal with some briney olive notes. As it opened up over the course of our meal, there was a really nice minerality on this wine, and more and more sage, lavender and herbs of Provence. I’d really like to see how this wine ages!

The Amber mist cheese went beautifully with this smoky, earthy wine, because of the peat and smokey flavors in this cheese. This also went so well with the salami and the creamy cambozola blue cheese. In terms of food pairings, Hat Ranch was by far the most versatile with food of the three.

We both think there are going to be some nice wines to come out of this region in the coming years, but we really appreciate the Cab Franc coming out of Snake River Valley right now. Someone is doing something right there and is a region to watch.

As mentioned above, Sue pulled this wine from her cellar.


We were so satisfied after our winter comfort food evening with our wonderful wines. The food heats the house and your internal flame. so you need a wine that is grounded and helps fuel the flame. It is down below and in your belly.

It was fun to learn how different the varietal can be produced depending on the region.


Spinach and Squash Gratin (serves 6-8)

2 lb butternut squash (used 3 kinds of squash)
15 C Fresh Spinach
1c half and half
1T cornstarch
1 C parmesan cheese
1/2 c sour cream

Heat oven to 425. Peel squash to 1/4″ thickness arrange slices on baking dish and brush with olive oil salt and pepper. Bake 20 min. Cook spinach in lightly salted water, squeeze excess water. Combine half and half and cornstarch; cook over low heat till bubbly and thickened. Stir in spinach. Spread in the bottom of a greased casserole dish. Arrange squash over spinach. Stir cheese and sour cream and spread over squash. Bake 15 to 20 minutes Acorn squash is much more difficult to peel.

This is a wonderful dish to add to any holiday meal.


Beef Osso Bucco in an Instant Pot Recipe (serves 6-8)
For Jennifer Massey! Tastes better than it looks!

Dredge in Seasoned flour. Sear in the Instant Pot in olive oil then remove:

2 beef shanks (approx 2-3 pounds total)

Brown in a pan or in the instant pot in olive oil:

1 chopped white or yellow onion
1 chopped stalk celery
4 sliced into 2″ rounds parsnips (we didn’t peel ours)
1 cup sliced into 2″ rounds carrots

Layer meat then vegetables in the Instant Pot. Add:

1 16 oz can tomato sauce
1 T tomato paste
3/4 cup red (or white) wine (we used 1/4 cup each of the wines above)
1 C beef broth

Push manual for 70 minutes. We were getting hungry so we did a combination of natural release and quick release (we should have done the 10 minute natural release).  (Will double check this recipe with Sue for any other herbs but this is what we remember…)

Serve over polenta or mashed potatoes (we added marscopone to ours!). On the plate, I removed the skins from my parsnips but the vegetarian in our group enjoys them with the skins on (he’d prefer we didn’t but he’s ok if we cook with meat).

Everything was so tender! We were concerned because it was our first time doing this dish and only our second time braising meat but it came out so tender and tasty. A few days later, we spooned the leftovers onto polenta.

We also paired these wines with a ribeye steak, baked potato, and asparagus wrapped potatoes; no surprise all three wines went beautifully.



Check out these other Cab Franc posts for #WinePW:


19 thoughts on “Cabernet Franc Winners With Osso Bucco, Squash Gratin #WinePW

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  4. I love that you tried CFs from three different areas – it’s remarkable how distinctive the aromas are for each. I might even make a CF lover out of my husband if I could pair one with a cheese that makes him think of a BLT!


  5. Spinach and Squash gratin! YUM!!! Yes please! I’m glad you are starting to come over to the “right” side! Cab Franc is amazing- but do agree, it can run the gammat from no bell pepper to bell pepper in your face! (we are not fans of the bell pepper)


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