4 Cabernet Franc from France, CA and Idaho for #CabFrancDay

Cabernet Franc? You’re not likely to find this wine on its own shelf at the neighborhood grocery store– even though it deserves one! Better known as a blending grape found in Bordeaux wines, Cabernet Franc can also stand alone, as has been well-proven in Chinon in the Loire Valley of France for many years.

In fact Cabernet Franc Day founder Lori Budd of  Dracaena Wines  chose December 4 for the annual celebration of Cabernet Franc because it is the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Richelieu who is credited with transporting the grape to the Abbey of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley in the 17th Century. (Also of note: Alexandre Dumas features the Cardinal in his novel The Three Musketeers!) 

As one of Sue’s favorite varietals, we’ve been eyeing today’s Cabernet Franc Day for a year and collecting wines that we want to share. Last year, for the first Cabernet Franc Day, we featured one from Lodi’s Cantara, Idaho’s Hat Ranch, and Four Brix’s which uses fruit from Paso Robles which we paired with osso bucco.

This year, we decided it would be fun to taste a “classic” version of Cabernet Franc — a Chinon from France that people can find easily at Whole Foods plus three from less common wine growing regions: El Dorado County CA, Lake County CA, and Idaho:

2015 Alain de la Treille Chinon – Appellation D’Origine Protegee – Cabernet Franc – 12.5% under $20 at Whole Foods
2014 – Steele – Cabernet Franc Lake County  CA 13.8% alcohol
2012 – Windwalker Vineyard – Cabernet Franc – Fair Play CA – 14.8%
2012 – Zabala Vineyard – Snake River Valley Idaho – Cabernet Franc – 12.5%

Plus we started with Cantara Cellars “Left Bank” wine, a Cabernet Franc dominated blend with fruit from Lodi CA and we finished with a dessert wine from Williamson Vineyards in Idaho.

While Idaho has a long tradition of grape growing and is located in a latitude in line with France, Idaho is a newer and up and coming region while Lodi, Lake, and El Dorado counties typically provided fruit to blend in with Napa wines because of this sneaky secret: Napa can call a wine Napa as long as it has 75% fruit from Napa; that other 25%? Quite often coming from Lodi in the Central Valley of California, Lake County which used to part of Napa County, and El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills on the way to Lake Tahoe.

On the eve of Cabernet Franc Day, Sue offered to host a gathering and prepare stuffed portobella mushrooms, roasted squash from her garden, and colorful rainbow chard. It was up to us to provide the meat course– and bring the wine! Braised meat last year was such a hit, but before I went shopping I thought I’d review what others from my wine pairing community prepared for last year’s Cabernet Franc Day:

After reviewing people’s pairings from last year, at the grocery store, a sale price on tritip caught my eye; turned out Sue had picked one up earlier in the day and marinated hers for Marsh to cook.

As the sun set we drove up to Ojai from Ventura and enjoyed the holiday lights coming on in the neighborhoods and hillsides. Sue had lights up at her house as well as a beautifully decorated manzanita tree that had perished but lives on in this capacity. “A Bluegrass Christmas” played on their music system to add to the festive scene. Outside, coals grilled sausages and were ready for the tritip and the fire pit was roaring cheerfully with three of John’s siblings and their partners and children about.

We even brought our new dog Cisco to meet their dog Kingston! Yes, it was quite the gathering with several people weighing in on their opinions of the wines as well as enjoying the festive vibe and fine food.


  • Charcuterie:
    Pate, sausages, cheddar, smoked and aged gouda, goat cheese with sun dried tomatoes, La Tur, gorgonzola.
  • Christmas Salad:
    Arugula, pomegranate, and chèvre with a lemon/oil/honey vinaigrette
  • Mashed Squash:
    Large squash from Sue’s garden roasted then mashed with butter and sprinkled with parmesan
  • Greens:
    Rainbow chard from Sue’s garden sautéed in butter and garlic
  • From the grill:
    Tritip, portabella mushrooms
  • Dessert:
    Trifle — with homemade pound cake, homemade whip cream, raspberries

The meal paired so well with this food friendly wine; in fact the wine was so much better with the food!

We decided to taste the wines from youngest to oldest, then with the food we adjusted the order.

2015 Alain de la Treille Chinon – Appellation D’Origine Protegee – Cabernet Franc – 12.5%

Color: Purply garnet, youthful and pretty.

Nose: Vanilla, earth, and tobacco right away then cherry and plum.

Edie: “Smells kind of like a vanilla pipe tobacco.”

Palate: Mint and eucalyptus, clean, nice minerals. balanced on the palate from front, to mid to back of the palate. A definitive kind of Cab Franc. Tart cherries, fresh cherry, skin of the cherry, bright cherry, nice acids and tannins.  Bit light on the body.

When we went “wine food wine” I was amazed at how well the wine went with food; it really makes the squash shine and the chard salty and with more acidity.

While the Chinon makes the food brilliant, the food does not make the wine brilliant.

It plays well with whatever it is that is going on in the food. Yummy with the portobello. With the tri- tip makes the tri-tip good and the wine is good. Great with the sausages with cranberry and apples, as well as the chicken pate that had the apples and cider in it. It brought out the cooking spices in the meats and the wines, a very nice pairing.

This wine was a sample for my review consideration as part of the Whole Foods “Made in France” wine and cheese promotion.

2014 – Steele – Lake County  Cabernet Franc 13.8% alcohol

The label is very distinct, colorful, and interesting — and so is the wine!

Color: Really dark. Remarkably dark. Like we all commented on how deep and dark this wine is in color.

Nose: Sue got an almost diesel nose right away while Edie felt it “is like a grassy field along a creek.”

Palate: There is a lot of fruit in this one, and it is big, bold, and very tannic. Tons of minerals make this a very interesting Cab Franc.

Sue: “This baby can lay down for a while!”

With our salad there was a beautiful acidity. This wine likes the pomegranates and the goat cheese. This wine enhanced the garlic and butter in the chard. This wine would really love a creamy garlic sauce. The Steele with our amber mist cheese brings out lots of nice fruit and tames the minerals,

I didn’t want to move on! I was compelled to continue drinking the Steele! And I figured out that one aspect of Cabinet Franc is that you can get  a lot of fruit but it will typically still abound with structure. You will rarely (if ever?) have a flabby Cab Franc.

This wine was a gift from the Lake County Wine Commission from when I visited Lake County in September. 

2012 – Windwalker Vineyard – Cabernet Franc – Fair Play – 14.8%

Color: Really deep purple, plum with slight amber highs.

Nose: Sweet plum and menthol — there’s a lot going on in this wine.

Sue: ” I smell the oak on this one.”

Palate:  Sue pointed out that this is a very cab franc-ish wine because of the plentiful vegetal characteristics.

John tasted fennel when he had it with the beemster cheese.

Sue: “Love, love, love this with aged sharp cheeses, it mellows the oak, brings out fruit, and brings forth minerals that make you salivate for its long lingering finish.”

I really liked this wine with the LaTur cheese which surprised Sue because you don’t usually think of having a triple cream brie with a red wine as much as a white. But the La Tur cheese is complex with the three milks that it is made from and pairs well with the complexity of this wine. There is a lot of minerality in this wine. Also surprisingly, this wine went beautifully with the almond basil pesto, possibly because of the richness of the nuts. Perfectly with the portobello.

Sue: “This wine was the best with the portobello than all of the wines we tasted tonight. The complexity of the  wine was so great with the mushroom, the black pepper, the roasted red pepper, and the blue cheese. And so good with the pomegranates in the salad.”

Following the International Food Bloggers Conference, I stayed at Lucinda’s Country Inn in Fariplay and walked to Windwalker where I tasted through newer and vintage wines. When I tasted this one, I knew Sue would love it and it would be fun for Cabernet Franc Day, so I bought it with an industry discount. I’m so glad Sue appreciated it!

2012 – Zabala Vineyard – Snake River Valley – Cabernet Franc – 12.5%

We originally tasted this wine last in our line up because of the vintage, (without pre-tasting this wine). after tasting this wine with the others, we felt that this should have been first. It was the most delicate and light of the four we tasted. so with the dinner we put this first in the line-up.

This wine is not a typical Cab Franc wine: it is delicate and elegant, it has a delicate body, and reminded us of older roses. It had very different characteristics than those you think of in Cab Franc: there is such a freshness in this wine which is surprising being a 2012. If this wine lays down longer, it may loose the youthful freshness so we imagine this wine is in its prime and should be enjoyed during the next few years.

Color: Very pale and translucent, color of strawberry jam

Nose: Floral and forest floor with lavender, violets, duff, butterscotch like you get when you smell a Ponderosa Pine tree. As it opens up, clear notes of Smuckers strawberry jam hits you along with fresh kelp from the seashore.

Palate: Strawberry jam, Smuckers strawberry jam on the palate. This is a fun wine to sip alone. Sue wasn’t compelled to go to food with this wine. Edie felt this wine was like a juvenile wine, fresh and light, even if it is a 2012 and five years old!

If it was a blind tasting, I would swear that this was a pinot noir (although Sue was sure she’d know it was cab franc…) Think about pairing foods that you’d pair with that wine with this one.

It went so beautifully with our salad. Also very nice with the sauteed chard. With the chard there is more of a cab franc character in the wine. Sue liked this wine best with the greens. Because of the acidity in the salad and the chard, it went well with the acidity of the wine. It also went great with the tri tip, there is almost a chocolate caramel thing that comes out in the wine. Sue also really liked this wine with our pesto and bread

Truly a fascinating example of Cab Franc!

This wine was a sample for my review consideration from the Idaho Wine Commission. Fun that we could do wines from Idaho two years in a row for Cab Franc Day! 

A good indicator of which wine was our favorite is what bottle of wine has been finished by the end of the evening. Tonight, all of our wines were equal in the remains. They were all equal in their own individual way.  We enjoyed each of these wines perfectly with our meal tonight in different ways.

Tonight was a perfect example of how the same grape grown in different regions, and treated by different wine makers, can become a completely different wine.

Many wineries are promoting Cabernet Franc including Napa’s Biodynamic and organic Acumen which I visited in September — I should have asked to taste their Cab Franc!

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