Not Just A Blending Grape: 4 Cabernet Franc for Holiday Happenings

“Cabernet Franc? Isn’t that a blending grape?” my friend Kathy asked. “You’re right,” I assured her. “It’s probably best known as part of a Bordeaux blend. But in the Loire in places like Amirault and Tete Rouge, all biodynamic certified, Cabernet Franc stands alone. And people in the US and other parts of the world are growing it too to make stand alone wines!” 

Here are the wines I shared with her, and which Sue and I paired with sausage puffs, smoked ham, cheesy mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Hassleback squash for a festive holiday-style wintry feast perfect for celebrating Cabernet Franc Day today Dec. 4 or any day!

Cabernet Franc Wines
wines samples for review 

  • 2018 Gaia Organic Cabernet Franc
  • 2018 Terragena Cabernet Franc Elk Prairie Vineyard, Humboldt County
  • 2017 Madrona Cabernet Franc, El Dorado
  • 2016 Staura “To The Moon and Back” Cabernet Franc Reserve

Gaia Organic Cab Franc

2018 Domaine Bousquet “Gaia” Organic Cabernet Franc
ABV 15%
SRP $20
wine sample for review 

This is a relatively high production wine that should be easy to find. Gaia is the Goddess of the Earth, and this label expresses Gaia’s gifts with high elevation, organic fruit. Read more about how Domaine Bousquet farms consciously with organic grapes and moving toward biodynamic practices and certification.

Color:  Deep purple, maroon, dusty rose rim, very dense

Aroma: Dry earth, plum, raisin, prune, sage, nutmeg, 

Palate: This new world expression of Cab Franc offers ripe fruit with dry and chalky big bold tannins.

Pairing: The wine is so much better with the food. Fabulous with our sausage puffs making the wine taste like a million bucks, great with the langress, comte really brings out fruit in the wine. Gretel felt that it was best with the squash and alright with the Brussels sprouts. So super yummy with the squash. The textures and flavors are so great together. The smoke of the ham was nice with the wine, but not as great as with the squash; that is where the wine really shined. 

Terragena Cab Franc

2018 Terragena Cabernet Franc Elk Prairie Vineyard, Humboldt County
ABV 15.5%
SRP $50
1 barrel = only 24 cases produced 
wine sample for review 

The grapes grow dry farmed on their own roots at 1500 ft elevation. They are hand sorted and fermented in an off-grid cellar to produce a structured Cabernet Franc from Fruitland Ridge in Southern Humboldt County (SoHumCo). Neutral oak barrels. 

Located on a ridge in Humboldt County, California, Terragena Winery and Vineyard is on an off-grid and sustainable property with a goal to “produce wine of exceptional quality ethically, honestly, and sustainably” and “aims to inspire others to continue building a better world with the coolest wine.”

Read about Terragena’s Nebbiolo  here. This winery belong’s in Slow Wine Guide! Hopefully next year I can visit and bring the winery on board and introduce it to more people.

Color: Somewhat translucent, garnet with a mauve rim

Aroma: Sulphur, bell pepper, earth, I want to dive right into this wine with this nose, sage, chaparral, 

Palate: Bright tart cherry, rhubarb, more rhubarb than cherry,  nicely round, very enveloping, lighter in body, very rich in flavor, we all liked everything going on in this wine. French in style, fantastic acidity, the wine excites the palate, cherry phosphate. It doesn’t taste like a 15.5% wine.

Pairing: All three of us loved this wine. Fabulous with the creamy blue cheese, the spice in the wine is brought out nicely when paired with the sausage. Lovely with the langress cheese. It was not that great with the old Amsterdam gouda, but the comte and the wine is wonderful together. Gretel did not care for this wine with the squash or the Brussels sprouts, but loved it with the ham. It did well with the Brussels sprouts as long as there was a bite of cranberry and hazelnuts as well. While this was one of our favorite wines  of the evening, we felt it went much better with the cheese plate rather than the main course. 

Cab franc

2017 Madrona Signature Cabernet Franc, El Dorado
ABV 13.5%
SRP $26
407 cases 
wine sample for review 

Sue and I visited Madroña in June 2021 on a press trip. Impressed with the sustainability practices, quality and affordability, we submitted an entry for the winery for the next edition of Slow Wine Guide.

Located at 3000’ elevation in the Sierra foothills above Placerville, Madroña Vineyards is in the heart of Gold Country where the 2021 vintage was disrupted by the Caldor fire. From the original 32 acres, Madrona added 250 in 1993, with 35 in vine, and the rest woodland, with 10 more acres of vines in 2001. Three vineyard sites provide various soils with over 26 varietals including Nebbiolo, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer. 

Founder Dick Bush worked as a metallurgical engineer and his wife taught school. In 1973, husband, wife, and children planted own-rooted vines on 32 acres surrounded by a diverse ecosystem including madrone trees. In 1979, they built the winery. In the 90’s, Paul Bush took over from his dad, and with wife Maggie, they grow fish friendly, organic grapes, make wine, and maintain the family values of environment, community, and education. 

Madroña Vineyards makes remarkably affordable, high quality wines with acidity, elegance, and grace for three labels: Madrona, Rucksack, and M-Series which limits alcohols to 12.6 ABV. Yeast type depends on the grape and the vintage. This wine comes from the Madrona signature series. With a strong backbone of tannin, texture, and tart cherry, the wine offers elegance, balance, and a dusty blackberry finish — all for under $30! 

Color: Very dense and dark, garnet, mauve rim

Aroma: Ripe fruit, spice, potpourri, roses

Palate: Very clean, pine tar, pine resin, the tannins are quite present.

Pairing: Perfect with the fennel in our sausage making the fennel just pop. Great also with creamy blue cheese, have a bison burger with blue cheese. The Madrona liked the ginger in the ginger peptia gouda, also perfect with the earthy nutty comte, This Cabernet Franc went perfectly with every element of our menu. this would be Sue’s choice of a holiday wine to go with a ham menu. Great with the ham, mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. Sue felt that if you were going to put a wine on the table for a holiday meal, this would be a perfect choice. 

2016 Staura “To The Moon and Back” Cabernet Franc Reserve
ABV 14.7%
SRP $115
300 bottles = 25 cases = 1 barrel
wine sample for review 

Steve + Laura = Staura. In a match made in heaven, they love each other to the moon and back! Steve and Laura Durie’s Napa based Staura Cellars focuses on producing high quality California wines in small lots including Cab Franc from Stagecoach Vineyard, considered one of the top five vineyards in Napa.  The wine was aged for 34 months in French Oak. 

“Making wine is like connecting with what the earth provides and adding my own personal touch to co-create something unique and beautiful for others to enjoy,” says Steve on the Staura website.

Color: Deep and dense, ruby, fuschia rim.

Aroma: Sue found the wine to be numbing on the nose because of the high alcohol as well as camphor, eucalyptus. There’s plenty of sweet oak, and I found cherry cola. After the wine had been opened two days, it was really starting to open up. 

Palate: Cherry cola, Dr. Pepper, oak, sweet black licorice on the finish, bold tannins, lots of ripe cherry fruit, very rich.  

Pairing: This fruity bold wine likes big bold cheeses; we loved it with Comte, blue cheese, old Amsterdam. The wine really likes the ginger in the ginger peptic gouda, and langres cheese; we imagined it would be great with a blue cheese ultimate burger. Gretel felt that the ham was what this meal liked, but overall we did not care for this wine with this meal. This wine would be fantastic with a smoked brisket or ribs. While a bit pricey for a BBQ, this wine would make a BBQ wine. After it had been open for a few days, it worked well with Thanksgiving smoked turkey dinner, but I’d still love to try it with prime rib or steak. I sent the rest of this one home with Kathy– she loved it!

Happy Cabernet Franc Day– celebrated every year on Dec. 4th!! Founded by Lori Hoyt-Budd of Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles, the event shares love for the grape and the wines made with it.

Read previous Cabernet Franc Day coverage here:


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