Hidden treasure – Cabernet Franc

Henry Yuen – Wine Columnist  http://beyondchopsticks.com

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Image Great pairing: Korean BBQ meat and 2009 Tinhorn Creek Cab Franc

Most wine drinkers with a preference for full bodied wine would normally gravitate towards the popular Cabernet Sauvignon varietals or blends. While there is no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon is the preferred grape varietals and there are superb choices of well-crafted 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines, a lot of winemakers usually enhance the wine by blending in a small percentage of Cabernet Franc to round out the edges and fine tune the robustness of the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wine.

Classic example is the Bordeaux style wine where winemakers will blend the predominating Cabernet Sauvignon with various percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc to add finesse and tame the tannins in the wine. Meritage, the US version of the Bordeaux blend adopts the same formula quite successfully. In most cases, the success of the blend is in adding certain percentage of Cabernet Franc to enhance the sipping sensation. Here, Cabernet Franc, shall I say, is the unsung hero!

So why is Cabernet Franc, with a drink profile of dark berries, cocoa, tobacco and earthiness, seems to always take a back seat to Cabernet Sauvignon? One theory is that Cabernet Franc is lightly pigmented and therefore gives the misconceptual impression that it is less full-bodied than Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet, though not as dark as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc can provide similar intensity, balance,  richness in its very own characteristic way!

Canada Cabernet Franc of my choice: Tinhorn Creek 2009 Cabernet Franc

The cooler regions in Canada are ideal to planting Cabernet Franc since the grapes will ripe slightly earlier and provide winemakers with room to manoeuvre around other varietals. Both the Niagara and Okanagan regions see increased planting of this varietal. While most wineries will blend Cabernet Franc to make other impressive wines, in my humble opinion, there is one winery that crafted the 100% Cabernet Franc extremely well – Tinhorn Creek Winery in Oliver, B.C.  

Tinhorn’s 2009 Cabernet Franc is crafted from 100% grapes from the Black Sage Bench. The grapes were deliberately left on the skin for a few days to nurture the intensity. After 12 months in American oak, the wine has dark amber colour, medium to full-bodied; with a lovely aroma of black current and dark cherry and subtle hints of earthiness. The entry is inviting, well balanced with a soft touch of oak while the finish is lingering. Priced under $20, it is a well-crafted wine with lots of potential.  Tinhorn Creek’s owner and winemaker Sandra Oldfield and her team have brilliantly proved Cabernet Franc can stand on its own without too much manipulation! In the hands of capable and willing winemakers, Cabernet Franc shall no longer take a back seat to Cabernet Sauvignon.                                 

Food pairing suggestion: Tomato-based meat pasta, Korean-style barbequed beef and pork, Braised Ox-tail with Hoisin and soy sauce, Shanghai-style smoked fish and Chinese smoked meat.