Canada & Cabernet Franc
We’re Canadians, so there are certain things that unite us from coast to coast … like our weather, nobody is happy with the weather we get and so we complain, yet we continue to live where we do without even giving any thought that we’re going to move. We grin and bear it — that’s who we are after all. What unites wine drinkers from coast to coast is Cabernet Franc.
Oh sure, every region makes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (we’re cool climate), but in the search for a fuller-bodied red we Canadians turn to Cabernet Franc. Everywhere else in the world sees this grape primarily used in blends, with the rare winery willing to make a single varietal version; but here in the Great White North the rarity becomes normality, there aren’t many serious wineries not making Cabernet Franc, or at least not taking a serious stab at it.
Do winemakers just take the varietal more seriously here? “The most obvious reason,” says Derek Barnett, winemaker at Lailey Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, “is it usually ripens a couple of weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, giving winemakers and growers a little more time to get the grapes to the maturity levels that are needed … we will have more consistency in wines produced from vintage to vintage.”
Brian Schmidt, winemaker at Vineland, talks about the grape from a global view. “From a varietal perspective there are not a lot of wine regions in the world that have either A) the climate or B) the desire to take on the challenge of growing Cabernet Franc — not only from the viticultural perspective but also from a consumer perspective. When you look the world over there is really only the Loire [France] for Cabernet Franc; there are not a lot of regions clamouring to make it therefore the comparison factor is also low. People don’t have a global comparison, they won’t say ‘this Cab Franc is not as good as that one from California or Chile’ — it’s completely open territory; unlike Cabernet Sauvignon which we could not compete with.”
As far as flavour profile goes, Barnett sees Franc as more delicate than Cabernet Sauvignon but just as age worthy: “Wines produced are usually a little lighter in colour than Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon but carry the same intensity of flavour and often have ‘prettier’ aromatics … and they can often age really well,” he explains, citing a wine he recently opened from 1998.
This year’s All Canadian Wine Championships underscored the versatility of Cabernet Franc and its reputation among Canadians, awarding Ontario’s Hillebrand 2010 Red Shale Cabernet Franc the red wine of the year title … and that was against Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and any other red you can name grown here.
The winemaker behind that wine, Craig McDonald, explains what it takes to make a great wine from this grape: “Cabernet Franc has taught me you get as much out of it as you are willing to invest in it! It needs a little gentle persuasion but when you adopt a balanced approach the rewards can be outstanding. It’s the Pinot Noir of the Bordeaux family.” It looks like Cabernet Franc is getting its due across this great land.
Stanners Cabernet Franc 2010, Ontario ($25)
Smells of raspberry, strawberry, vanilla, white pepper and cigar box really lure you in for the taste, then — bang — a smooth alluring texture with creamy blackberry-vanilla notes with spice and black pepper back it up and give it lift. Then there’s the strawberry finish and black cherry linger, all brought together with mouth-cleansing acidity.
Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc 2011, Ontario ($12.95)
Brian Schmidt shows consistency with this grape once again even in the tough 2011 vintage. Light and fruity, this wine begs as much for a chill as it does for you to enjoy it at room temp. A nice raspberry-tobacco note greets the nose and continues on the mouth, adding a touch of cranberry cocktail, along with cherry and vanilla for good measure. By the third or fourth sip the juiciness of this wine really hits you. Drink now through 2015.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2010, Ontario ($40)
Not your typical Franc here. Sure there are notes of raspberry and tobacco — there’s even a smokiness with some cherry backing — but there’s also a silkiness across the tongue and a cocoa-chocolate finish that makes it seem more Merlot-esque, making this one a bit of a Franc-en-steen, though one worth taking home to meet the family.
Rockway Vineyards Cabernet Franc Small Lot Reserve 2010, Ontario ($23.95)
Here we have a best-barrels, 172-case production wine that shows real promise for the future of Rockway’s wine program. Sure, I have a soft spot for Cabernet Franc but that does impair my judgment about finding a good one — in fact it makes me more finicky about Franc. Nose of tobacco with hints of cherry, but it remains mainly closed. The palate is much more expressive: tobacco, blackberry, black cherry, smoky and spicy with tannins that hang out on the sidelines: adding depth without overpowering.
Pondview Bella Terra Cabernet Franc 2010, Ontario ($29.95)
The Bella Terra Franc is a barrel selection of the best wines made in that year. The barrels used are a 50/50 mix of American and French, of which 20% are new, aged 18 months. The resulting wine is something you can age for a decade with confidence. Aromas of tobacco-laced black raspberry and a palate filled with spicy cigar box-tobacco with hefty tannins. The background is dark fruited and spicy but with time the fruit should rise above it all. Buy now and age 2 to 3 years before giving it a go.
Pillitteri Cabernet Franc Exclamation Reserve 2010, Ontario ($35)
This wine proves Pillitteri’s commitment to the Cabernet Franc grape. The palate and nose are in lockstep (tobacco, cherry, raspberry and smoke); the palate is also backed by spice, cigar ash and smoke, but remains tasty and juicy all the while.
Inniskillin Three Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010, Ontario ($22.95)
While this wine is juicy, there is a nice complexity that gets you coming back for more, more, more. Sweet fruited with raspberry and vanilla followed by cocoa and some toasty notes that sometimes slip into smoky before the finish lingers with bright raspberry once again.
Muscedere Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2011, Ontario ($18.20)
The boys of Muscedere continue to impress vintage after vintage — they are part of the new wave of wineries that entered the region in the mid-2000s. Their specialty seems to be coaxing the best out of their red grapes. This version of Cabernet Franc is smoky yet fruity with dark raspberries and cherries along with a persistent raspberry-tobacco core. Silky across the palate with enough spice to keep it interesting; look out for the spiced raspberry finish.
Lailey Cabernet Franc Unfiltered 2010, Ontario ($30)
This is a limited edition wine that never saw the winery shelves, as it was snapped up during the winery’s pre-release get-together in December 2011. The nose is full of blackberry, black raspberry, cherry-tobacco and vanilla notes, while the flavours really sing in the mouth: black cherry, cassis, a touch of tobacco, blackberry and hints of spice with some subtle pepper nuances, all wrapped up in some very silky tannins.
Hillebrand Showcase Red Shale Cabernet Franc 2010, Ontario ($40)
Most definitely, without even a hint of a doubt, this is the best Cabernet Franc I’ve tried (so far) from the 2010 vintage — it truly is the perfect expression of Niagara Franc. Smells of cigar box and smoked raspberry greet the nose, while on the palate you’ll find cigar-tobacco with smoky blackberry and raspberry. This might sound rather simple but some of the best wines don’t strive to over-achieve, they just are what they are. And this one has such a beautiful elegance to it. This wine won best red at the All Canadian Wine Championships 2013.
Quinta Ferreira Cabernet Franc 2009, BC ($29.90)
One of the best BC Francs I have tried all year — rivals the Hillebrand and in fact ranked second behind it in a blind tasting. It’s the balance and simplicity that really make this wine. Nose of smoky-tobacco and raspberry with a lovely balance of fruit and smoke on the palate.
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc 2011, British Columbia ($29)
This Franc has a sexiness of fruit about the nose with ripe cherry, red liquorice and blackcurrant. On the palate there’s lush dark fruit with a touch of cherry-tobacco and smoke.
Summerhill Pyramid Organic Cabernet Franc 2009, British Columbia ($35)
I’m still not fully sold on organic wines, as I find them very hit and miss; but this Summerhill is a hit with its cherry, raspberry, baker’s cocoa and sweet spice aromas followed on the palate with the subtlety of fresh and dried raspberries along with hints of tobacco.
Stag’s Hollow Cabernet Franc 2010, British Columbia ($27.99)
This is a very subtle version of Franc, especially on the nose: raspberry and spice are most noticeable; the palate is definitely richer with red and black fruit and elements of smoky cedar.
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc 2009, British Columbia ($45)
Showing consistency with each vintage is admirable, but the heat of the 2009 vintage provided more oomph to the wine than the above-mentioned 2010. Lush red berries greet the nose while the palate rolls out cherry and raspberry fruit wrapped in smoky goodness with plenty of tannic punch on the finish.
Hester Creek 3 Block Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010, British Columbia (26.99)
I recommend this one because it’s not your typical raspberry-tobacco Franc and shows there is more to this grape even when it is not textbook: smoky bacon notes are all over this wine and that makes it interesting and intriguing; maybe something to have as a breakfast beverage or mix with sparkling for a twist on the usual mimosa.
Church and State Coyote’s Bowl Cabernet Franc 2009, British Columbia ($35)
The aromas might take you back to the days of owning your first Chrysler Cordoba, with all that new leather mixing with cherry and black liquorice; flavours also lean leathery (both the smoked and fruit variety), fruit-wise you will find some nice raspberry essence.
Desert Hills Cabernet Franc 2009, British Columbia ($24.90)
This is a juicy version of Cabernet Franc with plenty of generous fruit on the palate, you’ll also find smoky-raspberry and silky tannins round it off in the mouth.