Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #44: French Cabernet Franc

It's time for the April edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours' online tasting event. This month, our host is none other than Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV. Gary is a well-known Cabernet Franc fan, so he asked us to drink a French Cabernet Franc. This led to the usual frazzled searching as folks scrambled to get their hands on the perfect wine. I let domaine547 do the searching and I just did the buying. I ended up with a great example of the grape.

Cabernet Franc is a grape that many people drink in Bordeaux or Meritage blends without even knowing it. It's often mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon, as it has less acid and contributes peppery and flowery notes to blended wines. Cabernet Franc is one of Cabernet Sauvignon's parents--its other parent is Sauvignon Blanc--and its resistance to cold temperature and rain makes it a popular grape in regions that experience harsh weather. Today, it is grown not only in France, but also in Italy, Australia, Canada, Hungary, Spain and the US.

The grape is especially popular in the Loire valley, where it has been cultivated since at least the 1700s (and probably even longer). Domaine Noblaie, the maker of my wine, combines the best traditions of the Loire with the best new wine-making and cultivation practices. The hillside where the grapes are grown in the Chinon AOC have been producing grapes for four centuries. The grapes that go into this wine come from 40-80 year old vines. Francois Billard, a former viticulture professor, owns the operation. And his 24-year-old son, Jerome, makes the wine. How's that for mixing up tradition and change, history and the promise of the future?

And that promise is delivered in the 2004 Domaine de Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens. It was, quite simply, the most enjoyable Cab Franc I've ever had. ($15.99, domaine547--and sold out, but the 2005 is in stock; 2004 available elsewhere for between $16 and $19) Not everyone is a fan of Cabernet Franc, but this wine really convinced me that there are good, affordable options out there for you to try. When you open this bottle, its smoky, vegetal, and red fruit aromas combine nicely. No one aspect of the aromas dominated, but you could definitely detect each individual feature. I found the same elements--smoke, bell peppers and herbs, and red fruits--in the flavors as well, and the wine turned more and more smoky in your mouth as you swallowed it. The wine had a medium body, and a nice texture in the mouth, managing to seem both airy and substantial at the same time. I drank the wine over three nights, and the wine's vegetal aromas and flavors grew less pronounced each night indicating to me that some of these more assertive characteristics may soften in time. That said, this was a delightful wine to drink now, and represented excellent QPR.

Cabernet Franc, in my experience, is a wine that is at its best with food, and this wine was no exception. The Les Chiens-Chiens' smokiness made it especially well-suited to BBQ (we had it with BBQ chicken and it was excellent). If you like the wine's vegetal apsects, however, make yourself a peppery pasta to go with it. Boil some farfalle until al dente (about 10 minutes), and drain it, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Then toss some chunks of green and yellow pepper in a saute pan with chunks of red onion and some olive oil and saute them for about 5 minutes until tender. Remove the peppers from the pan, and add a touch more oil and 2 sliced garlic cloves. When you smell the garlic, toss in a pint of halved grape tomatoes, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and some pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes more, squashing the tomatoes slightly to release their flavor. Taste it for seasoning, and add salt as required. Then add the vegetables back into the pan along with the tomatoes, add the pasta and the reserved cooking water, and cook for a few more minutes until the pasta is tender and the juices have thickened and coated the pasta. If you have some leftover cooked sausage, cut it on the diagonal and throw it in with the vegetables to heat it through, too. Top with your favorite cheese and enjoy with your Cabernet Franc. This recipe will really bring out the peppery, smoky, and fruity qualities of the wine.

Cabernet Franc may be an acquired taste, but once you're hooked, you're hooked. This wine did more than any other I've had made by with the variety to help me get what all its fans cherish about it, since it managed to be fresh and smoky as well as fruity and vegetal. Thanks to Gary Vaynerchuk for a great theme, and as always you can check back here in a few days for links to what promises to be an epic roundup of tasting notes from bloggers, readers, and other Vayniacs--as well as the announcement from Tim Elliott of Winecast regarding WBW #45.


SB Wine Advocate said...

Yum! I 'm going to make that pasta dish! I loved this wine too. I wish I had bought more. Time to get the 05!

Anonymous said...

nice post Dr D - I ordered the blogger pack as well but didn't do it in time so it looks like it will be a wine blogging Friday for me! haha


Anonymous said...

I love Chien-chien, but I've had it only in NYC. the distribution is sadly limited to bigger markets.

Dr. Debs said...

Glad you like the looks of that recipe, Amy--it's my own creation. John, sorry you didn't get the blogger pack in time, but I look forward to seeing what you think of the Cab Franc Jill picked for it. And Fredric, it's unusual to find it even in LA. So I'm glad that I got to taste it, and apparently the '05 is just as good.