Let’s be Franc
Couly-Dutheil Les Gravières d’Amador Abbé de Turpenay Chinon 2014
I want to talk about the other Cabernet. Sure, Cabernet Sauvignon is the darling of the wine world: it’s grown everywhere, it thrives all over the damned place, and people love it. It collects super high prices, it’s famed from Bordeaux to Napa, and it’s got a cultish following.
But can I tell you the truth? I don’t particularly like it.
I know! It’s so iconic, it’s so rich and tasty and it’s got those weirdly intense tannins that let it live forever. But it’s just not for me. I like my wines light, I like them pretty, I like them drinkable now. I mean, if you give me a Cabernet Sauvignon I’m going to drink it, and I’ll likely enjoy it (especially if you’re also serving steak), but it’s not something I’m going to pick up for myself.
But then there’s Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon’s proud papa rooting form the wings while mama bear Sauvignon Blanc gallivants around the world and has settled in New Zealand of all places (I’ll talk more about crossings in a later post).
Cabernet Franc is one of those wines people might have heard of, but they’re not sure where. Like, when your friend asks if you know Bobby Sue and you’re like, “Huh, that name sounds familiar.” Sure, they might know that it plays a supporting role in Bordeaux and the Meritage blends that try to emulate it, but that’s usually as far as it goes.
But Cabernet Franc is actually a big deal. Especially in the Loire Valley in France and, whodathunk it, right here in Ontario, two places where it’s bottled as a single varietal. It’s fresh, full of violets, spice, and juicy dark berries with a touch of graphite. One of my wine teachers said he hated it because, if made badly, it almost tasted like licking an ashtray (as a former smoker, I don’t really see how that’s bad).
And that’s the thing: it’s not bad. It’s fantastic. These wines are usually light, ready to drink beauties you can contemplate seriously or just enjoy frivolously on a patio with a burger or a salad. Cab Francs come in a variety of styles, from weighty to juicy. They’re versatile, flavourful, and their relatively subtle tannins won’t get in the way of your enjoyment.
This version is from Chinon, a region in the Loire Valley that specializes in Cab Franc. I’ve been told the producer is somewhat iconic, if you care about those things, and it was recently released at the LCBO in Vintages. When I served it, I told my friends it was cheap and cheerful. It really is so cheerful. Cheap, at $20, might seem a stretch but the value you’re getting is immense. This is a flavourful, complex wine that’s a joy to drink. So get a couple bottles, give ‘em a few minutes in the fridge, then pop that cork and sniff sip sip.
Nose: Perfume juice, in a good way! Violets, red bell pepper, blackberries, and pencil lead.
Palate: The nose continues with all that floral berryness surrounding the graphite to soften and elevate it. The acids are high, which keep the wine fresh. The tannins are unobtrusive—so unobtrusive I barely noticed them until I looked for them. It’s infinitely drinkable and really very pretty.