Cab Franc: “The next big thing” in Sierra Vintners’ wines

“THE ERA OF CABERNET FRANC is nearly upon us,” Wine Spectator Associate Editor Ben O’Donnell wrote in February. “That’s the conclusion I reached after visiting wineries on both coasts last year and imbibing at not a few of Instagram’s most trending wine bars. Reader, the excitement is palpable and the smell of pepper-bramble-tobacco-olive is in the air.”

We agree, at least based on prevailing wine drinking trends—for lighter, less expensive, more innovative winemaking. If true, this is going to be a boon to Sierra Vintners wineries, which have a longstanding reputation for creating award-winning Cab Franc wines. When we relocated to the foothills from the Bay Area a decade ago, the first local wine we enjoyed was Cab Franc.

At Sierra Starr Vineyards in Grass Valley, for example, the estate Cabernet Franc vineyard—planted in 1997 and 1998—is beginning to produce some “really wonderful Cab Franc,” says assistant winemaker-vineyard manager Jackson Starr. Sierra Starr’s 2011 Cab Franc has won gold medals at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition and the El Dorado County Wine Competition and is rated at 88 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Cab Franc is a black-skinned French wine grape variety that prefers cool, inland climates, including ours. It is a light to medium bodied wine and is complex and distinctive. It normally appears in blended reds, but it also can be a stand-alone wine.

To be sure, Cab Franc will not be a mass-market wine (some find it too earthy). But as Northern California winemaker Steven Mirassou said in Wine Spectator: “What the wine lover gets when it’s done right is the coquettishness of Pinot and the pragmatism of Cabernet Sauvignon rolled into one.”

In the foothills, here are some Cab Francs to sample and tasting notes:

Bent Metal’s 2010 version is a fabulous, intense Cab Franc. Great structure and mouth feel with a outstanding balance of fruit and acidity. This is a big California-style Franc, though its heritage characteristics are unmistakable.

Ciotti Cellars’ 2013 Cab Franc has soft subtle currents with earthy undertones. It is a silver medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Mt. Vernon’s 2011 Cab Franc comes from the Clos Du Lac Vineyard in Placer County. It is cave-aged for 23 months in 80 percent new American oak barrels.

Naggiar’s 2010 Cab Franc has aromas of blackberries, currants and raspberries with hints of juniper and smokiness.

Secret Ravine’s 2012 version has a soft mouth feel, a hint of mint followed by a smooth clean finish. Silver medal winner at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting Competition.

Sierra Knolls’ 2011 version is a deeply colored, thin skinned berry offering floral, plum, blackberry, cassis, spice and fresh herb flavors, plus undertones of unsweetened dark chocolate.

Sierra Starr’s 2011 Cab Franc is rich, dark and opulent with a wonderful aroma and a long finish. Gold medal winner at the El Dorado County Wine Competition and the Finger Lakes Wine Competition.

Solune Winemaker’s 2005 Cab Franc is finished in a more traditional Bordeaux style. A silver medal winner at the California State Fair, Amador County Fair and Orange County Fair. Solune also has a 2011 Cabernet Franc with great oak integration that allows the character of this wine to shine (violet, dark, chocolate and mint).

(Photo: David Wong)

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