Your Old Friend Cab Franc

Why doesn’t the classic red from Loire get the attention it deserves? Juice Box Beth has a theory.

If Cabernet Franc was a person, they’d be your soft-spoken, trend-setting friend who doesn’t care what other people think, and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for their originality. (They are, in fact, what the kids call “OG”: parent to the more crowd-pleasing kids, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.) Your friend Cab Franc discovered the hip music before it blew up. They wore bucket hats before they were ironically cool. They took you to underground poetry slams that changed your life. They’ve been there for you through thick and thin, yet you continue to neglect them. But why? Because your other friends are louder, needier. And they text you back quicker. 

Why doesn’t Cabernet Franc get the attention it deserves? Well, it’s moody for one. Fruity and bright one day, then dark and savory the next. It’s got a bunch of personality quirks. Green bell pepper? Pencil shavings? When you’re looking for a fruit bomb, these savory and mineral characteristics might scare you off at first. But don’t fret; embrace these quirks. The best Cab Francs are integrated and delightful, food-friendly wines. Zoom in on France’s Loire Valley in particular and you’ll find producers who’ve been making natural Cab Francs way before it was cool. It’s that enigmatic aura and under-the-radar greatness that make for some of the best values in natural wine today.

For these reasons, consider texting your old friend Cab Franc tonight.

Four Loire Valley Cabernet Francs to Try

Beatrice et Pascal Lambert Chinon “Les Terrasses" 2018 - $22

According to their website, Beatrice and Pascal Lambert organically and biodynamically farm 18 hectares of land, 100% of which is hard-harvested. 6,806,087 smiles have been shared in the making of their wines, which is backed by their 100% love of the earth. What do all those numbers amount to? A warm and welcoming introduction to the world of Chinon, an amalgamation of fruit and spice balanced so well, you just might fall in love with the grape on the spot. Juicy ripe red fruit and vegetal tomato leaf integrate with a smoky spiciness likened to a pepperoni and pepper-topped pizza. Notes of crushed gravel and potting soil bring a level of earthiness to an otherwise juicy and lighter style. Drink now, slightly chilled, with or without food, but preferably with that aforementioned pepp-squared pizza. One glass in, you’ll start to feel it. No, not the buzz, but the 6 million smiles that went into the making of this Chinon.

Pierre Breton Bourgueil “Nuits d'Ivresse” 2015 - $29 **GREAT DEAL

At first sniff of this garnet-colored liquid, I get pencil shavings and pool water. On second whiff, a medley of cooked blueberries and blackberries, valerian root, and nutmeg. On third... I digress. 

Let’s just say Catherine and Pierre Breton’s "Nuits d'Ivresse" or “Drunken Nights” cuvée is layered. The eldest and most structured of this Cab Franc crowd, this wine has a dark-fruited, forest-y mysticism here. And with already 6 years under its belt, the still abundant fruit, chewy tannins, and mouth-watering acidity make it more than suitable for further aging. Drink now after decanting or lay this down for 5 years. Or dare I say more. Did I mention no sulphur dioxide was added?

Domaine du Bel Air Bourgueil "Jour de Soif" 2019 - $17 **GREAT DEAL

Pierre and Rodolphe Gauthier are the father-son team behind Domaine du Bel Air, rounding out five generations of winemaking. Their entry-level "Jour de Soif" bottling offers notes of ripe red cherries, black pepper, and leather. Its fine tannins and bright acidity are sure to quench the thirst of all your friends at the first post-pandemic BBQ. This value was made for sharing. 

Mosse Cabernet Franc “Rouge” 2018 - $30

Produced in the Anjou region of the Loire but purposefully declassified to Vin De France, Agnes and Rene Mosse’s Cabernet Franc “Rouge” is an oxymoron-ish take on power and delicacy. 20% undergoes carbonic maceration, a technique borrowed from Beaujolais to produce fruit-forward wines, while the remaining portion is traditionally destemmed and fermented. The result smells like crates of dusty boysenberries and wild cranberries, coupled with bouquets of fragrant violets and distant gunpowder. The alcohol of the 2018 vintage startled me at a whopping 14%, uncharistic of the region, but aside from reading the label, you’d never be able to tell. This integrated juice is smooth, silky, and supple. If this is “table wine,” it must be a real nice table.