Taste Italy's Sunny Expressions of Cabernet Franc

Long has Cabernet Franc existed in the shadow of its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s almost always grown for blending with that grape and has historically been associated with the light-bodied, herbaceous wines from the cool Loire Valley in France, or as a form of insurance against difficult vintages in Bordeaux, where it ripens earlier and easier than Cabernet Sauvignon. 

And yet, Cabernet Franc has found a warmer reception in coastal Tuscany, where producers are making serious, complex, elegant varietal wines from the grape. 

“Cabernet Franc is showing exceptional results in Italy, and I believe it is on its way to the coveted perfect score,” says Monica Larner, Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s Rome-based Italian reviewer. One of the most comprehensive writers of Italian wines, Larner says Tuscany has become one of the most exciting homes of Cabernet Franc. The grape has already reached 99 points with the 2013 Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Matarocchio, a pure expression of Cabernet Franc from Antinori’s Bolgheri estate.

At the upcoming Matter of Taste event on Saturday, March 3 at the City Club of San Francisco, Larner will pour the Matarocchio along with some of the other great expressions of Cabernet Franc in Italy, including Le Macchiole’s Paleo (97 points) and Tenuta di Trinoro’s Campo di Camagi (95 points). She’ll lead participants through nine Tuscan Cabernet Francs from a range of vintages going back to 2006, all rated 90 points of higher. 

Cabernet Franc is typically light to medium-bodied, with crisp red fruit character and lighter tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon—its pronounced herbaceous aromas have often been likened to the flavor of underripe Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly if yields are too high. Cabernet Franc shows quite a different character in warm, sunny Tuscany, where vintners are creating varietal wines with real complexity and elegance in a range of styles, from muscular and firm with dark fruit, tobacco and cigar ash (2011 Tenuta di Biserno Lodovico, 95 points) to lighter, softer styles with crunchy fruit (2013 Duemani Cabernet Franc Duemani, 97 points). 

These new expressions of Cabernet Franc are some of the most thrilling wines coming out of Italy today: “The Bolgheri appellation is now one of the most exciting homes to the grape,” Larner says, “and I’m seeing some amazing new wines coming out of there. There is renewed attention to Cabernet Franc, especially in terms of high-end wines.” If Cheval Blanc has taught us anything, it’s that Cabernet Franc can make world-class, age-worthy wines. 

“Italy and Cabernet Franc are a match made in heaven,” adds Larner. 

Come taste these wines in San Francisco before everyone else catches on. 

Hero image courtesy of Le Macchiole

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