For this week's 30 Days of Ontario Wine we've been exploring Cabernet Franc. Despite being a relatively latecomer to Ontario's core four grapes, many of the oldest vineyards were only planted in the late 1990s, Cab Franc has proven to be the grape that arguably produces Ontario's most consistent red wines.
In the early years, Ontario Cab Franc received a reputation for having some green and vegetal flavours and aromas―something not uncommon in the grape's spiritual home of the Loire Valley. As the vines have matured and both growers and winemakers have gotten a handle on how Cab Franc performs in Ontario's terroir and climate, wines that smell strongly of green bell pepper are mostly a thing of the past.
Today's Ontario Cab Francs are aromatic, finesse wines with pure red fruit like raspberries and currant, supported by an undercurrent of the intriguing herbaceousness that makes them such distinct and food friendly reds. So if you haven't tried an Ontario Cabernet Franc lately, now is a fantastic time to do so. We gathered our staff to and put together a few interesting Cabernet Francs that we think you should seek out.
Shawn McCormick's Picks
Cabernet Franc is like an old friend. Even if I have spent months hanging out with my new friends Riesling and Pinot Noir, a return to Cab Franc is warm, welcoming, and we pick up right where we left off. There's plenty of good arguments for why Ontario should pick Cab Franc as their "signature" grape, but one of the best reasons I know is that no one else has. Largely seen as a blending grape in other regions, and surpassed by its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon in hotter regions. Ontario has at least two different styles of Cab Franc being produced, and I've included reviews for a few from each style/region.
Niagara is producing Cab Franc in the Bordeaux style – the wine tends to be slightly heavier bodies, full and rich. It’s great on it’s own, in front of a fireplace, or paired with some rare meats.
Palatine Hills 2010 Cabernet Franc – Neufeld Vineyard
We finally opened one of the few bottles of this that I picked up in the spring. Sweet raspberry and blueberry with nice toasty oak (vanilla) and sweet spice aromas. Gorgeous dark fruit on the palate with dried cherries & blueberries, and the recurring sweet spice and vanilla. Well integrated tannins, decent acidity. Drinking lovely now, this will only improve over the next few years, and at this price, it is worth buying some to cellar.
Available at the winery
Fielding Estate Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc:
With a nose of raspberry, blackberry, and vanilla, I also detect light notes of a spicy pepper – more like a jalapeno. On the mouth it is more cherry and dark chocolate, smoky spices, and a lingering finish of dark cherry and vanilla. It has fairly high acidity and tannins but remains smooth even at this young age, and only will integrate further with a few more months in the bottle. This wine was chosen as the Gold Medal winner at Cuvee, where winners are chosen (blind) by the winemakers themselves.
Availability: LCBO 36194 / Winery.
Prince Edward County Cabenet Franc is a little different. If you have ever had Chinon from the Loire region, then you would be amazed at how closely these wines resemble those. With tons of minerality, great acidity, and lighter body, these wines are very food friendly.
Norman Hardie 2009 County Cabernet Franc
Norm had previously made one Cab back in 2005 but 2009 marked a year in which he was able to secure supply of some great County fruit and indeed he is now leasing and maintaining the vineyard (neighbour Mike Foster) from where the fruit is sourced. Bright cherry red, the wine in the glass could almost be mistaken for a Gamay or Pinot from a warmer climate. On the nose, the minerality dominates with cherry, floral (violets & rosehips), menthol, and slightly earthy cigarbox notes. On the palate, the wine is juicy black cherry with some cassis and a light touch of vanilla. ,Light-medium bodied, this wine has great acidity that keeps the mouth watering. Finish is slightly tart cherries and plums. I can only think of “Cab franc with finesse” as a tagline. Currently sold out of the 2009 and 2010, the 2011 should be bottling in October.
Availability: LCBO 237123 / Winery.
Lift Haus 2009 Cab Franc
Earthy, mineral notes dominate the nose, with blackberry and cherry behind. This Cab Franc also shows some light herbal notes – some folks despise the herbaceous influences but I enjoy them when they are this mild. On the palate, sour cherry, cranberry, tart raspberries are infused with very light spice influences. Again the minerality is ever present and provides a slightly astringent or chalky mouthfeel. Medium tart cherry finish. Would be lovely paired with juicy lamb.
Available at the winery.
Michael Di Caro's Picks
2010 Pelee Island Cabernet Franc
It's easy to see why Vineland winemaker Brian Schmidt cites this entry level Cabernet Franc, from the southern most point in Canada, as consistently punching above its weight. It has the hallmark red raspberry and currant flavours and aromas along plum, a hint of cedar, dried summer savory and a touch of salty potassium. With medium tannins, a body just under medium and a zippy acidity it's an easy drinking red that's a good entry point into the world of Ontario Cab Franc. At under $12 it's also a very solid value.
Availability: LCBO 145441
2010 Strewn Premium Cabernet Franc
This is a little bit of an old school Niagara Cabernet Franc. The nose is initially all cedar, tobacco and intriguingly dill flower. Swirl the glass and take a sip and you'll unlock flavours of dark cherry, raspberry, plum and a touch of vanilla, oak spice and pencil shavings on the finish. Its silky feel and medium acidity is backed-up with some young rustic tannins at the medium plus level. It's a wine that would do well with a nice thick-cut, meaty lamb chop.
2010 Ravine Reserve Cabernet Franc Picone Vineyard
Winery Chef Mark Picone's vineyard is probably best known for its Riesling which Charles Baker bottles every year to great acclaim. However if this Ravine wine is any indication his Cab Franc will also be one to watch for in the future. Grown on his estate vineyard high-up on the escarpment in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation this wine has an enchanting and slightly unusual combination of savoury and juicy fruit flavours. On the fruit side it's layered with beautifully ripe black raspberry, black currant and black figs flavours and aromas. Supporting that ripe fruit is a combination of dry cured black olives, licorice and a toasty oak spice. With a rich texture and chewy medium plus tannins it's certainly a Cab Franc that's on the meatier side. Upon its release it was paired with a smoky wood fired pizza topped with duck confit and pesto. Its bright medium plus acidity cut through the pizza's richness and the wine's toasty spice and savoury elements paired well with the rich duck and rustic pesto.
Suresh Doss' Picks
2008 Stratus Cabernet Franc
Winemaker J.L. Groux has crafted a finely balanced Cab Franc from a cooler vintage (grapes weren't picked until late in the year). The juice was kept in bottle for one year after spending two in oak. The nose is quite aromatic with cherry, subtle pepper, oak, and spices. There's also a slight gamey element on the nose, and a little leather. There's more cherry on the palate and good tannin structure. Now serve me a juicy, fatty piece of steak to go along with a glass.
Availability: LCBO 665034
Calamus 2009 Cabernet Franc
Dark and Mysterious. The first time you put your nose to the glass, you get a blast of smoke, pepper, and spice. The flavours keep evolving as you swish the glass, you start to smell dried fruit, hints of cocoa, and cracked pepper. Earthy aromas are followed by cherry and raspberries on the palate, it's very juicy. This would be the perfect Thanksgiving wine, as it has the fruit, and nose to make it a versatile pairing for whatever is on the table. At this price point, you can easily grab a few bottles to make sure your guests don't run out.
Kacaba 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc
This multi-award winning Cab Franc from Kacaba (All Canadian Wine Championships, Ontario Wine Awards, Cuvee, Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards), is a wine of depth with a multitude of flavours; cocoa, ripe cherry, oak spice, mint, and coffee, all balanced wonderfully together with a mouth feel you won't forget.