Lamenting his wife’s death and the collapse of his carefully laid plans, Macbeth famously complains “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”
A “walking shadow” was an understudy in a play, not quite good enough for the main role, who finally gets his chance to shine only to be forgotten after the star returns.
Cabernet Franc is the “walking shadow” of the wine world. In France, it has traditionally been an understudy to Cabernet Sauvignon. As an early ripening grape, in Bordeaux it has been used as part of a blend in cool years when Cabernet Sauvignon struggles or when its floral notes are desired to add complexity. Only in cooler regions such as France’s Loire Valley does it routinely appear as a stand-alone varietal, but it typically lacks concentration and takes on green vegetal notes that many wine lovers find unpleasant. So it remains a minor player in the global wine market.
But new, upstart wine regions don’t have to play by the old rules and their unique soil and climate conditions enable new expressions of traditional grapes. Washington State, New York, and Virginia are turning out interesting versions of stand-alone Cabernet Franc. It won’t replace Cabernet Sauvignon in the hearts of wine lovers but perhaps it can earn a more prominent niche for itself.
We should add San Diego to that list of places where Cab Franc flourishes.
As I taste through San Diego County wines, I’ve found several interesting versions of Cabernet Franc. This one by Woof N’ Rose is especially noteworthy—it is sheer power and intensity in a glass but with a unique flavor profile that sets it apart.
The scent of black plum stays in the background lurking behind earth notes of loam and wet leaves. Distinctive hazelnut aromas, unusual in a red wine, are prominent, set off by vanilla notes and a bit of acetone. This is a very complex and interesting nose. On the palate, black cherry and coffee meld with rich caramel, a barrage of flavor supported by a stout and muscular mouth feel with chewy, dry, somewhat woody tannins driving a long finish. This complexity reflects a very serious oak program, a blend of French and American oak.
Big, bold, and a bit edgy, I wouldn’t call it elegant, but if you want power and complexity you got it . A long way from the wan and winsome offerings from the Loire Valley, it is no “walking shadow” and deserves a star turn of its own.
As with most of the boutique San Diego wines, the best place to find this Cab Franc is at the winery, where Stephen and Marilyn Kahle will take you through their impressive lineup that includes some lovely blends and a very good Grenache. Tasting is by appointment only.