There are certain smells, colors, foods and wines that stimulate our imagination and bring out our creativity more than others. Maybe this is because they are subtle, or sexier in a hidden way, or perhaps more foreign and strange. Maybe they could be the underdogs that need our cheering the most and gives us satisfaction when they trump the top dog. Cabernet Franc is such a wine.
Together with Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. But although there are some similarities, the differences are huge.
Cabernet Franc is a wine with much softer tannins and a more delicate mouth-feel. It is lighter in color and has a much more perfumed aroma. The strongest characteristic, if the fruit is not ripe, is of green bell pepper but when ripe it can be extremely attractive with raspberries, black currents and violets.
Because of these positive attributes Cabernet Franc is often used in blends following the footsteps of Bordeaux winemakers. I like it to balance a bigger wine and/or to add complexity.
However, if you have the right terroir it does make a beautiful varietal wine as reds from the Loire Valley exemplify (although I only think so in good years). Long Island, which is much further south than the Loire Valley (on the same latitude as Madrid and Naples) has a much stronger sun influence and is ideally situated to wonderfully ripen this fruit, making it a great wine year in and year out.
For this issue I interviewed Kareem Massoud from Paumanok Vineyards and Chef Kevin Penner from The Grill on Pantigo in East Hampton.
Questions for the Winemaker:
Name of your Cabernet Franc?
PAUMANOK Cabernet Franc
What inspires you the most to make Cabernet Franc?
Cabernet Franc produces a versatile, distinctive wine, one that can be enjoyed on its own or with various foods.
Where are the grapes from and what is special about it?
All of our wines are estate grown. We own and operate our own vineyards in Aquebogue and Jamesport on the North Fork. My family has planted all of our Cabernet Franc vineyards and tended them since day one. Our dedication to growing the healthiest, ripest fruit possible combined with the two other pillars of terroir; our soil and climate result in a unique wine.
What are you doing to make it different from other red wines?
Our approach to Cabernet Franc is nearly identical to what we do for the other red varieties we grow. Thus, what makes it different is its varietal character. We do leaf removal and fruit thinning (aka green-harvesting) on all of our reds. However these practices have the most significant impact on Cabernet Franc whose naturally higher quantities of pyrazines (the compounds responsible for bell pepper aromas) are depleted more rapidly as the grapes ripen. This makes a better wine.
What do you love about Cabernet Franc?
I love that it drinks well young and that it is a great summer wine, owing to its lighter body relative to our other reds.
How well does your Cabernet Franc age?
Paumanok Cabernet Franc will age well, 3 to 5 years plus. When we produce a “Grand Vintage” version the wines have even greater longevity - 5 to 7 years plus. We offer our customers a choice of cork or screw cap for our red wines.
Why will this wine go well with food?
Paumanok Cabernet Franc offers a soft, supple tannin structure and medium body and moderate alcohol. It is pretty and feminine, not a wine that will overwhelm you or your meal with its size and weight. This makes it a great pair with poultry, game and mild cheeses.
Questions for the Chef:
What is your signature dish that goes with Cab Franc?
Roasted Wisconsin Veal Chop with Blue Cheese
Why did you want to become a chef?
My love of agriculture. But I would rather cook than be a farmer because I have more of a say in the final destination of the ingredients.
What is special about this dish?
It tastes amazing...the meat and cheese play off of each other wonderfully.
Where are the ingredients coming from?
The meat comes from Wisconsin. The cheese could also come from there or from Spain, France or Italy and be just as good.
What do you do to make the dish outstanding?
Execute the cooking of the dish well. And use really good products in its preparation.
Why will the dish go well with Cab Franc?
Good roasted meat flavors and really good blue cheese are very good friends with Cab Franc. You could add some toasted walnuts to help the cause.
What is something that can be prepared quickly but tastes as though it took much longer and is unique?
A gratin of tomato and blue cheese with toasted walnuts. Slice some tomatoes...drizzle some walnut oil and season with salt and pepper...top with blue cheese and warm in an oven. Simple and perfect with Cab Franc. Just make sure the tomatoes are ripe. More toasted walnuts could make it even better.
So if you want to try something different, if you like to experiment, or if you are bored with the same old wines - try a glass of Long Island Cabernet Franc which is fun, food-friendly and fabulous. You just might become a Cabernet kind of girl or guy!