The 6 Best Napa Cabernet Francs You've Never Tried

The 6 Best Napa Cabernet Francs You've Never Tried
Courtesy of Gamble Family Vineyards‍

There's another great red in the region that you should be drinking.

The famous Bordeaux variety Cabernet Sauvignon tends to eat all the oxygen in the room when grown in its native Bordeaux or elsewhere in the wine world. Despite the fact that none of the other wines could wave their arms hard enough to divert attention from a wine called “the King of Reds,” it was necessary for one to take a different approach to the competition, offering a contrast in subtlety and elegance to Cab Sauv's raw strength.

The grape that I'm referring to is Cabernet Franc. Taking up two-thirds of Château Cheval Blanc's vineyard in Bordeaux, as well as Chinon in the Loire Valley, it has a secret edge on its more celebrated cousin: DNA analysis has shown that Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are actually two of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the lighter touch, finer tannins, and lack of muscle, the wine has mostly been incorporated into blends or, in the past, has gotten little respect on its own.

The public's opinion and winemaker preferences, however, seem to have changed in recent years. Among them is Cabernet Franc, which is showing off its nuance and brightness versus its inky color and weight. Winemakers in Napa Valley are producing equally appealing versions of this wine.

Lang & Reed Napa Valley was founded by John Skupny and Tracey Reed due to their love of the variety.

He says that one of the best things about Cabernet Franc is that it can be paired with a wide range of foods. As a result of the lower tannin structure, the fresh fruit, and a hint of herb/pepper, this wine seems part of the food rather than an overpowering addition.

You would find these 13 bottles to be lively choices with tonight's dinner.

Ashes & Diamonds 2015, 2016 & 2017 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Courtesy of Ashes & Diamonds

With this fantastic vertical, you can taste the first three vintages of Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc under the acclaimed winemaker Steve Matthiasson. With a focus on black raspberry, earth and floral notes, pepper, and graphite, the 2015 is a bright wine. In 2016, exotic spice and sour cherry are complemented by a vein of minerality, ending with compelling textures and length; the 2016 is a little more structured with tannin structure. With a generous structure and a warm and earthy spice, the vibrant 2017 runs under juicy black cherry, accented by cedar and resinous herbs.


Caladan 2018 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Caladan is the latest Cabernet Franc wine from Cardinale’s Chris Carpenter, who also created Lokoya, La Jota, and others. There is a layer of wet-stone minerality and pencil shavings on the nose of this wine, made up of 25 percent Merlot and 75 percent Franc. The nose is filled with spicy rose petals, fresh mint and red berries. Despite its generous nature, the palate is incredibly juicy and delicate. With hints of exotic spice and bright yet gentle acidity, this wine has an elegant structure of raspberry and strawberry compote, cherry, and extra-fine tannins.

Chappellet Vineyard 2019 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Courtesy of Chappellet Vineyard

This new vintage of Chappellet's mountain-grown Franc opens with beautiful aromatics: violets surrounded by fresh herbs; minerally notes close to capturing the essence of volcanic rocky soil; dark berries layered with mocha, cedar and exotic spice cardamom make up the palette. On the palate, there is a vibrant combination of red berries, herbs, and toasted spices. This wine is complex, long, and bordering on opulent.


Gamble Family Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Courtesy of Gamble Family Vineyards

Founded by a third-generation farmer, Tom Gamble and winemaker Jim Close, this bright, elegant red is a blend of mint, red earth and resiny pine. Aromas of mint, red earth, and resinous pine open, followed by dark berries, purple flowers, warm spices, mocha, and gravelly minerality. A pleasant density is balanced by juiciness on the palate, which offers a wide array of pretty fruit, plum, cherry, and red berry, while fine tannins add texture, structure, and richness to the wine.

Howell Mountain Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc Howell Mountain, Napa Valley

Courtesy of Howell Mountain Vineyards

This Cab Franc from Howell Mountain Vineyards has an aroma of slightly briny sea air along with exotic floral and spice notes as well as dark plums and berries and espresso. As the wine continues to unfold, it reveals intense, mouthwatering flavors of spiced berries and cherries, with elegant density and fine tannins that last for a very long time.

Kenzo Estate 2018 asuka Cabernet Franc Napa Valley

Courtesy of Kenzo Estate

A beautiful Cabernet Franc was produced at Kenzo in 2018 by Heidi Barrett and David Abreu, under their winemaking and viticulture skills. The nose opens with dark, earthy notes layered over blackberry, toasted spice, and floral notes. With hints of star anise, clove, and mocha laced in generous blueberry, blackberry, black raspberry, and plum flavors, this wine has a beautiful dense texture. This is a full-bodied wine with supple tannins.

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