Why I Think Cabernet Franc is Better Than Cabernet Sauvignon

There are those things we eat, make, read, and gush over that are just too good to keep to ourselves. Here, we resist the urge to use too many exclamation points and let you in on our latest crushes.

Today: An ode to Cabernet Franc, the largely produced, yet too often unsung, little gem of a wine.

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Cabernet Sauvignon is like the wine world's portly uncle who tells you more than you'll ever want to know about grilling steak. He's big, he's loud, and he needs to be front and center when it comes to food. And there's a time and place for that. But when I'm looking for a varietal for every day—the one that I can drink with dinner or take sips of on its own—I choose Cabernet Franc. 

Somewhere along my armchair journey to find the ideal wine (extensive research, many bottles procured), I happened upon the Loire Valley. A prolific and well-known region for wine in central France, the Loire is exactly how you might imagine a world where Marie Antoinette makes decisions about things: expertly-coiffed gardens, imposing castles, ebullient cuisine—and wine, so much wine. It is in this region where I found my wine soulmate, Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc doesn't get a lot of credit, though it can be found in most wine shops. (And though I'm singing your praises—please stay that way, okay? I'd like to continue drinking you cheaply.) It's often blended with other grapes and can be seen as too thin or too light by lovers of big, swaggering reds. But to me, that's why it's perfection:

With some of your bottles giving off wisps of berry, some smacking more vegetal notes, and still others with more earthiness on the nose than a freshly potted plant, you've got more going on than what meets the mouth, Cabernet Franc. I love how you deeply breathe in your terroir—it can give you such a different personality depending on where you're grown. You slowly mellow with age, but not into a syrup or to the detriment of your characteristic brightness (at least, not too much). 

And hardly anyone even knows that you're actually the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. It's time to deflate that grape's britches, don't you think? The understated is in these days.

Illustrations by Alex Bowman

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Robbie
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  • jackie
I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


Robbie May 16, 2015
PS: love the illustrations. You should sell them.
Robbie May 16, 2015
We visited the Loire Valley in 1995 after our daughter went to school in Tours and instantly fell in love with Chinon wines. It is a Cab Franc made in the Chinon area and usually very dry. Give it a try and I am sure you won't be disappointed.
Doug M. May 15, 2015
If you like Cab Franc as much as I do, please try a Long Island Franc.
Slightly peppery, but luscious and lean.
HRH May 15, 2015
Do you have a favorite? Thanks for sharing, I didn't know about anything about the Long Island vineyards!
HRH May 6, 2015
Big, giant AGREE!!
Akiko May 6, 2015
The illustrations caught my eyes! :)
jackie May 6, 2015
I've spent the past 25+ years living in the Loire Valley and studying and writing about its wines. While I'm happy to see Cabernet Franc get some love, it would be nicer still if the text had been written by someone with more knowledge of the grape and its potential. For starters, the key Loire appellations for Cabernet Franc are Chinon, Bourgueil, St. Nicolas de Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny. Virtually all are made exclusively with Cabernet Franc. When the wine's aroma suggests green bell peppers, it's a sign that the grapes were not aromatically ripe when harvested. When the wine's aroma suggests a potted plant, it may be another problem, such as Brett, though that defect more often reminds me of hung game. In the current issue of The World of Fine Wine I have an article on the wonderful Chinons of Bernard and Matthieu Baudry. You might learn a lot about Cabernet Franc by reading it. Just sayin'.
lizaH May 6, 2015
I'm certainly not interested in reading your article now. Just sayin'.
dymnyno May 6, 2015
I haven't read your article, but it sounds very informative and educational. Your comments, while interesting, hint of wine snobbery which is what we try to discourage. Wine is for enjoyment on many levels and appreciation of wine is a fun process. The readers of this post range from those who appreciate a $6.99 bottle from Trader Joes , a $100.00 bottle of Cab Franc from Constant and a lot who just enjoyed the illustration.
jackie May 6, 2015
@dymnymo: You're right. It does come across a bit snobby. I hadn't had my coffee yet when I wrote it. Blame it on the frustration spawned by the dearth of outlets for serious wine writing.
ellissa J. May 5, 2015
omg alex your drawings! so glad to see them!
Lee L. May 5, 2015
Trader Joe's sells a great Cab Franc called Lazy Bones for $6.99.
dymnyno May 5, 2015
I think I pay that price for my empty bottles! (not quite, but a lot)
Lee L. May 5, 2015
Trader Joe's sells a great Cab Franc called Lazy Bones for $6.99.
ChefJune May 5, 2015
I'm a big fan of Cab Franc, especially from the Loire. But I wouldn't ever say it's better than Cabernet Sauvignon. It's SO different.
The fact that Cab Franc is not better known makes it so much more affordable than just about any other red wine.
Hannah W. May 5, 2015
These illustrations are everything! Brava, Alex!
Chris D. May 5, 2015
Couldn't agree more. I had my first Cab Franc from Coppola Winery back in 1996 when the current building was still under construction and have been hooked ever since. I highly recommend the Cab Franc from Ryme in Sonoma as well, but the Loire Valley still has my favorites!
dymnyno May 5, 2015
I am also a fan of Cab Franc.Like lovers of Pinot Noir, you have to try a lot of labels to find a favorite. I hesitate to order Cab Franc in restaurants unless it's one that I have tried and liked before. Coincidentally, I make a luscious Cab Franc myself. (only sold in my tasting room)