Until New World wine makers discovered them, the Cabernet Franc and Carménère varieties were known mostly as blending grapes, used to tweak the characteristics of more noteworthy wines such as the famous red wines of Bordeaux. As these grapes found their way into the Americas, they have been reinvented as varietal (single variety) wines. One of the best things about these new varietals is their newness; something different from the usual Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Franc is principally known as the third grape, behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in the red Bordeaux blend. Cabernet Franc probably originated in Eastern Europe, finding its way to France via Italy and finally to the New World. Notably, the much more famous Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of cross breeding Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. On its own, Cabernet Franc produces silky, velvety wines with good acidity and notes of black berries, prune, plum, cherry, clove, pepper and leather. Cabernet Franc is food friendly, pairing well with tomato sauces, ham, pork, veal and poultry as well as red meats and game.
Carménère [Car-men-yair] was at one time the occasional sixth grape in the red Bordeaux blend. When disease devastated France’s vineyards in the 19th century, Carménère was not replanted and disappeared. In the early 1990s Carménère was discovered growing in Chile. It apparently had been accidentally imported from France with Merlot vines in the 1860s and was only revealed with the advent of DNA testing. Carménère varietal wines are deep, dark and rich, with flavors of black plums, licorice and mocha. A little like Merlot on steroids. Carmenere is for rich, multi-flavored dishes such as boeuf bourguinon, coq au vin, hardy stews, etc. Also try it with bittersweet chocolate.
If you like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot you will probably enjoy Cabernet Franc and Carménère as well. If you can’t find these specific labels, explore on your own. I think you’ll become a fan just as I have.
Lapostolle Carménère from Rapel Valley, Chile
Red Varietal - 89 percent Carménère, 6 percent Merlot and 5% percent Syrah.
Notes: Intense purple color. Notes of fresh white pepper with chocolate and tobacco aromas. Juicy and round with a nice texture, full of fruit flavors.
A Dry Red – Cost: $$ out of $$$$$
Calcu Cabernet Franc from Colchagua Valley, Chile
Red Varietal - Cabernet Franc
Notes: Dark in color, this smells great, with cassis, plum and black cherry aromas, bearing very little herbal character. It feels tight and secure, with ripe blackberry, tobacco and oak flavors.
A Soft Red – Cost: $$ out of $$$$$