Since Canada stepped onto the international wine market, we have been known for ice wine and little else. While the folks at home are well aware of the quality of dry and sparkling wine coming from British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec, we are still struggling to prove this to the rest of the world. Most wine regions throughout the New World ride out their international acclaim on the back of a particular varietal; New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley cab, Argentinian malbec, and the list goes on and on. Now, what if Canada were to find a varietal that is both looking for a little limelight and is perfectly suited to our cool continental climate? This is where I introduce Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet franc, or cab franc, is the humble parent grape to the prodigious cabernet sauvignon and this early ripening varietal is used mainly as a blending grape in Bordeaux to help assist the aromatics in merlot and cabernet sauvignon. With the odd exception, it is only in the Loire Valley of France where this underrated varietal is paid the attention it deserves. High acidity, fine tannin and green herbaceous aromatics are all classic characteristics of cab franc, and these qualities are all enhanced by cool temperatures and relatively shorter growing seasons.
Full bodied, powerful wines made from varietals like cabernet sauvignon often struggle to reach full phenolic ripeness in Canada and the wines are often left unbalanced with bitter and astringent tannins and very little body or weight to them. Cab franc, on the other hand, is right at home in our Canadian climate and passionate winemakers like Norm Hardie and Tyler Harlton from TH Wines and are working hard to produce stunning examples, comparable to the great wines of Chinon and Saumur.
The other wonderful thing about cab franc is how food-friendly the wines are. It can be quite challenging to find a red wine that tastes as good with your arugula salad as it does your rib eye. This is where cab franc outshines other red wines. With its clean, palate cleansing acidity and apparent (but not overwhelming) tannin, these wines will pair with anything from roast pork loin to grilled New York strip; and their bright herbal and grassy notes will help to tie together all other components of the meal. And as the Foodie movement rages on in Canada, having a secret weapon like cab franc in your back pocket for those tricky food and wine pairings isn’t such a bad idea.
TH Wines 2015 Cab Franc
Tyler Harlton began his life on a farm in Saskatchewan and after a career with the NHL, followed by move into practicing law, he returned to the land with TH Wines, where his line of By Hand wines is just that, done by hand. From the harvesting of the grapes to the final step of taking the bottle off the line, these wines are made with care and passion. The 2015 vintage was a remarkable one that is delicate while showing beautiful characters of cranberry and ripe raspberry with silky tannin and underlying notes of eucalyptus and rosemary. The 2016 Vintage has just been released at the winery and we are patiently awaiting its arrival in Alberta. Until then, we’ll happily sip on the 2015 bottles.
Norman Hardie 2015 Niagara Cab Franc
If anyone is going to bring international acclaim to Canadian cab franc, it’s Norm Hardie. His chardonnays have received glowing reviews from the world’s top wine critics and it is only a matter of time before the world realizes how outstanding his cab franc offerings are. In the vineyard, he employs rigorous canopy management, cutting back the vines to allow the grapes as much sun exposure as possible and allowing the fruit to fully ripen. The 2015 Niagara cab franc took its time developing, but after almost a year, it presented itself with intense depth and richness. The palate is full with tart cherry, cranberry, dill and fresh tobacco with a beautiful, gravelly finish and silky tannin. These are powerful wines. Again, the 2016 vintage has just been released at the winery and Alberta continues to enjoy the stunning 2015 bottles.