Exploring Cabernet Franc wines

French Cabernet Franc comes mostly from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. For Bordeaux Cab Franc blends, the wines from St.-Émilion and Pomerol are the best regarded. Most imported Loire reds are 100% Cabernet Franc; the wines below are just a small sample of what's available at your local retailer. The domestic wines selected here contain a significant percentage of Cab Franc in their blend, in most cases more than half, and show the herbaceous Cab Franc character.

In addition, many wineries sell 100% varietal Cab Franc in their tasting room or online wine club. (That leftover blending wine has to go somewhere!) I've tasted some delicious examples from Robert Sinskey, St. Supéry, Chateau St. Jean and Niebaum Coppola. These are Napa wines, so they don't come cheap, but they're nearly always cheaper than Cabernet Sauvignon.

2006 Domaine de la Pépière Cabernet Franc "La Pepie." Delightfully fresh and light, this entry-level Loire Valley Franc leads with aromas of violets and dried plums. Its flavors are clean and mildly smoky -- and it's mercifully light in alcohol (12%). About $12 at K&L Wine Merchants, Hollywood, (323) 464-9463, www.klwines.com.

2004 Couly-Dutheil Chinon "Clos de l'Echo." Very dry, very firm and layered, this elegant Chinon leads with animal-leather scents and violets. It's lean and very mineral on the palate, with a dark plum and cassis tinge, and mineral finish. About $23 at Du Vin Wine & Spirits, West Hollywood, (310) 855-1161, www.du-vin.net; and at K&L.

2005 Yannick Amirault Bourgueil "La Coudraye." All meat and black cherry at the moment, with a nervy edge to the wine that calls for food. With its scents of roasted meat, the flavors are more driven by the core of plum and spice. About $20 at Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454, www.winex.com; and the Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731, www.winehouse.com.

2005 Château du Hureau Saumur-Champigny. From producers Philippe and Georges Vatan, this deeply colored wine is all plum and pepper in the aroma, at once ripe and edgy. Its flavors -- salted plum with just a hint of olive -- show a fine depth of flavor, brought to a firm close by a brisk mineral note. About $15 at Mission Wines, South Pasadena, (626) 403-9463, www.missionwines.com; and Wine Exchange.

2005 Château Vieux Clos St. Emilion. Soft and fruity with a fine mineral grounding, this blend of Merlot and Cab Franc, with a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon, has a plummy scent, black currant flavors and mildly cedary tannins. About $22 at Duke of Bourbon in Canoga Park, (818) 341-1234, dukeof; Red Carpet Wine Merchants, Glendale, (800) 339-0609, www.redcarpetwine.com; Woodland Hills Wine Co. in Woodland Hills, (818) 222-1111, www.whwc.com; and the Wine Exchange.

2006 Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc. Youthful plum and black cherry scents lead in this wine, the herbaceousness coming through with some air. A white pepper adorns the flavors along with a note of dried herbs. Widely available for about $20, including at Larchmont Village Wine (323) 856-8699; the Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock, (323) 478-1985, www.cowineco.com; and Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles, (310) 475-0606, www.wallywine.com.

2004 Soter Vineyards Napa Valley Little Creek. With Right Bank, below, this wine gets at the heart of what American Cab Franc can accomplish. Composed of 75% Franc, with the balance Malbec and a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon, its aromas are a fine bright red cherry and currant, with just a hint of cigar box and saddle leather. On the palate it's elegant and bright, plainly in the middle spectrum, with a finely wrought texture that finishes with bracing acidity and light tannins. About $80 at John & Pete's Fine Wines & Spirits in West Hollywood, (310) 657-3080, www.johnandpetes.com.

2004 Lang & Reed Napa Valley Right Bank Red Wine. This blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot leads with creamy scents of plum and black cherry, showing the barest hint of herb. The texture is as smooth as polished stone, with soft fruit accents and fine-grained tannin; with excellent length and just a hint of herb on the finish. About $80 at Manhattan Fine Wines in Manhattan Beach, (310) 374-3454, manhattanfinewines.com; and Wine House.

2005 Cadence Red Mountain (Wash.) Bel Canto. Cab Franc makes up half of this blend from Washington, with the balance Merlot and Petit Verdot. Franc, though, carries the wine with its aromas of violets and red cherry and hint of pipe tobacco with a note of cherry. Its palate is light and fresh, with notes of red cherry and herbs. It has a lightness to its texture, driven more by acids than by tannins. About $60 at K&L Wine Merchants; and at Vendome Liquors, various locations.

2004 Andrew Will Red Mountain (Wash.) Ciel du Cheval. This blend of mostly Merlot and Cab Franc from the vineyard Ciel du Cheval in Washington leads with powerfully ripe cherry and plum aromas, but settles down in the glass; with air, scents of earth and dried flowers emerge. It's a deep red experience on the palate -- plums and cherries, informed by an earthy, vinous structure, and fine tannins. About $55 at Manhattan Fine Wines.

-- Patrick Comiskey

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