Daily Herald
Humble Cabernet Franc brightens green foods
By Mary Ross | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 5/19/2010 12:02 AM

Bourgueil "trinch!"

2007

Catherine & Pierre Breton

Loire Valley, France

• Suggested retail and availability: $19.99 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Maverick Wine Co., Bensenville)

Welcome spring with this juicy mouthful of ripe, dark berries with herb, olive, pepper and smoke complexity and pleasingly firm finish. You can almost sense the wine's mouth watering for a bite of grilled meat, salmon, poultry and rich veggie dishes. I'll fire up the grill, you pour the wine.

Do you like olives (black, brown and/or green)? How about pepper (green or black peppercorns and all bell peppers), asparagus or rosemary?

If you like these flavors, a chemist would say you like methoxypyrazine, the compound that makes asparagus, herbs and other foods taste "green."

And if you like methoxypyrazine, I would say you like Greek chicken, grilled tuna with olive tapenade, Italian sausage with green peppers, all served with Cabernet Franc.

Most wine drinkers know the Cabernet family's patriarch, Cabernet Sauvignon. It grows in the greatest regions (such as France's Bordeaux and the U.S.A.'s Napa Valley) and yields some of the wine world's most complex and valuable flavors.

Few folks know Sauvignon's humble cousin, Cabernet Franc. It too is grown in Bordeaux, but primarily as a blending grape. Cabernet Franc ripens in the cool, damp conditions of an early growing season, thereby avoiding October drought and frost that plague late-ripening Sauvignon. Franc's early ripening promotes light, fruity and herbal (methoxypyrazine) flavors that add nuance to Sauvignon, as it matures in oak for elegance and power.

Franc gets more respect in France's Loire Valley where tiny villages of Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur-Champigny bottle 100 percent Cabernet Franc for firm yet mouthwatering flavors of red fruits and herbs, unobscured by oak aging.

The finest wines develop with age, but why wait? These juicy berry flavors and tobacco (methoxypyrazine again) accents call for immediate gratification. Just place your bottle in the fridge for a soft chill, then serve up a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc like Filliatreau's Saumur "Chateau Fouquet" (about $14) or Ross's Choice, to add refreshment and richness to your favorite international green cuisine, whatever its color.