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Your new favorite wine grape might just be Cab Franc

As April gets into full swing, we look back fondly on March - and another great Taste Washington Wine Month. That's right, an entire month to celebrate wine. While wine is worth celebrating every month, March was the time when the local wine industry converges to party.

But this year, a varietal nudged its way into the conversation of some of the more exciting wines coming out of Washington - Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc isn't a new varietal to the Washington wine scene (Walla Walla Vintners is into their 20th vintage of Cab Franc), but after two days of wine tasting at Taste Washington, Washington Cab Franc is having a moment. At Taste Washington, there were over three dozen wineries serving up Cab Franc and I tasted almost all of them to dive into the deep end of the varietal and how it shows itself through these wines. And these wines should definitely be on your radar to try.

If you're not familiar with Cabernet Franc, the grape's spiritual home is in the Loire Valley of France. In that part of France, Cab Franc from regions like Bourgueil, Chinon, and Saumer provide a beacon on what this wine can be. Much like the Rhone for Syrah or Burgundy from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc shines in the Loire Valley. Cabernet Franc is also one of the five grapes permitted for Bordeaux production. Other parts of the world growing Cabernet Franc include Italy, Canada, and Argentina. Cabernet Franc's flavor notes of red fruit, with some spice, coupled with its medium body, bright acidity, and restrained tannins provides versatility to go with a slew of dishes. Know that it'll go with a ton of dishes from Alaskan King Salmon to a grass-finished ribeye (and that's just scratching the surface.) This versatility with food and fresh acidity has made Cabernet Franc a favorite of the sommelier set.

In Washington, you'll find styles of Cabernet Franc that are an homage to those of the Loire, but with their own spin that makes them wholly 'Washington'. You'll also find styles that hew richer and more powerful that embrace their Bordeaux-esque affinity. If you're ready to pop the cork on some Cabernet Franc, seek out those from Cadence (where Ben Smith crafts Cab Franc-driven blends like his Bel Canto and Coda), Tranche, and Owen Roe. But after a weekend at Taste Washington, there were a few Cabernet Franc wines from new-to-me wineries that were exciting and on my must watch list for the future. We'll get to those in the recap right now:

  • As I was on a mission for Cabernet Franc, the one from Willow Wine Cellars was a stunner; 100% CF from Boushey Vineyards, this wine was balanced and fresh, hitting all the notes you'd want from Cab Franc. Willow Wine Cellars is a relatively new winery with a few vintages under their belt, but I'm looking forward to more of their wines.
  • Other enjoyable Cabernet Franc wines that I tasted were from Barrister Winery, Guardian Cellars, Pollard Vineyard, and Structure Cellars. If you see these on your wine shops shelves, give them a whirl.
  • As we're in 'Rosé Season' (although I'm of the belief that every season is rosé season), check out the Rosé from Two Mountain Winery from Yakima Valley. Theirs is 50/50 Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon and is a crowd pleaser. Here's where it gets better; they bottle them in 8.5oz bottles with a crown cap (like a bottle of beer, or Mexican Coke). Genius. I always like clever packaging, and when it includes wine, even better.
  • On the topic of cool packaging, check-out the wines from Cascadian Outfitters. This new project from Goose Ridge introduced themselves at Taste Washington, and they're in cans. You heard me, CANS. There are three non-vintage wines in the suite; Chardonnay, Rosé, and a Red Blend. They're fun wines that transport easily and make for a new way to drink wine.
  • Smockshop Band is new to me and I'm excited to see what they do next. Funky wines that are imminently drinkable and enjoyable, their Pinot Noir was a delight. Yup, Pinot Noir from Washington. Check them out.
  • Speaking of Pinot Noir, Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars was pouring his and it made me want to sign up for his wine club to hoard bottles of it.
  • Other favorites from Washington that were drinking well included àMaurice, W.T. Vintners, Savage Grace, Kevin White, Avennia, Sonoris, and The Walls. All were pouring some fun, balanced, and distinctive wines.