In Around The World In 80 Wine Varietals, contributor Chantal Martineau unearths how a particular grape drinks differently around the globe.

When people talk about drinking Cab, they’re usually talking about big, brassy Cabernet Sauvignon. The “other” Cabernet doesn’t get quite as much attention. Cabernet Franc is underrated by — and even unfamiliar to — many wine folk. And it’s easy to see why: the thin-skinned black grape is mostly used as seasoning in a blend, as much to impart a floral, red fruit or vegetal quality to a wine as to boost aromatics or round out aggressive tannins. When bottled on its own, it has a softer, more esoteric character than the louder Cab Sauv. It can be pretty, if a little brooding: the hot goth chick at the prom.

You might think of the two Cabernets as cousins, but that’s not quite the case. Cabernet Franc is a parent of Sauvignon (the other parent is Sauvignon Blanc). Cab Franc has been busy: it’s given birth to the Carmenère, Merlot and several other Bordeaux varieties. It’s most often combined with one or more of these grapes and/or Cab Sauv for a Bordeaux-style blend. Bordeaux is where the grape has gained the most exposure, but it’s said to have originated in the Loire, where it’s made into a varietal wine. Cabernet Franc, a variety that thrives in cooler climates, is also used to produce Canadian ice wine.

Cabernet Franc is known to have soft tannins and moderate acidity, allowing it to mellow out bolder varieties, like its namesake descendent. Yet, varietal Cab Franc wines can be complex, structured and bright, with intense aromatics. Cooler climates, especially, bring out its natural acidity. Think of it as the geekier Cab, less heavy-handed than so many Cab Sauvs. It can often be drunk young thanks to little or no oak treatment. Again, the stark opposite of big, oaky Cab Sauvs that might need years in the cellar before anyone dare approach them.

Here are 5 Cabernet Francs (and a blend) to look for:

Château Hourtin-Ducasse Haut-Médoc 2009: Using organic and biodynamic principles in the vineyards, this family-run property makes just one red blend. Comprising mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, a good dose of Merlot, and a smaller amount of Cabernet Franc, it’s a great-value wine. Elegant, yet bright. Astor Wines, $25.

Maison Audebert & Fils St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil La Contrie 2010: This 100% Cab Franc from the Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil appellation in the Loire Valley is savory, light-bodied and all-too-drinkable. Forest fruit and earthy notes give way to a hint of spice. Best Value Wines, $15.

Finger Lakes
Eminence Road Elizabeth's Vineyard 2011: This unfiltered Cab Franc is made by the Finger Lakes’ only natural producer. They even crush the grapes by foot. It’s low in alcohol, with assertive tannins and good acidity. Brambly fruit and floral aromas intermingle. Chambers Street Wines, $20.

Niagara On the Lake
Stratus 2009: It doesn’t get much more cool climate than Canada. Our neighbors to the north have made a push in recent years to export their wines. This Cabernet Franc is as good a reason to try Canadian wine as any. Red-fruited and gently spiced, it has some decent weight to it, able to stand up to heartier dishes. Saratoga Wine Exchange, $29.

Russiz Superiore Collio 2008: Located near the Slovenian border, the property dates back to the 13th century. The current owners make a dark-fruited wine with a slight vegetal note. A fine minerality throughout. K&L Wines, $25.

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