Janice and a friend were doing a final Okanagan wine trip this past August when a guy at a winery said, “We have the best Cabernet Franc in the valley.” Janice took this as a challenge and based her October tasting on BC Cabernet Franc wines. We were presented with eight wines to see if the recommended wine was indeed the best.
Long considered nothing more than a blending wine, Cabernet Franc is the parent to both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon making it ideal for a cool climate region, and it adds a note of complexity to blends. It is lighter in tannins, colour and body. Its home is in Bordeaux, where it is primarily used in right-bank Merlot blends.
Cabernet Franc is the fourth most common red grape planted in BC, primarily in the Similkameen, Osoyoos and Oliver regions and it makes up 12% of the total red wine grape crop having grown steadily in the last decade or so. Even Lillooet and Kamloops – in the right spots – are producing some impressive Cabernet Franc.
Until about 20ish years ago, it was uncommon to see single-variety Cabernet Franc wines in BC. It tended to always be used as a part of a blend, typically Bordeaux-styled (Meritage) blends. When you see a Cabernet Merlot blend in BC, it will most likely be Cabernet Franc and not Cabernet Sauvignon that is being used, and often Merlot is leading the parade.
We began, as always, with a social greeting wine. In this case, a 2009 Stellar Jay Pinnacle Method Classique. This Sumac Ridge sparkler is 100% Pinot Noir aged en tirage for more than 48 months. Richly flavoured, elegant, and with finesse. 13% ABV. $50
“Made in the traditional method from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and aged ‘in triage’ or, on the lees for more than 48 months. Copper/orange colour with medium-minus intensity. The nose is classic blanc de noirs, especially with red fruit compote. Well balanced with a good mousse. The flavours reflect the nose followed by a medium-long finish. One of BC’s best sparkling wines.”
Then it was on to the challenge to find the best Cabernet Franc wine from those in front of us. When the blind tasting was finished, and the bottles unwrapped, these were the results:
Second Chapter Foundation Series 2016
$35.00 14.5% ABV
Two people’s favourite and two people’s second favourite. My #3 (tied)
Overall number 7.
Fairview Cellars Premier Series 2019
$35.00 13.7% ABV
Three people’s second favourite. Tied for third place for me.
Overall fourth place.
Valley Commons 2018
$35.00 14.7% ABV
One person’s favourite and two people’s second favourite. My #4.
Bench 1775 2015
$35.00 15% ABV
Two people pegged this as their #1 and three people had it as their #2. My second favourite.
Overall third place.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve 2016
$35.00 14% ABV
One person had this as their #1 and three people had it as their second favourite.
Fifth place for me and the group.
Vanessa Vineyards 2015
$60 14.1% ABV
Three people ranked this as their number one wine and three people had it as number 2.
My #1 and the groups.
Wayne Meadows 2020
$NA. 13.3% ABV
Wayne Meadows is a highly respected home winemaker and is known for his amazing wines. This entry though didn’t show as well as it should as it was only bottled four days previously, although one person had it as their second best. Likely bottle shock.
Black Swift Hans Estate 2018
$45 15.25% ABV
This was the favourite wine for two people and four people placed it as #2. My # 6
Needless to say, all showed classic Cabernet Franc character with aromas and flavours of bell pepper, black currant, bramble, cherry, crushed gravel, dried herbs, dust, earth, plum, raspberry, spice, strawberry, tobacco leaf, and violets.
When we had finished, Janice revealed that it had been Black Swift that claimed to be the ‘best in the valley’ and two in the group concurred.
Now it has to be said that in this group, it is not uncommon for people to disagree. One might say, “my favourite wine” while the next says, “bottom of the pack for me,” so group averages must be taken with a grain of salt. As always, with wines of this calibre, the difference in averages between wines was minimal.
Interestingly, my two favourites were both 2015 vintages, a very good year for BC reds and perhaps a reflection of my appreciation for well-aged wines.
So, did the Black Swift live up to its claim to be the best in the valley? Well, two people thought so, but most of the wines had their supporters. The takeaway? If you are drinking BC Cabernet Franc, it is hard to go wrong.
Finally, our show and tell for the evening, courtesy of Wayne Meadows, was an ivory cage corkscrew, made in France around 1750 – 1775.
(All photos – Sam Hauck)