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Ironstone 2016 Cabernet Franc: Comparing the Reserve and the Not Reserve #WinePW

For March's Wine Pairing Weekend, Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm is hosting us. She's prompted us to explore Cabernet Franc from Around the World; read her invitation here.

The Varietal
I'll be frank: Cabernet Franc isn't a varietal that usually grabs me. I don't know why. I have done entire dinners around it and I try to like it! I really, really do. Back in 2016, this was my menu and wine pairing...

Cab Franc-Friendly Cheese Plate: Port Salut + Gorgonzola
Grilled Baguette and Warmed Olives
paired with Maquis Cabernet Franc 2012
Cabernet Franc from Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, Chile

Coffee-Rubbed Prime Rib
Cast Iron-Seared Pork Chops
Pickled Apples
paired with Raats Cabernet Franc 2012
Cabernet Franc from South Africa

Cab Franc Brownies with Drunken Cranberries
Brown Butter Pecan Pie with Espresso Dates
paired with Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc 2013
Cabernet Franc from North Coast, California

I cooked, I poured, and I paired three different Cab Francs from three different regions. None were particularly stunning. Six adults eating and tasting and none were winners. 

have enjoyed Apple-Braised Duck Legs + Dracaena's Cab Franc. And, Jake and I just recently paired Steak au Poivre et Thé + Martian Radiant Cabernet Franc 2014 to great success. So while there are varietals that are always a hit with me no matter where it's made, Cab Franc is one that I find more finicky. Or, perhaps, it's more accurate to say that I am more finicky about it. Oh, well. I'll just keep trying. Life is rough for a food and wine blogger, right?

During another wine group chat, David of Cooking Chat and I connected on Good Reads and I found this title on his virtual bookshelf - Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine by Jason Wilson.* I was immediately intrigued and ordered up a copy for myself. I did enjoy these passages about Cabernet Franc:

"For years, I've thought, if you are becoming more adventurous in your wine drinking, if you're curious to explore beyond plump, ripe, and oaky, if you like eating and drinking food and wine together at the same time...well then you really should be drinking more cabernet franc. ...Why cabernet franc remains so unpopular in the United States, however, has perplexed me. Just like cabernet sauvignon and merlot, it's one [of] the official grapes of Bordeaux blends. In fact, cabernet franc is the parent of cabernet sauvignon, so its origin is even more ancient. Ampelographers consider it to be a so-called 'founder' grape" (pg. 24).

"An appreciation of savory wines is slowly spreading among young wine drinkers. Maybe cabernet franc isn't a wine that finance bros, neckties thrown over their shoulders, will expense at a steakhouse. But if you haven't been paying attention, here's a news flash: People are eating fewer warm-blooded animals these days, and so wines have to pair with dishes besides medium rare meat. ...Perhaps surprisingly, a wine with notes of pencil shavings nd olive match really well with foods we actually eat these days" (pg. 25).

#WinePW's Cab Franc Line-Up
Thank you for stopping by to learn about Cabernet Franc Wine.  Please join us for twitter chat following #WinePW on Saturday, March 9, at 11 AM ET.

Our Comparison
So, for this post, I decided to not do a food pairing and provide a recipe. We were invited to a dinner and I offered to bring the wine, so I didn't cook! Shocking, I know. I told the hosts and the guests that I wanted to get their thoughts on a side by side comparison. Same vintner. Same varietal. Same year. Can you really discern the difference between a reserve wine and a not-reserve wine? I asked. I was curious!

So, we started with the Ironstone 2016 Cabernet Franc. It was labeled as from Lodi. And we moved to the Ironstone 2016 Reserve Cabernet Franc listed as from the Sierra Foothills.

A few details for you. The Ironstone 2016 Cabernet Franc is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot. We found this one balanced and softer with notes of red berries and a hint of spice. The Ironstone 2016 Reserve Cabernet Franc is comprised of 85% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petite Sirah, 4% Zinfandel, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.

"Much drier!" was the comment everyone made. And while most of us prefer dry to sweet, this one was almost tongue-tinglingly dry - and not in a pleasing way. With a suggested retail value of only $14 for the non-reserve Cab Franc, we decided we would rather have two bottles of that one than a single bottle of the Reserve that retails at $28.

So, was there a marked difference? Sure was. Was it worth the difference in price? That's a resounding 'no'. Not for us.

Our friends served succulent 'bird in a nest' which was spatchcocked chicken smoked on beds of fresh rosemary from their garden, maple syrup-basted sweet potatoes, and a green salad. I will say that with food, the Reserve softened. But I still vastly preferred the non-reserve version.

So, do you have a Cabernet Franc that you really like? What it is? I'll happily track a bottle down and give it a try. Cheers!

Next month, we'll be looking at biodynamic wines from anywhere in the world with Gwen at the head. Here's her invitation!

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.


  1. although still not a main grape varietal people look for, I am so thrilled to see that more wineries are making a single varietal and more people are welcoming giving it a try!

  2. An interesting comparison between the two wines: I think I would have thrown my lot in with the non-reserve wine, too. But that dish at the dinner party might just be the star of this post. Smoked over rosemary? Holy moly!

  3. I love that you compared the reserve and non reserve and tickled that you preferred the latter. Great post Cam.

  4. Love the comparison! I do love very dry wines but when it's "tongue-tinglingly dry", they may have added too much barks, branches or left grape skins to ferment for way too long

  5. I love Cab Franc, but I completely understand why it's not for everyone. It's great that you continue to explore as well.

  6. Love that you still keep exploring Cab Franc despite your history with it!

  7. Interesting that you liked the non-reserve so much better! I like both of Lori's Cab Francs, but her new reserve is definitely worth seeking out.


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