The Other Cabernet

abernet Franc is a hard sell. It’s not a lush wine. It’s not usually as complex as Cabernet Sauvignon; it’s lighter bodied, and, if underripe, can have a green pepper aroma and high acidity. These are initial impressions, however. Appreciating Cabernet Franc requires patience—to discover the wonderful inherent qualities of the grape that include dark cherries, fresh herbs and olives. Oak often obscures those flavors in other reds, so oak is often absent in Cabernet Franc.

At the table, it’s great with lamb, Mediterranean dishes and is much more versatile with seafood than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. It takes time to develop in the glass and should be decanted an hour before serving. Lighter versions are best served slightly chilled to give focus to its flavor. The following wines cover a range of styles from rosé to one of the world’s greatest dessert wines and are available in the Madison market.

Joguet Rosé Chinon, France 2007, $23One of the world’s greatest rosés; dry, floral, spicy and complex. It combines serious depth with zesty refreshment. Drink with garlicky steamed mussels.

Domaine de Noire, “Soif de Tendresse,” Chinon, France 2007, $16Lean and mean, with herbaceous notes that recall the flavor of French Grenache. More elegant and drinkable, though. Delicious with grilled snapper with olives and tomatoes.

Hahn Estate Central Coast, California 2006, $12Lots of blackberries and charm here; soft and relatively light with a subtle smokiness and fine acidity. Terrific with grilled salmon.

La Tunella Friuli, Italy 2005, $25Very curranty but dry and suave. Drinks perfectly right now with some oak and cherry flavors. A fine choice to match with hard cheeses.

Inniskillin Ice Wine Niagra, Canada 2006, $95/.375 mLBrilliant aromas of strawberries and spice on the nose followed by a creamy, sweet palate with tremendous thrust and complexity. Fabulous with chocolate mousse.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.