With a crisp acidity and various floral notes, depending on where it's made, this light white has a bit of fruit and is excellent to sip on the patio or pair with a variety of foods.
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Bottle of Halcyon Wines white cabernet franc wine
Credit: Courtesy of Halcyon Wines

The sweet smell of summer is just around the corner. And, while you may be tempted to rosé all day or start pouring your favorite sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, there is another white style of wine that should be on your list this year—white cabernet franc.

You may be familiar with the red varietal, a French grape that is a parent to many other red varietals. Cabernet franc is sometimes used as a blender grape, but other times, it stands on its own. Now, some winemakers around the U.S. are putting their own spin on it, creating a white wine you'll never want to stop sipping.

Kim Elwell, who co-owns Halcyon Wines with her husband, Tyler, says that the duo dreamed up the idea to create a white cabernet franc since they work exclusively with the grape. The result, she says, has been a hit. "We wanted to produce something fun and easily drinkable in summer," she says. "Tyler thought the varietal would work well as white wine, and he was right. It's been one of our most popular wines."

On the East Coast, Marin Brennan, winemaker for Long Island-based wineries Bedell Cellars and Corey Creek Taproom, says she started playing with the varietal a few years ago. "My favorite grape variety on the North Fork is cabernet franc and I reimagined this noble grape. It does so much for our region—it expresses our terroir better than other varietals and it really expresses our unique location, our sense of terroir," she says.

So, how does this red varietal appeal to a new set of tastebuds? Well, the grapes may be the same, but the winemaking process is done in the style of white wine. When making a red cabernet franc, Brennan says the grapes come off the stems, crush, and go into a tank for fermentation on the skins, which helps to give them color. From there, it goes through primary fermentation, sits on skins for a bit longer, then pressed off skins and aged in a barrel. For the white version, Brennan takes full grape clusters and puts them in a press to gently remove the grapes from the skins. From there, it goes into a cold tank, allowing the lees to settle, and then it ferments in a stainless steel tank. "By pressing these grapes whole cluster so lightly, it has the varietal character of cabernet franc with savory herb notes but takes on this entirely new persona as a white wine," she says.

Tasting Notes and Perfect Pairings

Brennan explains that her version of the white cabernet franc is a testament to the terroir of Long Island wine country, as is important to her to represent. Like the red version, it has notes of fresh and savory herbs and earthy notes, as well as an energetic saline minerality. It is also ripe with notes of stone fruits, like ripe white peach and juicy nectarines, and vibrant citrus fruits.

"White cabernet franc has such a unique character to it with a lot of the characteristics of the red with this nice, bright acidity. It is really nice to be surprised by those flavor componets," she says, explaining that seafood dishes, farm fresh salads and even roasted Brussels sprouts are particularly delicious with Corey Creek's style of this wine.

Elwell says that the tasting notes of Halcyon's white cabernet franc include citrus, a little greenness, makrut lime, floral notes, and pairs perfectly with foods like oysters, goat cheese, and seared scallops. White cabernet franc is also a wonderful patio sipper, light and crushable, and is intended to work with just about anything on your plate.

"Ultimately, this wine will accompany with any dish you enjoy. It's very versatile, has a medium body and can pair with a wide range of ingredients," says Brennan.

A Bright Future for Whites From Red

Elwell doesn't see this style of wine growing to a fever pitch as cabernet franc isn't a varietal with mass appeal. She does, though, hope that consumers become a bit more familiar with it, either through red or white styles. There is one trend she does see happening though. "I do think winemakers will continue to embrace and experiment with making white wines from red grapes," she says.

That's a trend Brennan is already seeing in Long Island wine country, as some of the wineries there are experimenting with white merlot and white pinot noir. Meanwhile, she is focused on her third release of this very special wine, and hoping more consumers will lean into the crushable white. "I'm elated with the positive response this wine has received because I truly enjoy creating it and that it's found a following," she says. "The future is bright for white cabernet franc."

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