Sean Larkin was born in Inverkeithing Fife, Scotland — perhaps a unique place to start for someone who would end up founding a small, high-quality Napa winery. Upon coming to the United States he worked in the sheet metal trade, but at some point decided it just wasn’t for him. I first met Sean in the 1990s when he was running the wine program at a New Jersey restaurant. While there he fully immersed himself in the world of wine, learning everything he could. He would tell clients, salespeople, family, and friends that one day, he was going to California to make his own wine. And one day, he did. Through contacts he made at the restaurant, Sean was able to study under several top winemakers, helping him get his start.
In 1999 he released his first wine, a Cabernet Franc that was good enough for Robert Parker to give him a favorable mention and a pretty good score (91). It was a gutsy move at the time, as Cabernet Franc had nowhere near the recognition it does today. Even now it’s not the easiest sell compared with wildly-popular Cabernet Sauvignon, but Sean continues on, unfazed. In addition to the tiny quantities of high-quality Cabernet Franc, Sean has also added Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot releases under both the Larkin and Jack Larkin labels — the latter created in 2004 and named for his son.
Cabernet Franc Facts
Less weight and more aromatic intensity than Cabernet Sauvignon
Stews and braised meats
The Loire Valley's most renowned red wines, Bourgueil and Chinon, are made from Cabernet Franc, as are the mostly lighter, friendlier wines of Anjou and the somewhat more serious wines of Saumur-Champigny. Until recently, the aroma and flavor profile of Cabernet Franc had been decidedly out of step with the tastes of modern wine drinkers: herbal and peppery, with notes of tobacco leaf, menthol, and licorice, and often rather dry-edged tannins. But thanks to a recent string of favorable growing seasons , and to considerable work in the vineyards to reduce vine yields and promote greater ripeness of the grapes, today's Loire Valley Cabernet Francs possess more flesh and sweetness of fruit than ever before. These Cabernet Francs are also wonderfully flexible at the table. (Incidentally, when it was discovered that a compound called resveratrol, which is found in the skins of many red grapes, offers cardiovascular and anticarcinogenic benefits, the Cabernet Franc variety was found to be particularly high in this substance.)
There are also ample plantings of Cabernet Franc in the New World where the grape is used as it is in Bordeaux, in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the Napa Valley, there are excellent examples, particularly in the cooler mountain settings where Cabernet Sauvignon struggles to reach optimum ripeness. Some worthwhile single varietal bottlings are being produced by Pride Mountain, Chappellet, and La Jota, among other producers.
Surprisingly, Cabernet Franc is also showing some success elsewhere in North America, including in Virginia, near Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson first attempted to produce fine wine. Pay attention to current efforts, as these are proving more successful than Jefferson's early endeavors.