By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Contributor

Whether you are a wine geek who can differentiate the sub-appellations of the Loire Valley or just a happy-go-lucky daytripper winding along a New York State wine trail, you’ve probably experienced cabernet franc.

Long Island got me hooked some years back and I know I’m not the only one who marches up to tasting bars and skips ahead to this variety. Luckily for me, the Niagara USA region is starting to realize the potential of cab franc too as its young vines begin to produce. And, if you’re a cab franc lover planning a visit to the area this season, good examples can be found at several Niagara wineries.

Of the 12 active wineries here, about half of them have released varietal bottlings of cab franc. Of course, because some of these wineries don’t have producing vineyards at the moment, you don’t find many estate bottles — but they’re out there.

Schulze Vineyards and Winery is just about to release its second estate CF (2007); their 2006 vintage sold out last fall. Freedom Run Winery has a 2005 for sale, a bold wine sourced from Long Island in barrel from 2006 and a silky smooth 2007 in barrel from its estate vineyards. Arrowhead Springs Winery harvested cab franc grapes from its young vines this past fall and Leonard Oakes Winery planted some but is currently blending it into a red table wine.

Honeymoon Trail Winery and Niagara Landing both have cab franc sourced from other New York vineyards, and don’t plan to plant any soon. Finally, Chateau Niagara, which is in the early stage of building, has planted some franc along with a few other growers that don’t have plans for a full scale winery operations at this point.

Then there’s Eveningside Vineyards, the Biehl family’s micro-winery in Cambria, NY. I’ve been a fan since the winery opened four years ago. Owner Randy Biehl’s 2006 cab franc is his first released from estate vines and it shows great promise for the grape in this region.

In a style that mimics Ontario’s, it’s dark in the glass with jaw-dropping aromas of blackberry, cherry, black pepper and anise. Its lively acidity dances on the tongue while begging for game, grilled pork or red meats. The finish is its weakest link as it doesn’t linger for too long, but in no way does it subdue my excitement for this wine. Indeed, Eveningside is a must-try for any cab franc enthusiast.

Overall, the release of the hot 2007 vintage of cab francs here should begin to reveal the grape’s potential on Niagara terroir. If they start showing as they do in Ontario, their style will fall in between the bright style of the Finger Lakes wines and the bigger bodied Long Island Cab Francs, providing a happy middle ground for my palate.