By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 9 April 2022
‘The old order is being rocked – there is a new pretender at the door’. This is according to wine expert Oz Clarke who believes that the red grape we should all be focusing on right now is – Cabernet Franc.
Clarke highlighted the wonders of the grape in a recent tasting with New York State wines – where Cabernet Franc is one of their most planted grapes – comparing New York’s wines with others from around the world.
He pointed out that Cabernet Franc can retain freshness and varietal character better than its offsprings Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot in the face of climate change. It can also cope better with unexpected late season rains, humidity and winter cold – so we will be seeing more of it in the future.
‘Cabernet Franc is so good at adapting to different climates, soils and it relishes different winemaking styles’, says Clarke. ‘In the Fingers Lake of New York State for example it is the hardiest of the red vitis vinifera grapes, able to withstand wind chill temperatures down to minus 24 degrees’.
Whilst its origins are unclear, it is believed Cabernet Franc originates in the Spanish Pais Vasco Basque country and became the dominant grape on the west coast of France between the Pyrenees and Brittany – until it was overshadowed by its offsprings Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot everywhere apart from the Loire.
Until recently Cabernet Franc has been regarded worldwide primarily as a ‘filler’ or ‘freshener’ grape in blends with its better known offsprings. Now we are increasingly seeing it as a single varietal wine – with an ability to deliver great flavour at modest alcohol levels.
Loire is one of the few places where it has retained its importance, particularly in Chinon, Bourgeuil, Saumur and Anjou Rouge – and it is still highly respected on the right bank of Bordeaux in St Emilion blended with Merlot. In Italy it grows mainly in the north east, but shows potential in Tuscany’s Bolgheri, usually used in blends.
In USA, Cabernet Franc is the third most planted grape after Riesling and Chardonnay in New York State. According to co-owner Josh Wig of Lamoreaux Landing (pictured above) in the Fingers Lakes wine region whose flagship red T23 Cabernet Franc came top in the tasting: ‘Cabernet Franc works well here, it is very expressive of where it is grown, very cold hardy and has a large window of ripeness here”.
Even in warmer microclimates in the New World, Cabernet Franc can deliver attractive fragrant, elegant wines with herbal undertones and good natural acidity either oaked or unoaked. Many Californian estates grow the grape where it is swallowed up in blends, but fine varietal examples are emerging from Sierra Foothills region. It performs well in South Africa; estates to watch in Stellenbosch include Warwick and Raats Family Wines – and in Franschhoek, Chamonix estate.
One area where Cabernet Franc is showing itself as a serious contender is in Eastern Europe. Cabernet Francs from Haralambievi winery in Danube Plains and Bratanov winery in South Sakar in Bulgaria are worth seeking out.
On a recent trip to Hungary I was very impressed with the Cabernet Francs from the far south of the country in Villany region with impressive powerful ripe single varietals from Heumann (pictured above), Bock and Vylyan wineries – and in Szekszard region from Posta Borhaz and Takler wineries.
New York State, USA: T23 CABERNET FRANC 2020 Lamoreaux Landing (12.7%) ***STAR BUY***
£19.99 Daniel Lambert Wines; St Andrews Wine; Fountainhall Wines
Loved the crunchy cranberry and raspberry freshness, soft textured, impressive pure unoaked example of the Cabernet Franc, showing how impressive this grape can be in Finger Lakes region.
Loire, France: ANJOU ROUGE L’ARDOISE 2020 Domaine des Rochelles (12.5%)
£9.25 The Wine Society
For those who like the light fresh side of Cabernet Franc, this Anjou Rouge has an attractive juicy fruit and vibrant acidity without being too raw and extracted. Serve this summery red slightly chilled on its own or with a platter of charcuterie.
Villany, Hungary: LA TRINITA VILLANYI FRANC PREMIUM 2017 Heumann (15%) ***STAR BUY***
£30 Wanderlust Wine
A stand-out wine in a recent Cabernet Franc tasting held in Hungary – made by a Swiss couple in the far south of Hungary who planted French clones on loess and limestone. Very elegant, good depth, well integrated oak (matured in Hungarian oak for 24 months) – good length. Impressive.
Mendoza, Argentina: APELACION PARAJE ALAMIRA CABERNET FRANC 2018 Zuccardi (14.5%)
£15-£17 Vinvm; Oxford Wine; Wimbledon Cellars; Wine Reserve
Sebastian Zuccardi plants Cabernet Franc on chalky limestone creating a rich powerful robust style with rich chocolate flavours, black pepper notes and densely packed fruits which would benefit from further bottle age.
Stellenbosch, South Africa: CABERNET FRANC 2017 Raats Family (14.5%)
£30 Oxford Wine; £28.50 NY Wines
Bruwer Raats makes the Cape’s most impressive single varietals – deliciously dense dark cherry flavours with spicy undertones, lush texture and superb length.
Danube Plains, Bulgaria: ROYAL ROUGE CABERNET FRANC 2019 Haralambievi (14.5%)
£13.95 The Old Cellar
Winemaker Dimitar Haralambiev nurtures Cabernet France in his Dabnika single vineyard on the banks of the river Vit near Gorni Dadnik. A modern fruit-forward soft approachable style with juicy freshness, soft texture, ripe cherry fruits and dark chocolate finish. Good value.
Join Rose’s South African wine tasting in Edinburgh on Thursday 9 June www.rosemurraybrown.com