Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The other Cabernet

In most wine lovers’ books, Cabernet is shorthand for Cabernet Sauvignon, one of wine’s global superstar varieties. However, there is another Cabernet, rather less celebrated, that deserves more recognition – and which might just be on its way to coming out from the shadows: Cabernet Franc.

With such similar names, you might imagine that these two Cabs are related, and you would be right. It might surprise you to know, though, that it is Cabernet Franc that is the genetic daddy, and Cabernet Sauvignon the young pretender.

Cabernet Franc is an ancient variety that seems to have originated in the Spanish part of the Basque country and at some point it headed north to Bordeaux, where it retains a stronghold. Once there it got together with Sauvignon Blanc and the result was Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bordeaux is all about blends, so Cabernet Franc is usually found in a supporting role there and is rarely the headline act, even if its influence is key. Further north, in the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc gets to sing solo in famous red wine appellations such as Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur Champigny.

New World winemakers have not, it has to be said, fallen over themselves in their rush to plant Cabernet Franc. But those who have tried, and got it right, are making some delicious, fresh, perfumed and juicy wines that could be stars in the making.

Here are some of my favourite Cabernet Francs, ranging from their French homeland to the foothills of the Andes.

Les Nivières Saumur Cabernet Franc 2014 - £8.99, Waitrose
This is an ever-reliable Waitrose stalwart that demonstrates the variety’s appealingly fresh, sappy red fruit character. This is a perfect summer lunch wine (come on sun!).

Domaine des Roches Neuves “Terres Chaudes” 2013 – around £22 from Les Caves de Pyrène (Guildford) and other independent merchants
This is the other face of Cabernet Franc – here there is elegance, but also ageworthiness and power from a leading organic and biodynamic estate in Saumur-Champigny.

Pulenta Estate Gran Cabernet Franc 2011 - £22.95 from Winedirect.co.uk, £28 from Harvey Nichols
This Argentinian beauty is the New World Cab Franc that really made me sit up and take notice. This is ripe but so refined, with elegant, layered fruit that unfolds on the palate. A stunner, and a great demonstration of what a bright future this variety could have in Argentina. For a more wallet-friendly introduction, search out Bodega Atamisque Serbal Cabernet Franc 2015, £11.99 from New Forest Wines, Fareham Wine Cellar and The Guildford Wine Company.

If you are still in any doubt as to the quality and pedigree of Cabernet Franc, then I suggest you pick up a bottle of legendary St-Emilion producer, Château Cheval Blanc 2000 (47% Cabernet Franc, the rest Merlot) next time you’re browsing the shelves of Hedonism Wine in Mayfair. I tasted it at Cheval Blanc three years ago and it was quite sublime – and a bottle can be yours for a smidge under £1300.

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