Cabernet Franc is a tricky wine. From anecdotal evidence, one either loves it or hates it, having been scarred by bad ones. I am in the former camp, after being wooed by Ormonde’s wild and juicy Ondine Cabernet Franc. And since, I have been on a hunt to sniff out as many single varietal Cabernet Francs as I can.
Most of us enjoy Cabernet Franc as a small component of a Bordeaux blend – that’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Because Cab Franc on its own is still somewhat of an acquired taste it seems, not many wine makers release a pure Cab Franc. It is also a high maintenance grape to cultivate: it costs three times as much per hectare to grow and harvest Cabernet Franc as it does Cabernet Sauvignon. Too much of a financial undertaking for a wine that doesn’t have such a large market potential. Yet.
But things are changing. The fact that a large percentage of wine farms I visited specifically to taste and buy Cabernet Franc had – devastatingly – sold out is a testament to the fact the grape has a cult following. Hearing fantastic things about the quality of the Cabernet Franc at Raats, I made an appointment to visit the farm in Polkadraai, Stellenbosch.
Bruwer Raats is Mr Cabernet Franc. So passionate is he about the beauty of Cabernet Franc as a single varietal wine, he has decided to do what few wine makers do and only make Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, his other baby (who happens to be the sister of Cabernet Franc’s “wife” Sauvignon Blanc).
Bruwer is on a mission to make Cabernet Franc accessible so that people can appreciate how it might just be the most perfect single varietal red wine.
Even his stunning Bordeaux blend Red Jasper – named after his late father – is 85% Cabernet Franc (thus, could technically be classified as a pure Cab Franc) with the other Bordeaux grapes together making up the remaining 15%.
His dedication to focusing on just one red wine has more than paid off. Not many wine makers can claim that their wine – the Raats Family Cabernet Franc – has made it into the Top 5 Cabernet Francs in the world, eleven years running. Besides this superb number, Raats also makes a Cabernet Franc for Woolworths which has won the Classic Niche Red Award. At R145, it is pretty much the price good Cabernet Francs start at. Below R100 and it will probably be undrinkable.
Sitting between the Woolies and the Family Cab Franc is the Dolomite. So named after the type of granite soil that Cabernet Franc needs to grow in (it is very soil specific). It is this soil that gives the wine its fine tannins and minerality. Easier drinking – shorter maturation time on oak, rather like how Pinot Noirs are made – yet still showcasing the grapes complexity.
It is thought that long ago Cabernet Franc originated in the Basque region of Spain, where it is called Acheria, aka the Fox. It then made its way over to France’s Loire Valley where its reputation grew and is now doing well in New Zealand, Chile, Hungary, Virginia, Northern Italy and Argentina, where there is a big drive for it going on.
It has small berries and thick skins, which give it its intense colour – traits it passes down to its son, Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Franc + Sauvignon Blanc = Cabernet Sauvignon). Cab Franc also happens to be the grandparent of Carmenere, Merlot and Malbec, thus, 4/5 of a Bordeaux Blend IS Cabernet Franc from a genetic perspective. The Carmenet (a Medoc name for Cab Franc, FYI) family tree of grapes, makes up 20% of worldwide vine plantings.
A Cab Franc will give you fruit, spice and herbaceous character: no other red varietal gives you all three! On the palate one can expect medium body – Cab Franc should never be a monster – silky tannins, red cherries and red plums, hints of thyme and oregano herbs with an element of those sweet, oriental spices: cinnamon and star anise. And with Cab Franc one gets a linear mouth feel – it tantalises the front, middle and back of your palate.
Bruwer Raats – supported by wine guru Jancis Robinson in touting Cab Franc as the varietal of the future – is soon to set up focus groups here in SA to get more people talking about and interested in making this super grape more of a feature in our vineyards.
So, where to get started on the Cabernet Franc crawl? First stop would be Woolies to pick up the Granite Soils Cabernet Franc which Raats created specifically for them. Then try and get your hands on any of the below – in addition to the full Raats range – which come recommended by Bruwer:
- Warwick Estate, Paarl
- Hermanuspietersfontein, Hermanus
- Oldenberg, Stellenbosch
- Chamonix, Stellenbosch
- The Mentors by KWV, Paarl
- Rainbow’s End, Stellembosch