Cabernet Franc has had a chequered romantic life. There was a fling with Sauvignon Blanc that led to the birth of a child, Cabernet Sauvignon. Later a drunken one night stand with a grape whose name is now forgotten resulted in Merlot. As the Greeks have taught us, children have a tendency to usurp their parents. And lo, these two brash upstarts eclipsed poor toothless Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux, and then went off to conquer the world leaving Daddy only a small principality in the Loire (there was a final son, Carménere, who in the manner of youngest sons throughout history was sent to the Americas to find his fortune.) Happily for this most elegant of grapes, fashion in wine has started to swing away from big bold alcoholic wines towards something a little more drinkable. The key word these days is freshness something that old Cabernet Franc has in spades. In the past, it had rather too much freshness and not enough fruit. The reds of the Loire, Chinon, Bourgeuil, Saumur and Anjou, could be green and ungenerous in light vintages. Today the wines are considerably riper, a consequence perhaps of global warming or just better work in the vineyard and the cellar. Thanks to the interest in ‘natural’ wines, the Loire is about the coolest (in both senses of the word) place on the planet to make wines. The Franc is back and showing the upstart grapes who’s the daddy.
Saumur ‘Les Nivieres’, Cave de Saumur, 2010 – £7.99 (Waitrose on offer for £5.99 until 8 May)
Ripe modern Loire Cabernet Franc at a good price. For me the hallmark of Loire Cab Franc is a mouth drying fresh taste that reminds me of licking slate. As I’ve never licked slate I don’t know why this is what springs to mind but try it and I think you’ll know what I mean. Whereas in the past this slateyness was all you might get from the Loire this one also with a friendly dark fruitiness (blackcurrants perhaps.) Very nice if served chilled.
Hilltop Premium Cabernet Franc, Eger Region, Hungary 2009 – £9.50 (The Wine Society)
This is what happens when the variety goes on holiday somewhere hot. On the nose it’s very perfumed, very aromatic, very Cabernet Franc with some toastiness from oak aging. In the mouth the extra sunshine shines through. It’s positively voluptuous with hints of caramel and honey but all balanced by trademark Cabernet Franc freshness.
Chinon ‘Les Roche’, Alain & Jerome Lenoir 2004 – £14 (259 Hackney Road)
This is not the sort of wine that welcomes you into his home, kisses you on the cheek and then offers you a drink. Instead it lurks menacingly in the dark and dares you to take a sip. I took a sniff and got a hint of strawberries before a powerful stench of dungeons came in and overwhelmed my nose. Another sniff, strawberries and perhaps oranges and then cold dank dungeons again. It’s a bit like that in mouth, hints of ripe fruit menaced away by black tannin. With pheasant stew the menace retreated and the wine became drinkable and ultimately rewarding. There’s so much going on here. It’s a hugely complex and uncompromising wine that needs food and ideally decanting a day in advance.
*I’m not just being metaphorical here, Cabernet Sauvignon really is a cross between Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot is a cross between Cab Franc and Magdelaine Noire, and Carmenére’s other parent is Gros Cabernet. (source Wine Myths and Realities Benjamin Lewin MW 2010)