Aromatic, complex and a wine lover’s favourite, a good bottle of cabernet franc can set you back just £9
ByVictoria Moore, WINE CORRESPONDENT24 June 2022 • 11:30am
Winemakers love the hedonistic kick of perfume you get from cabernet franc CREDIT: Ruby Martin for the Telegraph
Years ago, on holiday in the Loire, I stayed at a chambre d’hôte in a small château, where we drank the local red and were given seafood in aspic as part of the set dinner. That seafood aspic – a great, turned-out mound of it studded with octopus tentacles and scallops – defeated me. The wine didn’t. It was a fragrant cabernet franc that smelt of redcurrant leaves and summer berries.
Loire cabernet franc is a classic, a red that is lovely to pour in summer, yet this grape too often gets overlooked. In supermarket tastings cabernet franc seems to have been sidelined in favour of wines from trendy countries (Portugal and Greece), unexpected countries (Hungary, India and China), those made with lesser-known grapes (hello, Alicante Bouschet) or indeed almost anything else.
If you ask restaurateurs what diners ask for, cabernet franc rarely makes it on to the list, which almost always starts with rosé, malbec and sauvignon blanc.
At the top end it’s quite a different story, especially if you look at blends. Cabernet franc is hugely appreciated by winemakers in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux, who prize the aromatic quality and freshness it brings to merlot and cabernet sauvignon. In Bolgheri, the wine region in coastal Tuscany that is the birthplace of the Super Tuscan Sassicaia, cabernet franc plantings are increasing for the same reason, while Paleo, a 100 per cent cabernet franc from Le Macchiole winery, sells for around £70.
The Loire is cool. I mean thermally, although in wino circles it is hip as well – winos from both the old (claret) and new (Jura, Beaujolais, South Africa, etc) schools are among the keen advocates of Loire cabernet franc. The relatively fresh temperatures of the Loire mean that cabernet franc grown here is typically medium-bodied, with a crunchy redcurrant edge and a gentle leafiness, like a fruit garden in full flush.
Pour a cabernet franc from one of the Loire regions of Saumur, Saumur-Champigny, Chinon, Bourgueil or St Nicolas de Bourgueil and you’re pouring a little bit of early summer to go with your rack of lamb with pea purée, home-made lamb burger made with a spoonful of redcurrant jelly, or barbecued lamb and garlic kebab eaten with raita and new potatoes. Need a good one? Domaine des Sanzay Saumur-Champigny 2020 (Haynes, Hanson & Clark, £14.95) is gorgeous.
Plant cabernet franc somewhere warmer and you get a plusher wine, but one that is still aromatic. That’s why winemakers in countries like South Africa and Argentina have been quietly getting into cabernet franc – winemakers love the hedonistic kick of perfume you get from this grape.
Bruwer Raats is a flag-bearer for cabernet franc in the Cape. He’s been focusing on it for more than 20 years and makes delightful wines – try Raats Family Wines Jasper 2019 (Handford, £20.99) which is a blend of 53 per cent cabernet franc with malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Also in Stellenbosch, Glenelly Estate makes a cabernet franc in its Glass Collection whose structure is reminiscent of a supercharged claret (Lea & Sandeman, £14.95).
But perhaps it’s Argentina that has the biggest chance of re-popularising cabernet franc for new drinkers. There, in the shadow of the Andes, cabernet franc is cushioned and ample, thicker and sometimes oaked to bring more texture and structure. It’s a different take and one worth trying.
Wines of the week
Taste the Difference Morador Cabernet Franc; DV Catena Cabernet Franc Historico; Gaia Cabernet Franc Organic
Taste the Difference Morador Cabernet Franc 2020
Argentina (15%; Sainsbury’s, £9)
Rich, oaked and high in alcohol, making for quite a chewy and concentrated style. Good for the BBQ.
DV Catena Cabernet Franc Historico 2018
Argentina (13.5%; Tesco, £12)
Catena is a big name in Argentinian malbec but here turns its expertise to making a sumptuous cabernet franc.
Gaia Cabernet Franc Organic 2019
(Argentina 14.5%; Vintage Roots, £17.95)
Brilliant wine from a family domaine that has been organic ever since it was founded in the 1990s by a Frenchman from the Languedoc.