Cabernet Franc: It may be noble, but is it underrated?
At 3D we have recently enjoyed the opportunity to taste some of the fresh new 2014 Cabernet Francs that have arrived in bottle from the Loire Valley. We work with vineyards in the appellations of St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny and the Anjou.
All make a red wine from Cabernet Franc. There have been some challenging vintages for red wines in the last five years in this, one of the most northerly climates of all for high quality red wines.
However, our vignerons let out a collective sigh of relief after the difficulties of 2012 and 2013. The charming, modest Jean-Albert Mary of Domaine de la Cune in Saumur-Champigny described the 2014 vintage thus:
‘It was a good vintage, we are very happy! Our yields in 2014 were 54hl/ha. The year before they were just 29hl/ha – so in terms of volume alone it was a relief for us … we had wine to sell!
Our harvest began on the 3rd October with the Chenin Blanc for crémant. It finished on the 29th October gathering the Cabernet Franc from beside the house for Les 3 Jean [3D Wines’ exclusive wine]. We are usually the last in the appellation to finish’, he said with a rueful smile. ‘We pick by hand and a lot of selection was necessary in 2014.’
The Mary brothers really do coax incredibly deep colours from this grape – something their fathers and grandfathers would not have dreamt was possible, together with rich, almost sumptuous flavours and smooth, juicy tannins.
So how is this achieved?
Global warming is certainly a factor, but only part of the story. Leaving the grapes on the vine well into late autumn can mean better ripeness and higher alcohol levels. But then they face the danger of bad weather at any time. Their method of viticulture has changed too – more work on the vine canopy during the growing season has meant better exposure to sunlight. Lower yields have meant better bunch ripeness. Finally, their winemaking techniques have evolved too, with longer, gentler extraction giving more flavour, colour and body.
There aren’t many places in the world where Cabernet Franc is used exclusively in the blend. Normally you see it in conjunction with our varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bordeaux, and especially the right bank, are famous for such blends. Here, Cabernet Franc gives a fragrance to the wine as well as a spicy top note to the blend.
In the Loire, in good, sunny vintages where proper ripeness is obtained, it can be deeply coloured, floral, spicy and brimming with fresh raspberry, blackcurrant and blueberry flavours. It has good juicy acidity and a firm structure, thus allowing it to age well for a decade or more. With age, Cabernet Franc can be savoury with an earthy, gamey almost meaty core and spicy, floral fragrance.
However in difficult years, like 2006, 2012 or 2013 it can be lean, green and stalky. Thankfully, these types of wine are few and far between nowadays.
There is no doubt that Cabernet Franc from these Loire appellations in good vintages can be sublime. When we tasted our exclusive Saumur-Champigny Les 3 Jean 2014 a few days ago, it was utterly delicious and a testament to great winemaking.
There have been many wonderful vintages of our exclusive wine over the two decades we have been working with them. Vintages 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2011 have all been marvellous years – producing wines which are delicious young and fresh, but also age brilliantly well too.
If you have some 2005s in your cellar you are very lucky – and the 2009s are just gorgeous right now.
Tasting note on the 24 May: A ‘fruit day’ in biodynamic calendar
Saumur-Champigny Les 3 Jean 2014, Domaine de la Cune
‘Medium deep purple ruby hue. Lovely attractive floral nose; wild strawberry, violet and chocolate. The palate is fresh, supple and juicy with blackberry and blueberry fruit overlaid with leather, spice and cream. The tannins are velvet smooth and the finish is very long, elegant, almost delicate. A beautifully made wine that can be enjoyed now but should age well to around 2023/2025.’
Cabernet Franc is a very food-friendly grape having good structure and acidity. It can go well with fish, lightly chilled. Try seared Salmon or tuna. Grilled chicken, tender lamb, BBQ burgers or Sunday roast beef will all bring out the best in this most noble of grape varieties.’