First Cabernet Franc tasting at the Kensington Wine Market. And to be perfectly honest, I was little bit anxious… When preparing myself for a class, I always try to find that balance between what people expect to taste, and my vision of the theme, or in this case, the varietal. Of course, I want to surprise our guests with a few wines or style that they didn’t expect. But the truth is that I had no idea where to start! What do people really know about Cabernet Franc? When helping customers in the store, I noticed that very few people actually know about the varietal, and often time, just think that Cabernet Franc and Cabernet sauvignon are the same. So who signed up for the class? Loire Valley aficionado like myself, people looking to learn more about a not-so-common grape varietal, or people that were expecting big, fruity and lush Cab Sauv?
I decided to go all in, and to present Cabernet Franc without interference as a single varietal -with the exception of the last wine of the night from Bordeaux- and to take our guests on a journey around the world to discover the true character of this intriguing grape, softer progenitor of the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon.
NV Château de Targé, Saumur Brut Rosé $24.99
Saumur-Champigny, Loire Valley, France
From the warmest appellation of the Loire Valley, Saumur, the cabernet franc comes from a 0.50 ha vineyard with clay & limestone soil dedicated to the production of their sparkling wine. This brut rosé has a delicate salmon color, with aromas of rose petals, cranberry & raspberry, with a distinct hazelnut character. On the palate, it has a very subtle fruitiness reminiscent of crushed strawberry and raspberry, with a hint of orange peel and a little bit of that nuttiness that was so pleasant on the nose. Fresh, full of joy, and the perfect way to prepare our palates for the great wines that are following. Santé!
2014, Domaine de La Noblaie, Chinon Les Blancs Manteaux $27.99
Chinon, Loire Valley, France
This wine takes his name from the calcareous “Tuffeau” (local white limestone of the Loire Valley) hillside where the grapes are grown. The vines from this parcel have an average age of 60 years. The result: an aromatic wine that is balanced and elegant, with a lovely fruitiness, a refreshing green bell pepper tone, supple tannins, and a calcareous finish. Delicious, but maybe a little too firm for immediate consumption. I am convinced that this textbook Chinon will improve nicely over the next 5 years. Interesting fact: 2014 is the first vintage certified organic of the Domaine.
2014, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc $45.99
Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
Norman Hardie’s approach is to use very few modern techniques in the cellar. This “old world” approach entails using absolute minimal amounts of sulphur, natural yeast from the vineyard, extended fermentation on the skins, and natural malolactic fermentation in the spring. It takes tremendous experience and guts to take this natural approach in such a youthful vine growing region (less than 15 years of history, 9 years VQA); Norman Hardie do it because of his dedication and desire to create wines that taste of a sense of place or Vins de Terroir. It is even more impressive considering that 2014 was one of the coldest vintage in Ontario’s history. Wonderfully low 10.5% alcohol belies richness and vibrancy. This single vineyard Cab Franc displays the fresh acidity and bright, vibrant fruit for which the County’s limestone soils are renowned. Light bodied and delicate, yes, but the wine doesn’t lack flavor intensity. The fruit is ripe and I didn’t find any harshness or green astringency on the palate. I was very impressed by the quality of this wine, considering the extreme conditions of the vintage. Kudos to Norman Hardie for this beautiful Cab Franc!
2014, Kitten Swish Target Practice Cabernet Franc $50.99
Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
Kitten Swish is a micro-négociant wine company, a partnership between the well-known Calgary based Sommelier Brad Royale and Importer Mark Kuspira. This is how they describe their goal: “To create these wines, we find partners from around the world who share a sense of place, a wisp of style, and a relevance to the current state of taste.” The vineyard used for this cuvée is located in the west Osoyoos area of south Okanagan Valley, and is planted with relatively young Cabernet Franc vines, on a sandy soil. 50 cases of this wine were produced in collaboration with Laughing Stock winery. Abundant and perfumed, with notes of lush red and black raspberry purée, hibiscus syrup, and soft spices. The palate is expressive and pretty, with a core of red plum, red bell pepper, and raspberry jam infused with pink peppercorn.
2011, Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc $28.99
Sagrada Familia, Curico Valley, Chile
Valdivieso’s history goes back to 1879, when Don Alberto Valdivieso founded Champagne Valdivieso, the first sparkling wine house in South America. In the early 1980s they then began to produce still wines and, ever since, Valdivieso has obtained outstanding results and has become the most awarded Chilean winery in the history of the Challenge International du Vin in Bordeaux. The 2011 Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc is from a dry-farmed vineyard planted in the 1920s from a small appellation, Sagrada Familia, in the Curico Valley. It has a ripe nose, with a serious profile, plums, cedar wood, violets and sweet fruit notes, and in the palate it shows polished, velvety tannin. Rich, deep on the palate, with superb concentration of flavor and elegant structure.
2010, Altolandon, CF de Alto Landón $36.99
Manchuela, Central Spain
Manolo Garrote and Rosalía Molina planted their first vines in 1999. Their vineyards, among the highest in Spain (1,050m), are located in a plateau surrounded by mountains in the village of Landete in Cuenca. All of their wines carry the DO Manchuela label. Altitude was the key factor in the choice of grape varieties, and the resilient and versatile cabernet franc was the perfect candidate. Vibrant, floral, fruit-driven red, but with an extra layer of complexity brought by ageing. The fermentation took place in stainless-steel tanks but up to 25% of the wine is aged in terracotta vessels (locally called “tinajas”). Interesting fact: Altolandón obtained their vegan wine certification in December 2015. We are very proud at KWM to work in exclusivity with this amazing Spanish producer!
2013, Château Teyssier, Le Dôme $225.99
80% Cabernet Franc ; 20% Merlot
Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
Composed of 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot, this cuvée has one of the highest percentages of Cabernet Franc of any Bordeaux wine. Sweet notes of forest floor, blueberries and raspberries jump from the glass of this dense purple-colored Saint-Emilion. Medium-bodied with ripe, well-integrated tannins, good acidity and an attractive plump, sweet, succulent character (atypical for a 2013), this beauty is a brilliantly crafted wine from proprietor Jonathan Maltus. There is an annual production of 750 to 1,000 cases of Le Dôme and the fruits are from parcels located near Château Canon, Château Beau-Séjour Bécot and the even more famous Château Angélus. The “garage” revolution of the 1990′s, started in Saint Emilion, was an engine for change in winemaking and the impact of this has been heard throughout the world of wine. Estates that traded merely on their names now embrace the oenological technology and viticultural passion brought in by the Garagistes. Jonathan was in the middle of this movement with his sought-after wine Le Dôme being one of the top-three cult wines from Saint Emilion.
I built my selection of wines for this tasting with a single objective: to present the classic French regions of production of Cabernet Franc, and to put the wines in contrast with Cabernet Franc wines from modern styles from all over the world. The result of the vote:
First (almost unanimously!): 2010, Altolandon, CF de Alto Landón, from Spain
Second: 2011, Valdivieso Single Vineyard Old Vine Cabernet Franc, from Chile
Third: 2014, Kitten Swish Target Practice Cabernet Franc, from Okanagan BC
Modern style, with a riper profile and fuller body, was definitely the style preferred by our guests tonight. That being said, I really think that we all learned a lot about this grape varietal and the way that it can adapt itself to different climate and type of soils. I will continue to educate our customers about the great wines from France, but with a different perspective, and maybe with a few alternative styles to recommend as an introduction to the varietal. But to me -and even more so after conducting this tasting-, Cabernet Franc stays one of the most balance, silky, perfumed and interesting grape varietal on the planet. Thank you for reading and I hope to chat with you soon at the store about the Cabernet Franc wines.