South American Cabernet Franc
Although vineyard plantings remain small, producers in Argentina and Chile are rapidly discovering the potential of this grape in their soils. Patricio Tapia reports
44 wines tasted A strong showing from a small field shows this is a new alternative that’s well worth exploring
Five years ago, a tasting of south american Cabernet Franc would have been something of an eccentricity. Perhaps we would have found good examples, but the number of samples would have been scarce. Today, however, that situation is changing – and fast.
That said, the total number of hectares planted with Cabernet Franc in south america remains small. The biggest plantings can be found in argentina and Chile, but Cabernet Franc represents just 1.15% of all the varieties planted in Chile; while in argentina that figure doesn’t even reach 0.5%. Coming from a small base, growth has nonetheless been significant. in 1996 there were only 17ha of Cabernet Franc planted in Chile; by 2016 plantings had risen to 1,578ha. similarly in argentina, only 207ha of the grape were planted in 2000; today that figure stands at 929ha.
Finding a style
These numbers show enthusiasm for Cabernet Franc in both countries, but arguably argentina has been leading the way. alejandro vigil of Catena Zapata, explains the appeal of the grape for argentinian winemakers: ‘Cabernet Franc gives us the tannin structure that Malbec doesn’t have, and also the herbal notes that you don’t find in Malbec either.’
These structural tannins and more pronounced herbal notes are found especially in cooler areas such as the Uco valley. of the total plantings in argentina, 685ha are in Mendoza – and half of those are in Uco valley. in this high-altitude, cool-climate area the argentinian Cab Franc community is finding a new home, making wines that have more in common with the Loire than Bordeaux; tenser acidity, lighter-bodied and more herbal.
But this isn’t the only style of Cabernet Franc being made in argentina. you can also find more structured and riper wines, especially from the warmer areas in Luján de Cuyo. For the lover of Franc, the diversity that argentina offers today can be a delicious surprise.
in Chile, the grape is still a secondary player, almost always in the shadow of Cabernet sauvignon when it comes to blends. a succulent and mature style is still predominant, especially in the warm Central valley. and although the country has vineyards along its coastline, coastal examples of Chilean Cab Francs are scarce.
Without either the winemaking tradition or the vineyard plantings of Malbec, Carmenere and Cabernet sauvignon, Franc is nonetheless gradually gaining a space in the south american varietal range. its herbal aromas and firm structure bring new flavours and textures to the reds from that part of the wine world.