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

Decanter - - CONTENT -

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.

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