Cabernet franc is a grape that's often found in supporting roles but is seldom the star. That's a shame, because it has such outstanding qualities to offer on its own. The Loire Valley and Fronsac are some of the grape's traditional homes, but it is starting to appear as a varietal wine more regularly in Argentina -- with great results.
We first sampled an Argentine cabernet franc many years ago from Kaufman, a small winery in the province of San Juan, north of Mendoza. It had an uncommon richness and a way of blending sweet and strong, almost meaty flavors that was rarely present in malbec or cabernet sauvignon. The dry and challenging climate in San Juan seemed like a great place for San Juan to thrive, alongside syrah and tempranillo.
Cabernet franc is often used to add structure to Bordeaux-style blends in Argentina, and it also rounds out some malbecs and cabernet sauvignons sold as single varietal wines. (As long as a wine has 85 percent malbec grapes, it can be marketed as malbec.) On its own, it offers dark flavors with a touch of heat, and a hint of sweetness that's more rich than fruity.
This week we're pleased to present two 100 percent cabernet franc wines from Mendoza, both from the Paul Hobbs family of brands. The 2011 Riglos Gran Cabernet Franc has a smooth and intriguing interplay of citrus and woodsy flavors with smoked pimiento and chocolate, while the 2010 Pulenta Gran Cabernet Franc gushes with unctuous pepper flavor like a Texas chili -- which, incidentally, would make a phenomenal pairing. Both wines come from high-altitude vineyards (Riglos from Gualtallary in the Valle de Uco, and Pulenta from the high Agrelo in Lujan de Cuyo) where the grapes' flavor is especially intense.
We also tasted the Morena 2009 Red Blend from Vina Alicia, in which cabernet franc (12 percent) plays second fiddle to its offspring, cabernet sauvignon (88 percent). Here the dark depths of the two grapes intensify each other for a profound drinking experience.
At Argovino, we hope that we'll see more cabernet franc in the near future, especially since it provides such an elegant contrast to malbec. Where grapes like bonarda might cannibalize the malbec share of the American market, fine cabernet franc might create a niche all its own. Salud!