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Pure, natural, complete, direct, sincere … all are qualifying adjectives that arise when looking in the dictionary for a French translation of the word “franc”. It is not strange, therefore, that this meaning has been included in the name of this grape, since those who cultivate it know well that it is a super healthy grape, which does not get sick, that it is neat, with vertical buds and that also matures well and usually does not have any problem.
We say that Cabernet Franc is “our father of wine” because it was a prolific grape in descent: he is the father of Merlot (with the Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, mother also of Malbec), of Cabernet Sauvignon (in crossbreed with Sauvignon Blanc), and Carmenere (whose mother is Gros Cabernet).
It is an original grape from the French Basque Country and the traditional areas where it is grown the most are Bordeaux and the Loire Valley (Chiron), where it takes place in a less alcoholic and herbaceous character because it is a cold area. There is also quite a lot in Italy and California. In Argentina, it has been growing rapidly, since in 1990 there were only seventy-six hectares and currently it exceeds one thousand. Even so, it barely represents 0.4% of the area planted in Argentina and 74% is located in Mendoza, where it was planted in areas higher than 950 meters above sea level and of high quality such as Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley.
It is a grape that works very well in blends and in Argentina has had a particular success co-fermented with Malbec. Therefore, in 2017 more than 60,000 quintals of grapes were harvested and domestic consumption increased by 450%, while exports did even more: 600%.
In addition to its plasticity to improve the blends, there is something in the Argentinean Cabernet Franc when it is made as a varietal, which seems to please everyone. On the one hand, it has similar aromas and flavours to those from Cabernet Sauvignon, due to its pyrazines. On the nose, notes of red pepper, asparagus and peas stand out. However, in the mouth it is soft, closer to the Malbec. Let us dig a little deeper about how this is achieved.
The pyrazine is much related to the varietal, the one that has more is the Carmenere, then the Cabernet Franc and the Cabernet Sauvignon and then the Merlot. Malbec, on the other hand, hardly has them. In addition, it turns out that the climate has a great influence on how these pyrazines develop, particularly in this grape of early maturation.
When the veraison begins, the light destroys the pyrazines and that is why in the coldest years the pyrazine does not get to degrade, it remains in the grape and it shows more in the wines. Therefore, in Mendoza, a province where there is a lot of sun exposure, there is a tendency to have wine with less notable, softer pyrazines.
In Chinon (France), it is hard to mature due to the cold and it gives wines with a low alcohol content of 12 °, herbaceous, with remarkable pyrazines. In Napa (California), on the contrary, they are fat, full-bodied and more mature wines. In Argentina, on the other hand, it gives something intermediate that makes it more feasible.
The world king of the pyrazine is New Zealand where they appear prominently in the Sauvignon Blanc, due to the sea mists. The same happens in Sonoma and in Chile where they give aromas to eucalyptus and pepper.
In Argentina, if the Cabernet Franc is harvested early, it looks more like Petit Verdot, and if it has a lot of pyrazines, it could be very tiring. On the contrary, if it is harvested late, the problem of losing acidity and getting more cooked aromas occurs. It follows that the harvest window is smaller, and we must be careful to get the right point. Another way to hold pyrazine without early harvest is to keep the plant more time with leaves, to cover the clusters from the sun.
It seems that several Argentinean wineries are finding out how to manage this noble strain, which is demonstrated in the number of labels already offered on the market. In my opinion, those who occupy the podium of the Argentine Cabernet Franc are:
In the summers, as a child, I went all over a small vineyard of white grapes in Patagonia (Río Negro), with my grandfather and my uncle. I saw them elaborating homemade wine using an old press. All memories that kept alive the flame of the interest that made me devour all the texts related to wine that fell into my hands. I felt included among the “serfs of the wine” named by Miguel Brascó in his column in La Nacion magazine. Almost without realizing it, I became an oenophile. I enjoy wine, I taste it, I research and I relate to the people of the world of wine. I tweet and I write a blog called “El Angel del Vino” (the angel of wine) where I reflect these experiences: I spread the word about Argentinian wine and I stand up for it.