History of Cabernet Franc in Argentina
The Cabernet Franc grape is an early maturing red vine that does very well in cold climates. Many bibliographies indicate that it originates from Bordeaux, although its true origin is probably in the Basque Country of France.
To be able to talk about how it arrived in Argentina, we must make a brief review of its history.
The spread of the variety across France is attributed to Cardinal Richelieu, who transported vine cuttings from the Loire Valley to the Libournais region of southwestern France in the 17th century. Those vines were planted at Bourgueil Abbey, under the care of an abbot named Breton, whose name became associated with the grape. Later, in the 18th century, plantations of Cabernet Franc (also known as Bouchet) were found in the Fronsac, Pomerol, and Saint Emilion areas and were used to produce quality wines.
The Cabernet Franc grape has gained fame for being a vine with a character that produces young wines (light and fruity), but also excellent wines for aging. We can find, for example, wines such as Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, and Chinon.
Picking up history, as Cabernet Sauvignon became more popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, the close similarity of the two grapes was noted and theories arose about the extent of their relationship. Thus, in 1997 DNA evidence emerged to show that Cabernet Franc had been crossed with Sauvignon Blanc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. Recent research indicates that the Merlot would also descend from the Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Franc in Argentina
Cabernet Franc is known by many names: Breton, Véron, Noir dur, Bouchy, Bouchet, Gros Bouchet, Carmenet, Grosse Vidure, Messanges rouge, and Trouchet noir. However, in Argentina today everyone calls it Cabernet Franc. It is a variety that has been used for a long time in small percentages for blends, but it began to be vinified as a varietal in recent years.
It was Tiburcio Benegas, who brought the first vine shoots from France to replant in his small area next to the Mendoza River, in Maipú, towards the end of the 19th century.
Later, the people of Bodegas Lagarde planted a high-level lot in Luján de Cuyo that was brought from France by Enrique Pescarmona.
However, since his arrival and until 1990, only 76 hectares of this strain had been planted. It was from that year on that the industry began to give it more relevance and some specimens began to be vinified as a 100% varietal. In the year 2000, there were already more than 200 hectares and currently, there are close to 1,500. It should be noted that around 75% is in the province of Mendoza and of that amount, 85% in the Uco Valley. and Luján de Cuyo.
Alejandro Vigil, director of oenology at Catena Zapata and creator of El Enemigo, believes that “Cabernet Franc has several advantages compared to Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon. On the one hand, it is easier to drink and offers an exotic aroma that seduces consumers and tasters. In addition, it is a strain that is very transparent to the terroir and allows the expression of the place to be found. It is a conjunction of taste, sense of place, and character, which makes it unique”.
As for the regions, the Cabernet Francs from high-altitude areas stand out and, therefore, are cold, such as Gualtallary and El Brush, in the Uco Valley, or Pedernal, in San Juan. But they also stand out in areas where there is good ripening, such as Los Chacayes and Paraje Altamira, in Uco Valley, and Agrelo, in Luján de Cuyo, among the favorites of the less expert consumer.
In contrast to the Bordeaux Blend or the Cabernet Franc varietals from Chinon, to mention two world-famous styles, in Argentina the Franc is a deep wine, with a concentrated and very expressive violet color, with aromas of red and black fruits, roasted green pepper (pyrazine), wild herbs and spices. On the palate, it is voluptuous with good tension and firm tannins, which show great aging potential.
While Paz Levinson, a renowned Argentine sommelier based in France explains, “in Argentina, the Cabernet Francs are unique, they maintain a good balance between the purity of the Loire and the structure of Bordeaux. It is a unique combination, where the acidity is medium high, the fruit very clear at the right point of ripeness with wild notes of thyme and jarilla. They are impact wines in the middle of the mouth. The good thing is that they don’t look like Loire or Saint Emilion but with something from both regions they display their own charisma”.
Pyrazine in Cabernet Franc
Pyrazine is an aromatic compound that is very present in varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc. Pyrazines give us that characteristic green pepper descriptor. They vary with temperature. In colder climates, the molecules do not degrade and there is a higher level of pyrazines. On the contrary, in warmer climates, the intensity drops. Another factor that influences is light, so a lot of exposure to the sun lowers the pyrazine load.
In Chinon (France) it takes time to mature due to the cold and produces wines with a low alcohol content of 12°, herbaceous, with notable pyrazines. In Napa (California), on the other hand, they are fat, full-bodied and more mature wines. In Argentina, on the other hand, it gives something in between that makes it more drinkable.
In Argentina, if the Cabernet Franc is harvested early, it comes out more like Petit Verdot, and if it has a lot of pyrazines, it is very tiring. On the contrary, if it is harvested late, the problem of losing acidity and obtaining more cooked aromas arises. This means that the harvest window is smaller, and you must be careful to get the right point. Another way to sustain pyrazine without having to harvest early is to keep the plant with leaves longer to cover the bunches from the sun.
100 Parker Points
In 2018, the critic Luis Gutiérrez, after tasting more than 1,200 Argentine wines, awarded the highest score to the Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard Gualtallary Cabernet Franc 2013, produced by Alejandro Vigil. It was the first time that an Argentine wine obtained 100 points from the Wine Advocate magazine, created by the influential critic Robert Parker.
What do the industry leaders think?
It is important to know the opinion of the protagonists, directors, and/or makers of the leading wineries, since, although there is much talk about Cabernet Franc pretending to be the new Malbec, there is a clear general vision on the subject. Although it has gained some prominence in recent years, Malbec will continue to be the emblematic variety, not only because there are 45,000 hectares versus 1,500 for Cabernet Franc, but also because of the studies that have been carried out over the last decades. and the quality of the wines achieved.
Alejandro Vigil – Catena Zapata / Aleanna (El Enemigo)
“The Cabernet Franc is the grape most like Malbec, not because of its organoleptic characteristics but because it is extremely transparent to the terroir. I see a great future determined by the diversity you can achieve. For me it is easy to redeem it, I have Malbec tattooed on one arm and Cabernet Franc on the other”. But when asked if it follows the same path that Malbec took, he puts a break and explains that “the Cabernet Franc has a lot of potentials, there is no doubt, even as a pair with Malbec, but it is difficult for it to become a similar phenomenon. With Malbec we still have a lot to do, and the best is yet to come”.
Alicia Casale – Andeluna
“For us, Cabernet Franc has always been the star. Since 2003, we have used it to make our top single-varietal wine under the Pasionado label. At the time there were only a few wineries that used it on its own, but after a Master of Wine wrote about the potential for high altitude Cabernet Franc, a trend has developed”. However, Casale believes that Cabernet Franc will never be produced on the same scale as Malbec. “There are not as many places where you can make high-quality Cabernet Franc”, she explains, adding that, “the variety needs coolness, altitude and poor calcareous soil to thrive”.
Alejandro Martinez Rosell – Rosell Boher
The sparkling wine specialist acknowledges that there are certain tendencies of preference for Cabernet Franc. A variety that the local consumer seems to have just discovered, but that has been planted for many years. “Without a doubt, there will be more growth, always as an alternative because there are still few hectares planted”.
December 4, International Cabernet Franc Day
Starting in 2015, to remember Cardinal Richelieu’s legacy, in the south of France, Cabernet Franc Day was celebrated on December 4, the anniversary of his death. Richelieu died at the age of 57 in 1642. The celebration spread internationally under the name of Cab Franc Day.
Want to read more? Try these books!