A Cabernet Franc study, with UK fine wine merchant Lay & Wheeler

This was a Zoom tasting with UK fine wine merchant Lay & Wheeler, with wines in small bottles courtesy of the team at 67 Pall Mall.

It was led by Lay & Wheeler buyers Robbie Toothill and Catherine Petrie, who had chosen the selection of wines. They chose very well.

Cabernet Franc is undervalued. This might be because it is seen as a blending grape in Bordeaux, but it actually makes complete wines in its own right.

It hails from Basque country in Spain (its parents are Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza), and perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that it’s one of the parents (along with Sauvignon Blanc) of superstar variety Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s found as a solo player in the Loire, where the old weedy, green, somewhat unripe red wines are now largely a thing of the past. Loire reds are seriously interesting these days, and fly a bit under the radar.

In this tasting we had two Loire reds, both from Chinon. Then a pair of Bordeaux wines in which Cabernet Franc takes lead billing. And then one example each from Italy and South Africa. Some of these wines blew me away.

Cabernet Franc, Chinon (picture credit:Photo credit: Juan Trujillo Andrades for Lay & Wheeler)

These are my notes.

Jérôme Billard Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Pierre de Tuf 2018 Loire, France
Two parcels planted in the 1940s on clay/limestone soils. Brooding, concentrated blackberry, black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Fully ripe, with some notes of gravel, ash and chalk, with fine-grained tannins and plenty of presence. Lovely fruit intensity. Hard to spot as a Loire wine from this warm vintage, and quite lovely. 93/100

Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie 2014 Loire, France
Charles Joguet achieved fame with this domaine, but when it was sold, it lost its way a bit. But fortunes have revived under winemaker Kévin Fontaine (he joined in 2006), and now the domaine is on top of its game. Dioterie was the first single plot wine that Joguet isolated, and it’s next to cellar, on a NE-facing clay-limestone slope. Vinification is gentle extraction followed by long elevage (the wines usually spend three winters in barrel). Very refined nose with aromatic berry and cherry fruit with some chalky notes. The palate is fresh and seamless with a bit of grip (but the tannins are quite fine) and bright cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, always staying fresh and well defined, but offering a bit of sleek, seductive fruit, too. This is an immense wine: still compact and youthful, beautifully precise, unfurled, and showing astonishing purity and refinement. It’s a tiny bit nervy and taut, but in a really good way: this has a long life ahead of it. If you can find some, buy it! (I’ve already searched, in vain.) 96/100

Picture credit: Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion 2016 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Les Carmes is cool Bordeaux: the blend for this 2016 is 41% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot,  20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and maturation is 65% in new barrels, with the balance matured in used barrels, foudres, concrete vats and terracotta. No crushing, and there is (unusually for Bordeaux) some whole bunch here! This has a fresh, brooding blackcurrant and berry fruit nose with a touch of creamy vanilla from the new oak, but also lovely pure fruit intensity. The palate shows concentration, but also smoothness: the tannins are molten but still present, with real density but no austerity. It’s a seductive wine, but still keeps its form, and the gravelly edge and slight chalkiness reveals its Graves origins. A proper wine, with the whole bunch component integrating really well. This has a bright future ahead of it. 95/100

Château Cheval-Blanc 1er Grand Cru Classé (A) St-Emilion 2012 Bordeaux
This is one of Bordeaux’ most famous wines, and it’s a blend of 53% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in new oak for 18 months. It’s perfumed, beguiling and a little glossy from the new oak on the nose. Blackberries, a hint of blackcurrant, some spice and a touch of tar. The palate has a slight minty edge, with some cedar and spice, and then relaxes into sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit, with well managed tannins and the oak more-or-less integrating. A little primary and uptight still, in need to time to show its best. Serious stuff, and potentially great. 95/100

Proprietà Sperino ‘L Franc 2013 Piemonte, Italy
Paolo De Marchi, owner of Chianti Classico estate Isole e Olena, inherited Proprietà Sperino from his grandfather, Felice Sperino. His son Luca now runs it. This Cabernet Franc is from a 0.4 ha plot in the Castagnola vineyard, at 290-310 m. Ancient volcanic soils. Extended maceration (40 days) then aged in 50% new French oak. It’s intense and structured, with a stern, savoury edge (the place trumping the variety?), showing keen acidity and tannins under bright black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. This is a serious effort, full of minerality, spicy and tar, with the spicy new oak swallowed up by the fruit. Very fine and intense, with amazing structure and focus. 95/100

Picture credit: Keermont

Keermont Pondokrug Cabernet Franc 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is from a 1.8 ha parcel planted in 2006 at 380 m on west facing slopes. Soils are red granitic loam with high clay content. This is a ripe, smooth, seductive wine with sweet blackberry and cherry fruit, fine-grained tannins, and some lushness. There’s a hint of chalkiness on the palate that gives away the varietal identity, and this is really nicely balanced, with the sweet and savoury elements in good tension. Modern and plush, but quite fine. 93/100

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