The 4th of December was Cabernet Franc Day, a day to take note of this noble cultivar lovingly shortened to Cab Franc. In South Africa, this wine is generally not well known despite its long history and being a parent to some heavy hitters.
Cab Franc originated in the Libourne region of France, part of Bordeaux, from around the 17th century. It was transported to the Loire Valley by Cardinal Richelieu and then cared for by an abbot known as Breton, which become one of the regional pseudonyms. Between these two regions, Cab Franc made a name for itself, in the Loire as a cooler climate single cultivar wine and in Bordeaux as a blending wine. The traditional Bordeaux red varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carménère and Cabernet Franc which is the third most planted in the region.
In 1997 it was discovered through DNA studies to be one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other being Sauvignon Blanc. It is also a common ancestor of many other grapes such as Merlot, Malbec and Carménère.
Cab Franc is known for having similar characteristics to Cab Sauv such as cassis and violet, although it can swing fruiter or more vegetative depending on terroir and vineyard practices. Compared to Cab Sauv it has thinner skins and it generally goes to bud and ripens a week earlier. In Bordeaux, this has traditionally been used as a sort of insurance against harvest rains that can water down Cab Sauv’s potency.
Cab Franc is grown around the world with varying degrees of quality and success, some cooler regions of the Americas and Canada produce excellent examples and are even able to produce a dessert wine, called ice wine, in some years. In South Africa, Cab Franc is the 15th most grown cultivar, most of which is used for blending.
In a blending, it brings additional fruit characters such as cassis, plums and raspberry with floral violets which are often in support of a lead cultivar. The distinct character it brings is a peppery note and a softening from a lower acid and tannin structure which adds finesse.
Ken Forrester’s location in Stellenbosch and backing onto the Helderberg offers a wide variety of terroir. Along with hand harvesting of individual parcels that are selected for quality to get the ripest possible, balanced wine from our very finest soils, influenced by the cool S/E wind during the ripening season.
The Ken Forrester Pat’s Garden Merlot for many years has been a Merlot led wine with 8 – 12% Cab Franc, which took advantage of SA labelling laws of being more than 85% of a single cultivar. Pat’s Garden 2018 is inspired by an expanded Bordeaux blend, still led by Merlot (76%) with Cab Franc (13%), Cab Sauv (9%) and Petit Verdot (2%). The result is a wine with finesse that is fruit-forward with supple tannins and pairs perfectly with meat dishes, especially lamb. With Cabernet Franc Day falling on Saturday this year, this is the perfect wine to bring to a family gathering or meal with friends.