For many winelovers, Cab is king. But after an incredible tasting last week, I think that the real question we should all be asking is – which Cab are we talking about? Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most well-travelled grapes in the world, happily putting down roots in both Northern and Southern hemispheres, making wines in practically every winemaking country there is, oomphing up Chiantis and spicing up Cape Blends. But behind every great grape, there is an even greater one and in this case, it's a variety called Cabernet Franc. And that was the focus of our tasting at the Cru Café in the Cape Quarter last week. DNA tests have now proved that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the love child of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Both Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon have enjoyed massive success over the years (if you want to try a few, then head for the Wine Concepts Seductive Sauvignon Festival tonight at the Vineyard Hotel. Call 021 671 9030 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 021 671 9030 end_of_the_skype_highlighting for tickets) but Cabernet Franc has rather languished in the shallows of obscurity. It is used in Bordeaux and makes all the red wines in the Loire Valley, but hasn't really achieved the success of its more famous child. Last week's tasting set out to prove that all Cab Franc needed was a new country in which to showcase its talents, and various top wine Twitterers and twittering winemakers convened to discuss the topic. We were joined online by internationally-acclaimed wine guru, Jancis Robinson, along with another celebrated UK journalist, Tim Atkin, both adding their 10c to the discussion. Leading the tasting and towering over us all, both literally and vinously, was Bruwer Raats of Raats Family Wines, widely considered one of the finest Cabernet Franc winemakers in the world. The tasting covered Bruwer's wines and another Cape Cab Franc legend from Warwick Estate, and included newer entries to the market such as Haut Espoir's fascinating versions made from high-altitude vineyards in Franschhoek (these were barrel samples and will only be released in a few years time – get yourself on the list now!). The Signal Hill Cab Franc from new vineyards in Kalk Bay – only 86m away from the sea – was particularly interesting. Owner/winemaker Jean-Vincent Ridon explained that there was so much salt on the grapes, he originally thought he would have to wash them before foot-stomping, but eventually decided to leave them as they were, creating a perfumed wine which perfectly expresses its terroir. One awesome wine followed another, each one showing style, individuality and elegance, each one confirming our growing opinions that Cabernet Franc has got an amazing future in South Africa – I was glad that I'd booked those lovely drivers from Goodfellas (www.gfellas.co.za) to take me home because there was very little spitting going on anywhere around the table! Everyone was passionate about this variety either as a single cultivar which is what Bruwer and Jean-Vincent believe or as part of a blend such as Warwick Trilogy – Neil Moorhouse from Zorgvliet is punting Cab Franc/Merlot blends as ones to watch so remember where you heard it first!
For those of you who've never tried a Cabernet Franc, it is fairly similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon in that it generally has lots of dense, dark black fruits and sturdy tannins, but Cabernet Franc also has a spicy green edge to it which can manifest itself as herbal, perfumed and aromatic giving multiple layers of flavour and complexity. If you want to give it a go, then entry-level priced ones include L'Avenir at R50, Zorgvliet at R65, Eikendal at R70 and Signal Hill Constantia Cab Franc also at R70. And if, you've already been converted to Cabernet Franc then you can do no better than a bottle of Warwick at R235, the fascinating Signal Hill Kalk Bay at R250 or the Raats Family at R280. Give one of them a go this weekend – I've tasted the future, and the future's Franc!
Cathy is wine editor of www.Food24.com. For more information visit www.cathymarston.co.za or follow her on Twitter @CathyMarston