Cabernet Franc is an under-rated grape variety, in my opinion, and not many wine lovers get a chance to appreciate it in its individual glory as it is primarily used for blending.
One of the two parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon (Sauvignon Blanc being the other), it is often overshadowed by its sibling and its quite rare to find it bottled as a single varietal. More often than not it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, particularly in Bordeaux, to add a bit of finesse to these two bolder grape varieties. There are however a few examples of superb wines that are predominantly or exclusively made from Cabernet Franc with Cheval Blanc probably being the most famous (as opposed to most St. Emilions which are predominantly Merlot based, Cheval Blanc contains as much as 60% Cabernet Franc).
Bruwer Raats is known as South Africa’s chief exponent of Cabernet Franc.
He is the first to bestow the virtues of the variety on others to the point of putting his reputation at stake by lining up his 2001 and 2002 vintage in a blind tasting against Cheval Blanc amongst others. His family-owned and run wine estate in Stellenbosch typifies the pursuit of winemaking as an art – taking two well established grape varieties (the other being Chenin Blanc) grown on great terroir with favourable climatic conditions and trying to perfect the end product in the bottle with patience, know-how and a bit of technology thrown in.
The grapes for this wine come from unirrigated vines that are over 17 years old located in the famous Stellenbosch area. The soils are decomposed dolomite granite which give the grapes freshness through acidity but a subtle minerality to the finish.
At harvest time (February/March) they are hand picked in blocks, hand-sorted three times before being left to cold-soak on their skins for 5 days. After fermentation the grapes are basket pressed and undergo further malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks before being aged in oak barrels for 18 months. The oak barrels are 25% new, 25% second, third and fourth fill so the wine is not over-oaked but benefits from the softening effects on the tannins. It is bottled without filtering or fining.
In the glass this wine is a lightish ruby red colour with a brick coloured tinge. It has a fruity and spicy nose with floral undertones tempered with a bit of coffee. On the palate the wine is medium-bodied with a spine of black berry and cherry fruit accentuated with notes of cinnamon, coffee and tobacco. The tannins are silky smooth and the finish is dry, full of finesse with slight mineral undertones.
Good food matches include game, beef and pork cooked in stews or casseroles and flavourful, creamy cheeses.
Marks out of 100 – 85.
Available at time of publication from nakedwines.com for £17.99 a bottle.