The Cabernet Franc is a distinctive black grape, which is mainly used for mixing with Cabernet Sauvignon to create a Bordeaux blend. It can also be used by itself to create a very pale, reddish wine which has an interesting peppery aftertaste. Grown in areas of France since the 18th century, and has been established as one of the origins of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the Sauvignon Blanc grape from which the former takes its name. In South Africa, it is mostly used to create Bordeaux-style blends, and is infrequently found, but it can be used to create a boutique wine.
In recent years, the amount of Cabernet Franc has been increasing, with almost 2,500 acres of vineyard dedicated to growing this grape. As more of the grapes become available, so the domestic market has developed an interest in drinking the wine. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, which has cornered the market and is so popular that it is simply known as ‘Cabernet‘, the Franc wine is produced in small quantities by up-market wine makers, and tends to be more costly than the Sauvignon. Also unlike the latter wine, Cabernet Franc has less sugar content, and also less alcohol, although some drinkers prefer the sharper taste of the Franc.
It is rare to find the Cabernet Franc bottled by itself anywhere, but particularly in South Africa, where the grape continues to be used mainly as a mixer for Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps because it is simply not as strong as the Sauvignon or the Merlot in its flavour, experts seem to consider the Franc as only suitable for blending with other wines, and not as a drink on its own. This is a shame, because the wine itself can be flavoursome, with an edge of finesse which puts the other grapes into the shade. Outside of the French Cheval Blanc, there are few producers of wine in the world who are making a straight-forward Cabernet Franc. Nevertheless, South Africa should be more interested in this wine, because its low sugar and alcohol content make it a much more palatable drink with lighter meats such as pork, and it makes a great flavouring for casseroles, as its less astringent taste help to make it more food-friendly.
Perhaps the keenest grower of Cabernet Franc in South Africa is the Bruwer Raats estate. This winery has established that the deeper, darker tastes of the Franc need to be complimented by different flavours, so there are both black cherry and green pepper flavours in the wine which bring out its sharp peppery taste and slightly acidic nature. There are also tastes of coffee and the woody flavour of oak barrels. Despite the heroic efforts of the Raats vineyard, the drink is still sadly neglected by both domestic drinkers and overseas importers, who do not understand the difference between the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Franc. Nevertheless, for those looking for a more adventurous wine which still has the pleasant taste of the Sauvignon grape, the Cabernet Franc is an excellent choice.