CABERNET FRANC CARNIVAL
Saturday 19 May 2018
Wine festivals are always fun. They give the chance to sample and compare a large range and number of wines at a single location. Single grape variety festivals are also fun and offer a slightly different perspective. They allow a focus on one cultivar in all its forms – whether Pinotage or Shiraz, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay – which is an invaluable means to learn. This is all the more so for Cabernet Franc as the grape is relatively little planted in South Africa (less than 1% by vineyard area). Consequently, few vineyards offer Cabernet Franc single variety wines (and, if so, just one in their range which precludes comparison) or use the juices for blending in Bordeaux-style blends.
I was therefore excited to be able to return to Avontuur Estate, conveniently located midway between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, to attend the Cabernet Franc Carnival for a second time, having enjoyed the 2017 edition. Tickets were R250 per person (R220 online in advance) for entry, a tasting glass, a R50 food voucher and the chance to taste – and buy – wines from 21 wineries. There was the option (an additional R100) to join Christine Rudman CWM for one of 3 tutored sessions to sample the 2018 Cab Franc Challenge Top 6 wines. Christine is a wonderful speaker and immensely knowledgeable but I chose on this occasion to self-taste among the many wine stalls. There were food trucks, lawn games and music too, so all the family werewelcome.
The 21 participating wineries came from far and wide – from Hermanus to Stellenbosch, Kalk Bay to Franschhoek, Darling to Wellington, Hemel-en-Aarde and beyond. The number of vineyards at the Carnival remained the same as last year but there were several additions and omissions – many to reflect results of the Top 6 Challenge – which always makes for an interesting return to the same event. Host estate Avontuur was of course present again, together with Doolhof, Hermanuspietersfontein, My Wyn, Oldenburg, Ormonde, Raats, Rainbow’s End, Spookfontein, The Garageest, Vrede en Lust and Whalehaven. Nine vineyards were new – Chamonix, Delaire Graff, Druk My Niet, Holden Manz, Kunjani, Morgenster, Onderkloof, Snow Mountain and Zewenvacht – replacing CK Wines, Edgebaston, Hannay, Knorhoek, Lynx, Nelson, Uva Mira, Warwick and Zorgvliet.
I learned in writing this piece that Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was once described to me as being the ‘feminine’ to the ‘masculine’ Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a fair analogy because Cabernet Franc has less concentrated fruits, is lighter bodied, has similar tannins, and is lower in acidity and alcohol than its Bordeaux blending sister. Cabernet Franc ripens a week or so earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and so well suited to inland or cooler locations. The grapes are larger and slightly thinner skinned than Cabernet Sauvignon to give typical flavours of raspberry, red plum, cranberry, redcurrant to blackcurrant fruits together with delicate pepper spice, liquorice or savoury, herbal fynbos.
Avontuur makes an ideal venue for the Carnival, not only for its accessible location but also for the space in front of the cellar building. The clouds overhead threatened rain but it never materialised even if the magnificent views south over Somerset West and False Bay were slightly obscured. More than 300 tickets had been sold for this, the 4th, Carnival, which shows the level of interest for the grape and its wines. The space available and numbers attending thus made for a relaxed experience, with the time and space to be able to talk with the winemakers or their representatives. Understandably, given the more specialist nature of the grape, there were many more oenophiles and enthusiasts – ‘wine tasters’ rather than ‘wine drinkers’ – than at many a wine festival. I hasten to add that this should not put anyone off attending in future as there were many excellent and enjoyable wines.
Many vineyards brought a small sample of their range or Cabernets Franc from different vintages or different styles. As ever, I did my best to visit all – aided by the voting preference checklist supplied on entry – and in particular headed first for those wine estates that I had not tasted from before.
Hermanuspietersfontein nonetheless is always a favourite of mine and so it did not surprise to rate the vibrant and complex yet elegant and balanced powerful Cabernet Franc highly. It was the first wine I tasted and one of my favourites at the Carnival.
I also remembered the Raats duo of single variety and Cabernet Franc-led blend from last year. Both were decent wines with the Family wine showing greater complexity, grippier tannins, better balance and structure than the blend.
I tasted 3 rosés which was more than last year and perhaps a sign of the times with rosés becoming more popular. The Zewenvacht wine showed bright strawberry and white cherry flavours with a clean, light mouthfeel and moderate acidity to make for an easy drinking and very affordable (R60) rosé. I liked the Delaire Graff one also, even though double the price of the other 2, as it avoided the candy temptation of all too many rosés. It was served chilled at the right temperature to show off wild strawberry aromas, smoothness on the palate and a decent length. My favourite was the (shortly after to be released) rosé from Onderkloof that was all a summer rosé should be: affordable (R65) with bitter-sweet strawberry flavours, a bright intensity and medium but not too sharp acidity.
The Onderkloof red Cabernet Franc was also great value (just R70) and showed similar character to the rosé with a fresh, smooth lighter style with good intensity of flavour. Holden Manz from Franschhoek, at the opposite end of the price scale offered a superb Cabernet Franc (R700 but on offer for R600). Only 2,600 bottle of the Reserve wine are made, using wild yeast and 27 months maturation in 50% new French oak. The wine oozed class. It was a big full-bodied wine, being red to dark berry fruity on the nose, fresh without being over-ripe or juicy, and with surprising smoothness on the palate for a 2015 wine.
In contrast but also from Franschhoek, Top 6 Winner and small producer My Wyn offered a delicious Cabernet Franc in lighter style that showed poise and elegance of complex red/black berry fruits with light spice and superb balance. It was great to see Kalk Bay Vineyards, attending for the first time. I know Kalk Bay well and visit often yet it was only 4 months ago that I stumbled on the miniature vineyard of 700 vines close to the coast road by the harbour. They must challenge Benguela Cove, on the Bot River Lagoon, for the claim of being the vineyard closest to the ocean. Just 2 barrels are made by Snow Mountain Wines in Wellington. The ocean freshness showed in a wine of a lighter style, clean on the palate, and with more red than dark fruit flavours.
Between tastings, I rested in the Tasting Room to eat a pre-packed Cheese Platter (R100 less R50 for the food voucher). It was perfectly adequate for what I needed – I never understand why wine estates offer vast cheese platters, sufficient for 2 persons, at R200 or more without a cheaper and smaller alternative for a sole diner – containing a mix of Dalewood brie, cheddar and camembert cheeses together with melba toast and a port & Pinotage relish.
A couple of vineyards offered vertical tastings that always intrigue. Ormonde was selling their 2014 Cabernet Franc but had tasters of their 2008 and 2010 vintages to compare. Each wine showed a different character. The 2008 edition was predictably smoothest and most refined on the palate, showing toasty and smokey aromas from ageing. The 2010 vintage was less bold, lighter and more perfumed on the nose, with better balance and a good finish compared with the 2014 wine, which showed a forwards, fruity bouquet with bitter, green, tight, grippy and closed tannins on the palate.
Whalehaven too offered wines from 2011, 2014 and 2015, all priced at R150. I preferred (and bought) a bottle of the 2011 wine with its sweeter, red berry fruits, elegant style and smooth, rounded finish. I rated the other 2 vintages equally: 2014 was deeper in colour and more intense, whilst 2015 showed its youth and sharper tannins.
A comparison with a difference was offered by Rainbow’s End. The family estate, deep in the Banghoek Valley to the East of Stellenbosch, is on the rise. It was a multiple Cape Wine Lovers’ Society 2017 Award Winner, not only for Best Cabernet Franc but also for Best Merlot and Best Hidden Gem. Jana once again brought the Estate and Limited Release wines that are identical in terroir, viticulture, winemaking and maturation. The only difference between the 2 wines is their vine clones. I won’t repeat here what I wrote in detail last year other than to remind that the Estate wine is made from vines with clones optimized for warm conditions and dark fruit flavours without green, herbal flavours. The Limited Release clone produces grapes that mature later and are high-yielding.
The two wines did not taste the same. The Estate Cabernet Franc was fresh and vibrant, with red and dark berry fruit flavours, and tight youthful tannins. Greater complexity of subtle, sweeter and redder fruits of good intensity characterised the Limited Release wine, together with silkier and more rounded tannins.
The other wines I tasted all showed their individuality and stylistic variations: Vrede en Lust – good intensity, high alcohol (14.5%) and easy drinking; Avontuur – savoury, herbaceous notes with tight tannins that will benefit from ageing; Druk My Niet – tannin forwards with limited complexity; Spookfontein – bold and fruity with bitter, chewy green tannins; Morgenster – well made with warm, complex red/dark fruit flavours and tannins-forward on the palate; Oldenburg – light, fresh style with a well balanced and clean palate; The Garageest – good intensity of currant flavours with light mouthfeel and green tannins; Kunjani – ripe warm fruits with smoother, softer tannins due to Merlot in the blend; and Doolhof – decently made berry, fruity smooth wine.
The paragraph above well describes the Cabernet Franc Carnival. The event showcases the enormous range in style and character of wines made from a single grape variety. Remember too that these are wines made in South Africa alone, notwithstanding those from Touraine in the Loire Valley and in Right Bank Bordeaux (blends) in France, or from Friuli in Northern Italy, or New York and California in the USA, or many other New World countries. The Carnival thus meets its objective which is to ‘bring one of the most interesting wine varietals to an adoring public’. My sole suggestion for the future is a measure of the success and fun of the event. The time available – 11am to 4pm – is not enough! Many stands were packing up before closure, either as they had run out of wines or for a quick getaway late on a Saturday afternoon. I could easily have spent another hour savouring more of the wine and tasting some of the other available wines, and that without attending a tutored tasting with Christine Rudman.
Nonetheless, the Carnival is well worth attending. Don’t be put off if Cabernet Franc is a cultivar you know little of, or consider too specialist for an event. You’d be mistaken as there are examples for all tastes and all price points. If you haven’t been before make a note to come along in mid- to late-May 2019 …
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Delaire Graff Cabernet Franc Rosé – R110
2018 Onderkloof Cabernet Franc – R65
2018 Zewenvacht Cabernet Franc Rosé – R60
2014 Avontuur Cabernet Franc – R140
2015 Chamonix Cabernet Franc – R240
2015 Doolhof Estate Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc – R180
2012 Druk My Niet Cabernet Franc – R150
2013 Hermanuspietersfontein Swartskaap Cabernet Franc – R265
2015 Holden Manz Reserve Cabernet Franc – R600
2015 Kunjani Red Blend (46% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot, 8% Malbec) – R180
2015 Morgenster Cabernet Franc – R107
2014 My Wyn Cabernet Franc – R300
2014 Oldenburg Barrel Select Cabernet Franc – R278
2014 Onderkloof Cabernet Franc – R70
2008 Ormonde Vineyards Ondine Cabernet Franc – Not for Sale
2010 Ormonde Vineyards Ondine Cabernet Franc – Not for Sale
2014 Ormonde Vineyards Ondine Cabernet Franc – R95
2015 Raats Family Cabernet Franc – R510
2016 Raats Jasper Red Blend (60% Cabernet Franc, 31% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 2% Merlot) – R230
2015 Rainbow’s End Estate Cabernet Franc – R195
2015 Rainbow’s End Limited Release Cabernet Franc – R312
2015 Spookfontein Cabernet Franc – R135
2016 Snow Mountain The Artisan Kalk Bay Cabernet Franc – R150*
2015 The Garageest Bruce Cabernet Franc – R240
2015 Vrede en Lust Artisan Cabernet Franc – R275
2011 Whalehaven Cabernet Franc – R150*
2014 Whalehaven Cabernet Franc – R150
2015 Whalehaven Cabernet Franc – R150