Cab franc is probably still most used as a blending partner in “Bordeaux blends”, though the number of varietal offerings increases all the time since Landskroon was the pioneer many years back. The latest Platter guide lists about 50 of them. Twenty years ago there were just five.
Interestingly (seeing I’ve just tasted the David Finlayson Camino Africana Cabernet Franc 2013) one of them was from Glen Carlou, where David was then increasingly taking over from dad Walter. David is now, of course, at Edgebaston in Stellenbosch, and he writes to me that “My experiences with CF at GC were never fantastic and even on Edgebaston (Simonsberg) the CS totally outshines it.”
This latest bottling is a result of his recent move to “start looking around Stellenbosch itself to see if there weren’t any special vineyards being ‘lost’ in the greater crop uptake by the former co-ops and Distell”. A great idea. David had always been impressed by the franc coming off Cordoba (me too – the much lamented Cordoba Crescendo franc-dominated blend was a favourite of mine in the 1990s) and was pleased to find available Somerset West-area cab franc on Hathersage farm.
David says: “The interesting thing is that the vineyard blocks are drained very much as in Bordeaux with canals to take the high water table away, so once the roots get down deep enough, the vines never stress because they get back to the water table, very much like the best sites in Bordeaux. The cool site means that we pick these grapes in beginning April when we are done with all our other grapes and they have quite high pyrazine levels which I like on the CF.” He made 1800 bottles of the 2013.
It’s only going to be released in May next year – so why did he send a sample, and why am I writing about it now? Not sure about the answer to the first question, but I tried it because it was there, asking me, and I was interested, as an admirer of the grape, if not of many of its single-varietal manifestations in the Cape (though the Raats is invariably extremely good).
I opened the Finlayson wine alongside another franc I know from Stellenbosch, the estimable Stellenrust. This one is 2011 (I think the very similar 2010 might be the current release) – and although it is still pretty youthful, the two-year difference gives it something of an advantage over the still extremely young, even rather raw Finlayson.
In fact, the real difference between the two is a stylistic one. I’m not entirely sitting the fence, but I do admire both. Finlayson is undoubtedly bigger, riper, richer and more concentrated – beautifully managed, with gorgeous tannins and texture, depth and sweet fruit (but a fairly dry finish, as well as the herbaceous cab franc note). It declares 14.5% alcohol and, while it is not “alcohol-hot” I did find it just a bit too altogether big for my tastes. More of a problem for me was the very obvious presence of new oak, which might well get less intrusive in time but which seems to me unnecessary at best and a substantial detraction at worst. But I do know that some will welcome this character.
The Stellenrust, with I’d guess a whole percent less alcohol, is altogether less plush. Less intensely flavoured too, rather more austere as well as more delicate, with cab franc’s leafy fragrance more in delightful evidence. It still needs some time to integrate the austerity, I’d say, and has enough fruit to do so, I hope. (As to price, it should be rather less than half that of the Finlayson.) The oaking is subtle and restrained, as is winemaker Tertius Boshoff’s practice, fitting in with his generally modest aesthetic.
In international terms, I’d venture that David Finlayson’s wine is pretty much in the style of California (Napa), while the Stellenrust relates more to French traditions – older-fashioned Bordeaux, or perhaps the Loire.
As I said, the two-year difference is significant, but I do think the stylistic/aesthetic one is the more important here. I’d hate to have to score these two wines comparatively. Which deserves the higher score, personal preferences aside? Easy to make a case for the Finlayson, which has a long way to go still, unless you count excessive oaking as a fault. But I have not the slightest hesitation in saying which I preferred drinking.
Actually, all I need to do is draw the conclusion from the levels in the bottles after two evenings sampling them both before and with dinner. Better than a score. The Finlayson is still a third full; the Stellenrust is empty.