Cab franc without the herb

Cabernet franc is, of course, one of the classic red bordeaux varieties – in fact, as was established a decade ago, it is one of the parents of the ubiquitous and great cabernet sauvignon (sauvignon blanc being the other). It seems to be doing remarkably well in a variety of Cape vineyards – mostly used for blending with other Bordeaux reds, but also performing well as a single-varietal wine. Gosh, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that Warwick’s was about the only one.

Cab franc is the (small) connection between Avondale and Constantia Glen that I mentioned in my last entry. In fact, of the four reds I sampled on my recent Avondal visit, it was shiraz that was in the majority. Jonty’s Ducks is made from organic grapes (like the others but in this case certified), and at the lower end of Avondale’s pricing – around R65. Mostly from shiraz and cab, in the unshowy style of this estate, it’s a very pleasant wine with a notable, characterful edge of dusty fynbos which some might call herbal, and some herbaceous.

The Camissa Syrah 2005 is a rather handsome wine, not particularly generous, but fresh and well-structured (R100ish). PR man Krige Visser seemed particularly excited, though, about the 2007 version of this wine, which was made rather differently – with whole bunches fermented, rather than crushed grapes. And in fact it does look worth being excited about: more pure ripe fruit obvious (but not at all gushy), with splendid softly firm ripe tannins, both elegant and fleshy. Worth waiting for – not to be released for a while.

Cab franc made its appearance with The Duke 2005 in the Green Ducks range, where it’s partnered by cab sauvignon and malbec. It needs a few years in bottle still, I think, as it seems a touch raw and unready now, though with some lovely floral, perfumed notes, and a firm (but sufficiently gentle) tannin structure. And very definitely some of the herbaceousness (used here as a bit of a euphemism for green) that cab franc often has a touch of, and many hapily accept as part of its character. I often like a touch of herbaceousness in wine, but found it perhaps a little too obvious here.

Well, there’s not a hint of green in the red wines I tried at Constantia Glen, the smart newish winery on the Constantiaberg slopes. There are two things which winemaker Karl Lambour seems to abominate above all others in wine: one is the effect of brettanomyces, the other is any hint of greenness. If these suggest that he’s a winemaker very firmly in the modern, New World tradition of worshipping pure ripe fruit, that’s correct, but his wines are far from being caricatures of that. While undoubtedly modern, they tend to the elegant rather than the over-ripe and powerful.

The Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc has been around for a few years now, and has established itself as among the best, with a fine balance of ripeness and green-tinged freshness, on a firmly mineral base. It ages beautifully for a few years at least – one of the sauvignons, I suspect, that reader Riaan Smit was asking about recently as having the potential to age beneficially for five or more years. While I’m in the comparative mode, I’d have to say that I found Avondale’s Chenin Reserve, mentioned last time, a more interesting wine – but that’s probably simply because to my palate a fine chenin is nearly always bound to be a more interesting wine than a fine savignon blanc. Im hoping that Karl will experiment with adding some semillon – that so often seems to be a step that can lift sauvignon blanc onto a new level.

As to reds, I was very keen to try the 2007 bordeaux-style blend which Contantia Glen is to release fairly soon. (Like Hamilton Russell, they have decided that two wines are the right number for a serious producer to offer, so it’ll be just the Sauvignon and this.) It really is a very good wine, with a deal of firm, confident fruit carried by a fresh acidity and some meltingly smooth but tight tannins. A real density, without any thickness to the fine texture; concentration without any exaggeration or sense of the fruit being pushed too hard. The only current threat to harmony is some oakiness giving mocha-vanilla aromas – but I think a year or two should largely sort that out, given the power of the fruit.

In fact the slight excess of oak might well be the result of one of Karl’s obsessions mentioned above: he refused to have any older barrels coming into his new cellar, so determined is he to take no risks in allowing brettonomyces any foothold, so this maiden red was obliged to mature in all-new oak. The other obsession is also obvious in the absence of any hint of herbal-herbaceous quality. Cab franc is a smallish component of this 2007 blend (and it no doubt contributes to the perfume of the wine), but tasting the 2008 components from barrel I can assure you that it is probably the only local cab franc I can recall in which, try as I might, I couldn’t find any concession to herbaceousness. But even if you’re not looking for a Lambour guarantee of no brett and no green, there are plenty of reasons to keep a look out for the red appearing on the shelves. And no exorbitant pricing either – it’ll be around the level of Meerlust Rubicon rather than of the cult-wannabes.

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