More franc speaking

The greatest white grape in the world – that’s an easy one, unless you discount vague rumours of weird Georgian stuff that hardly anyone apart from Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz have heard of and no moderately famous winemaker has ever dealt with. The greatest white variety (thus far) is easy: riesling.

cab francBut the greatest black grape? Apart from the Georgian claimants, which are no doubt legion and have bewilderingly magnificent names and are substantially untested, the varieties which draw the fiercest partisanship among the people with loud voices seem to be cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Francophiles all! But for good reasons francophiles rule (OK?) – that is, they have the loudest voices. For now at least – until the umpteenth trumpet soundeth and the truth shall be revealed.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that trumpet doesn’t stridently announce that the greatest red-wine grape in the world is cabernet franc.

Certainly down here at the humble foot of Africa, cab franc seems able to do almost no wrong. No, that’s sadly not true. I confess I was not much enamoured of two of those which got five Platter stars last year (but those were awarded in one of those biggish blind tastings at which anything can happen, and often does), though, on the other hand, the Warwick five-star was pretty nice. But in the wines I didn’t much care for it wasn’t the grapes’ fault – as usually they were picked too ripe and treated to too much new oak. And the judges were a bit absent-minded.

Anyway, though I’m now faltering a bit, I’ll stick to my idea: cabernet franc is doing marvellously in the Cape, and I’m glad to say that it is a rapidly growing category. I’ve praised some recently – see here for my enthusiasm for various bottlings by Raats Family Wines, to which list I could now add the Raats Woolworths version; and here  for praise for a well-priced example from Ondine.

Now I can add, for example, that you should watch out for an elegant, excellently priced  version from Stellenrust (not yet released, but worth hanging out your tongue for).

journeymanBut all this is a prelude for a mention of what Boekenhoutskloof has done – and never underestimate the genius of the wines produced under Marc Kent’s watch at this pre-eminent Franschhoek estate. Recently I had the inestimable privilege and pleasure of tasting through the range, and, of all the splendours, the label that left me most astounded was probably the least-known of the top end there: the cab-franc-based Journeyman.

The Journeyman is, I think, the only red wine made entirely from grapes grown on the Boekenhoutskloof home farm. The maiden, 2005, vintage included merlot, but the subsequent vintages (2007, 2009, 2011) have been just cab franc with about half as much cab sauvignon. (And if you know the Boekenhoutskloof Cab Sauv, you’ll know that  – on rare occasions like this – Franschhoek cab can be worth chasing.)

I confess I’m not in the mood right now for trying to construct presentable notes out of my scribbled records, But I know that when I tasted the 2005, 2007 and 2009 (and the unbottled 2011) Journeyman wines I was moved to wonder whether there was any other South African red wine that could offer a better line-up. They were all first-class. The 2005 perhaps at its cruising level – certainly still brilliant, and It’ll be interesting to see how it develops further. Despite the merlot component, it was more grandly austere than the 2007 or 2009 – the last of which had the sweetest perfume of all – sitting terribly happily with a mouthwatering acidity and a fascinating stony dimension.

Frankly (francly) I don’t know how you obtain these wines, if indeed you can. The first two vintages, I’m pretty sure were never commercially available. Now, I rather think, you can get them included in mixed cases available from Boekenhoutskloof. I believe they’re available. I’ve tried the website, but seldom has a winery website left me as confused and uniformed as this one does! Apart from anything else it doesn’t seem to mention the Journeyman at all. Probably my fault.

But I shouldn’t end on that depressed note. No, in fact I will. No, in fact I won’t, and will say instead: look out for cab franc, that most elegant of grape varieties.

3 thoughts on “More franc speaking

  1. Thanks for that Adrian. I couldn’t swear to it, but I suspect those advertised 6 bottles at a very big whack might have been sold to Wine Cellar by someone other than Boekenhoutskloof – as I don’t think it was being sold commercially. It’s never been offered to Platter for tasting, either. And via Google I’ve found a note on the 2009 by Christian Eedes, in which he also mentions the problem of getting hold of these wines (I think Marc Kent of Bhk rather splendidly likes the idea of having some stuff that mere money can’t buy.) Incidentally Christian liked the 2009 (17/20 he scored it in those old-fashioned days before the Parkerised scoring system) – though clearly not as much as I. He wanted a bit more punch, while it was partly the subtlety and moderation of the intensity that I admired. His comment is here:

  2. Hi Tim, I’m sure you are right, Wine Cellar do a thriving brokerage trade. The rarity of the wine is part of the Marc’s evil genius (I say that in jest of course) – combine a quality with mysterious availability, and you leave behind the aspirant icons which can be bought at crude prices. As to the subtlety and moderation which you liked, surely that is the real prize we should be searching for? It certainly seems to be your philosophy, and makes your blog so interesting.

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