Cabernet Franc: The DWC September Tasting

A couple of weeks ago I was honoured with an invite to the mid-September meeting of the Dublin Wine Collective, a fantastic new shining light on the Dublin wine scene. A rotating and changeable collection of wine industry figures – be they involved in the trade directly or not – the Dublin Wine Collective meets once a month to contribute and partake in a themed tasting, with each participant bringing a bottle to the party.

Apart from a basic theme (usually variety-based, such as this Cabernet Franc one) there is no other restriction or requirement on what to bring, so the potential for two people to bring an identical bottle is quite high. Thankfully, though, this has not yet happened, and adds an exciting feeling of pot luck to the whole proceeding.

The tastings take place at The Wine Workshop, another new shining light on the Dublin wine scene; in this case though the hand of the quite established Il Vicoletto Italian restaurant  is very evident – indeed it’s splayed handsomely across the large plate glass window of the shop.

I can’t begin to tell how excited I am about this venture, which reminds me in no small part of the Tasting Room of The Vines of Mendoza, a wine bar in, you guessed it, Mendoza in Argentina. There education is very much at the fore, whether via self-guided themed flights or formal, structured classes – they even have their own vineyards and winery where you can produce your own wines to your own specification.

When I was there in April this year I wondered why there wasn’t something similar in Ireland, but thankfully The Wine Workshop has answered that call (though without their own vineyard for obvious reasons), injecting some new life into the Dublin wine scene in the process.

DWC Logo

As you might have guessed from the title, this tasting focused on Cabernet Franc, that oft-forgotten grape found most commonly in Bordeaux and the Loire. However it was brought to my attention – with some surprise I have to say – that 13% of the world’s Cabernet Franc can be found in Italy, mostly the Veneto and the Tuscan coast. You learn something new every day.

Over the years I’ve been able to build up a decent enough cellar that I would consider to be somewhat well varied, but I couldn’t but curse my luck when the invite came through specifying Cabernet Franc as the theme for my inaugural visit. Not one bottle do I have that contains any bit of that grape, so I hurriedly popped down to my local, Deveney’s of Dundrum. Thankfully Tom Deveney managed to source a bottle that he particularly likes – after a tense 5 minutes trying to remember where he put it, where I was sure that he had actually sold out of it – and blushes were spared on the night.

Five of us turned up that evening, and armed with plentiful water and grissini graciously supplied by Morgan of The Wine Workshop, we began…

 

Langlois Saumur ChampignyLanglois Saumur Champigny 2012
O’Brien’s nationwide, €14.99

This was a really easy-drinking, typically quaffable French red with sweet red berry fruit and nice tart acidity. An initial, surprising touch of alcoholic heat belied its mere 12% alcohol, but that died off after a time.  Simple, uncomplex but appealing, we agreed that it would best be served a little chilled and drank carelessly, as much enjoyable wine should be.

Then there is was: the stalkiness. Much discussion that evening was around this characteristic which in other wines would be quite undesirable and indicate unripe grapes when vinifying, but much ink has been spilled marking it as a defining characteristic of Cabernet Franc. And this had it in spades, but I had to admit that it wasn’t all that unpleasant, once you know to expect it.

After some time in the glass some additional characteristics revealed themselves, like graphite, violets and a dustiness to accompany the stalkiness. Some nice light tannin was the rubber seal on the opinion that this was very much a stereotypical French weekday lunch wine.

 Verdict: It doesn’t set the world alight, but if you know what you’re in for it can be very enjoyable.

 

Stocco Cabernet FrancStocco Cabernet Franc 2011, IGT Venezia Giulia
Deveney’s Off-Licence Dundrum, €14.99

This was my bottle, and at first I thought I was “the noob with the dud” – the first smell of it was as though a hand jumped out of the glass and punched me in the face; I was sure it was faulty in some way. But after some serious sloshing into and out of glasses in an attempt to air it out a bit, we managed to tackle it eventually.

The nose was a bit more floral than the Langlois, with some violets, brambly fruit and fresh herbs. On return later I got a charred meat note, some smoky spice and some cracked black pepper; this was developing into a nice little  surprise.

The palate was nice and smooth and fuller than it predecessor, again with a little spicy heat at the end and some savoury undertones – “teriyaki chicken” was mentioned, which was impressively accurate –  I never tire of these outlandish tasting notes, especially when they’re spot on.

But I thought there was a little residual sugar on the palate too, which is a trick often used whereby winemakers mask poor fruit by leaving a little sugar to hide the defects. After a few sips it tired easily and I didn’t fancy drinking much more of it. A pity after the multitude of promises on the nose.

Verdict: The nose was the best part of it, elusive and changeable, but the palate didn’t match up.

 

Domaine Jo PithonDomaine Jo Pithon  2010, Anjou AOP
Approx. €10.99 from somewhere in France

For want of a better word, this was the curveball of the evening. Brought in straight from a supermarket in France, this is produced biodynamically in a ‘devil-may-care’ approach, we were told, with the ethos being minimal intervention.

This was very interesting. It had a dusty mocha nose with some dried fruits, and eventually that tell-tale stalkiness at the end. On return there was a hint of clay too. The palate had sweet spicy fruit, with some cherry, plums and dried cranberry; silky with lovely fresh acidity and a nice little hint of grip at the end.

Despite the very French approach to its vinification (i.e. stubborn and dogmatic) it was surprisingly un-French in style, in that it was quite opulent, forward and rewarding. A relly classy drop.

Verdict: Perhaps the most cerebral one of the evening with a little bit of everything to keep you interested.

 

Le Macchiole 'Paleo'Le Macchiole ‘Paleo’ 2001, Bolgheri, Toscana IGT
Cabot & Co., €62.00

Wow wow wow, this is a hedonistic treat. A rich, complex, heady, brooding, concentrated nose of, well, everything … sweet tobacco, violets, cinnamon/nutmeg … stunned silence greeted the initial approach. The palate was luxurious, silky, incredible … chocolate, prune … length that goes on and on…

For wine reviewers, when there is a dearth of tasting notes it often means one of two things: that the wine is too crap to even bother with, or it’s majestic enough to render you speechless. This was the latter.

The Le Macchiole Paleo was rated as one of ‘the most underrated Super Tuscans’ in this Wine Searcher article, and comes from an estate that grows just three varieties: Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot, none of which are exactly typical of their region. But fortune favours the brave (and the bold) and this is an example of what comes of that.

Verdict: …

 

Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos GuillotDomaine Bernard Baudry ‘Le Clos Guillot’ 2005, Chinon AOP
Cabot & Co., €25.00

There was slight trepidation of this wine following the behemoth of the Paleo, but we need not have worried as this wine had enough of its own character to shine through.

This Chinon brought us back down to earth – literally. It had a very distinctive, earthy, stony nose, “like sticking your nose in the ground” as one member quipped. Still, there was something perfumed above all this – violets again?

The palate was really lovely, smooth initially then a spicy grip at the end. Graphite and more violets popped up, and it had a very noticeable – but not unpleasant – dirtiness to it. It was slightly cloudy so had obviously seen minimal filtration, and given all the talk of ‘earthiness’ up to now (I wish I had another word for it!) then it all seemed very fitting. However the length was perhaps a little short.

Verdict: A nicely intriguing and honest wine, but one that wouldn’t do well beyond a club of wine geeks I think…

 

Overall Verdict

Despite an initial rolling of eyes when I say that Cabernet Franc was the theme of the evening, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend this meeting as there would otherwise be no way that I would sit down to thoughtfully taste through five Cabernet Francs. The location was fantastic, the company was brilliant, and I ended up experiencing five very different takes on the same grape, a variety I had written off long ago. so I was fortunate for the experience, to say the least.

And as for the wines? I’d gladly have each one again, but more specifically I’d enjoy the Domaine Jo Pithon over dinner and the Le Macchiole ‘Paleo’ by the fire afterwards; both very different styles for different occasions.

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