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Top Cabernet Franc from Argentina and Chile

Patricio Tapia picks six top Cabernet Francs from South America, and profiles his stand-out estate...

You might think that all the hype about Cabernet Franc in Argentina is, to borrow from Shakespeare, much ado about nothing. Of the country’s 200,000ha of vineyards, only about 700ha are Cabernet Franc. In the recent tastings for my South American wine guide, Descorchados, I tasted 1,300 Argentinian wines, but a mere 40 were from this variety. So, why all the fuss?

The little Cabernet Franc that is produced in Argentina is surprisingly very good, and sometimes superb – it seems that producers have finally found a worthy companion to Malbec, until now the standard bearer for the whole country’s wine industry.

Tapia’s stand-out estate: Bodega Aleanna, Argentina

In the late 1990s, Bodega Catena Zapata decided to plant Cabernet Franc at about 1,500m above sea level at the foot of the Andes, in Gualtallary. The winery’s current technical director, Alejandro Vigil, first vinified it in 2001, to give more structure to his Malbecs. However, with the passing of vintages, he realised that the potential of the grape was very high, and that it offered very different flavours and textures to Cabernet Franc grown elsewhere.

When Vigil and Nicolás Catena’s daughter Adrianna decided to create Bodega Aleanna, Vigil saw an opportunity to give Cabernet Franc a major role. Today four of the seven wines in Aleanna’s portfolio are made mainly of Cabernet Franc. ‘Things are changing, but most Malbecs in Argentina are very ripe and sweet. Cabernet Franc, especially from high-altitude areas such as Gualtallary, brings freshness and herbal notes not common in other varieties planted here,’ Vigil explains, as he pours Gran Enemigo 2011, a single-vineyard Cab Franc from vines planted by Catena in Gualtallary more than 17 years ago.

‘As with Malbec, we have reduced the use of new wood in our Cabernet Franc, and we try to harvest earlier for more freshness,’ Vigil says of a wine that could be described as halfway between a ripe St-Emilion and a crisp Chinon, but that very much has its own identity.

Patricio Tapia is the Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Argentina.

Tapia’s top Cabernet Franc from Argentina and Chile:

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