Greg Sherwood MW: Cabernet Franc increasingly perceived more positively
By Christian Eedes, 21 July 2022
The social media climate memes are certainly doing the rounds of late, but my favourite has to be the split screen picture of a weather map from the BBC dating back to the late 1970s or early 1980s, and on the other side, a heat summation map of the UK from the BBC from the past sweltering week in July 2022. The dated historical hot summer map has a smattering of 33s, 34s and even a few 35 degrees C temperatures complete with jolly styled, naïve little sunshine icons. On the other side, the modern-day heat map represents something terrifying that you might see in Mad Max movie explaining that death by heat stroke is almost certainly imminent.
Now, I’m not trying to go down the rabbit hole of climate change or global warming but simply highlight the changing mainstream representation of everyday risk and adversity that has amplified the national “panic culture” in the UK especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. As old timers are quick to point out, “We just called it summer whereas now, it’s called a climate crisis”.
There is of course no happy medium, because until Covid came around, talking about the weather among polite British social company was so common to the point of being a national pastime. But ultimately, the weather has now been joined by the “Covid conversation” that is perfectly acceptable to strike up with people you don’t know, in awkward situations, with your cab driver, your work colleague, or where you just need to make idle chat.
But the temperature analogy is also about perception and relativity. What has gone before and what is occurring now and how we used to react and how we react now are completely different. In the past weeks I have had the pleasure to host and be in the company of two massive personalities from two of the great wine families from the new world, namely Bruwer Raats and Adrianna Catena.
Bruwer Raats joined us in the UK after a rigorous tour of the Netherlands and made his first appearance in the London wine trade since late 2019. The occasion was based around both the launch of the new Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2021 and the Eden Cabernet Franc 2020 as well as the highly anticipated release of the declassified MR de Compostella in the form of the 2019 Raats Jasper Red Blend.
For Adrianna Catena, it was less of a trek, as the younger sister of Laura Catena, she actually lives in the UK in Kentish Town in London and is fully up to speed on the comings and goings in the fine wine world of London. But the commonality, of course, centred around the elegant, premium red variety Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc you might ask? Surely you mean Malbec, as the Catena Family have been global leaders in premium single vineyard Malbec since the early 2000s?
But Adrianna’s own vineyard project, El Enemigo is a more romantic winery vision at heart. The concept was born in September 2009 as Alejandro Vigil, the resident head winemaker for Catena and Adrianna Catena walked back from the Argentine Embassy in London, where her father Nicolas Catena had just received the Decanter Man of the Year Award in 2009. Adrianna, an Oxford University PhD qualified historian, and Alejandro, a soils engineer, spoke of their shared love of philosophy, wine and history – and so they decided to create some wines together as a reflection of this shared passion. Not that their respect for tradition means they stick within its limits, as following the status quo has never been El Enemigo’s intention.
Beginning in the early 2000s with a basic range of high quality single varietal wines made from Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, the range was soon joined by a prestige cuvée called the Gran Enemigo, which was fashioned around a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But now more latterly, the range has expanded again to include a three-wine reserve range of single vineyard, single terroir Cabernet Franc reds that all also include 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chacayes, the Agrelo, the El Cepillo and the Gaultallary represent the pinnacle of Cabernet Franc production in South America, and surely, along with producers’ wines like Bruwer Raats’s Raats Family Wines Cabernet Franc and his Raats Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc, must also be rated alongside a select few of the top Loire icon Cabernet Franc reds such as Clos Rougeard, Thierry Germain and Sylvain Dittiere.
My initial comment to both proprietors at the beginning of both tastings was that they must have been very brave to put so much time, energy and investment behind ranges of wines that relied so heavily on the Cabernet Franc “wow” factor. Not wanting to have a selective memory, this was not an easy variety to sell in the early 2000s or even post 2010, until finally something in the global wine tectonic plates shifted to open the door to Cabernet Franc at the top table, along with more commonly accepted Grand Vin varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
But thankfully we are in a new space and a new time where a new generation of wine drinkers have far fewer established preconceptions of what should and shouldn’t be good and what should be great. Their palates are open to advice, open to suggestions and their tastes are unshaped by past decades of what has come before. It is in this context that we are able to try and enjoy and reflect on top Cabernet Franc wines from around the world including the following:
Gran Enemigo Chacayes Cabernet Franc 2018, 13.5% Abv.
Dark, broody and deep black fruit aromatics with hints of blood orange, earthy black currant and a cool, sleek creamy texture with real finesse and elegance with lovely sweet fruited complexity. 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Gran Enemigo Agrelo Cabernet Franc 2018, 13.5% Abv.
Intriguing and exotic with fabulously perfumed aromatics red and black berries, pomegranates and red cherries and milk chocolate. Texturally sleek and dense but beautifully silky with a pronounced sapidity, cool creamy black berry fruits, hints of graphite spice and liquid minerality on the finish. Very classy. 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Gran Enemigo El Cepillo Cabernet Franc 2018, 13.5% Abv.
An expressive style with more exotic notes of inky black berry fruits, iodine, cedar spice and salty cassis. Full and mouth-filling, the texture is soft and chalky with graphite hints but ever so soft and voluminous… like stuffing your mouth with black cherry and cassis flavour cotton wool. Hints of creamy mocha choc spice add further interest. 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Cabernet Franc 2018, 13.5% Abv.
An incredibly intricate array of aromatics with saline black berry, kelp, iodine and hints of coffee beans and mocha spice. The wine combines plushness, freshness, voluminous weight with textural complexity and elegance combined with noticeable power and depth. Fabulous balance makes this a truly all-round great wine with class, pedigree and precision. Very special indeed. 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Not to be outdone by the Argentinians, Bruwer Raats’s fabulous new Eden Cabernet Franc 2020 was profiled in the UK for the very first time internationally and once again, laid down a solid quality benchmark to which all other South African producers will need to aspire to when it comes to Cabernet Franc.
Raats Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2020, 14% Abv.
The Raats Eden Cabernet Franc is always classical and impressively premium in feel and this 2020 is certainly no different. The aromatics are initially tight and compact at this embryonic stage of development before slowly blossoming into a pristinely pure, precise and wonderfully perfumed offering showing notes of violets, lilac, rose petals, pink musk, sweet sandalwood and subtle hints of crème de cassis, earthy mulberry and sweet vanilla pod spice. The palate displays an incredible tensile linearity together with fabulously compact, tight grained tannins and a sleek graphite laden minerality. This small production wine flaunts its premium pedigree, its supremely manicured textural elegance and effortless finesse to perfection. There is no mistaking that the high-density planting lends an extra dimension of intensity and concentration to the wine. Allow this wine a few more years in the cellar before enjoying over the next 15 to 20+ years. (359 bottles produced.) 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes, you just know it’s damn hot, and sometimes you just know a wine is simply spellbindingly awesome. These past weeks we have experienced both of these extremes in the UK!
- Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years travelling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London and is today Senior Wine Buyer. He became a Master of Wine in 2007.
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