Beyond Malbec: Exploring Cabernet Franc from Argentina

There just are not enough bottlings of Cabernet Franc available, in my opinion. I find the varietal intriguing and enjoyable – perfumy and floral, with notes of pencil lead, chocolate, raspberry, and pepper. Most of the best examples of it as a single varietal come from Chinon in the Loire, but it is also at home in Bordeaux, where it is often used as a blending grape, in the US, where Long Island produces some very good examples, and Canada.

Over the past several months, I found four examples from three Argentine wineries, which I set aside for a special tasting with WDWU’s Eleni and Glenn. Below are our combined notes and impressions from the tasting.

Bodega del Desierto
We started with a comparison of two vintages of Cabernet Franc from Bodega del Desierto. While Argentina’s Patagonia region boasts a growing number of wineries, Bodega del Desierto, which was established in 2004, was the pioneer in the region’s La Pampa province. The winery is located more than 400 miles from Mendoza in Alto Valle del Rio Colorado, which has a dry, continental climate with moderate to cool temperatures. Californian Paul Hobbs, whose other Argentine winemaking projects include Viña Cobos, is the consulting winemaker here.

The 2005 Bodega del Desierto 25/5 was the oldest in the tasting, and fortunately, it has aged well, to the point where this dark brick wine has become port-like.  While it is quite ripe, our first impressions were of vinyl, lead, and bramble. Medium acidity and tannins continue to give this wine a great structure. It has a long finish of mocha and licorice. The 2005 spent six months in 70% French and 30% American oak.

At KJ Baaron’s for about $14.99.

We felt that the 2009 Bodega del Desierto 25/5, which was aged for ten months in 70% French and 30% American oak, has the potential to age well for at least a couple more years. The appearance is slighty murky and the color garnet. While Glenn loved the nose which hinted at floral, vegetal, and meaty characteristics, Eleni deemed it mischievous and sassy and pixie-like. This is a complex wine that has a cherry/chocolate/cola core surrounded by spice and bitter almond.  Medium plus acidity and tannins make for a tight and tingly mouthfeel.

At KJ Baaron’s for $15.99.

Bodega Luigi Bosca
Eleni and I wanted to visit Luigi Bosca when we were in Mendoza, but were not able to get an appointment.  We decided to see if we could drop in anyway, which also failed, despite Eleni’s valiant and humorous attempts to bribe the guard with cookies. Even so, Luigi Bosca remains among my favorite Argentine wineries.

The 2008 Gala 4 is 95% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec made from 90-year old vines. The addition of a bit of Malbec gives the wine a more violet hue. Another wine with a fantastic nose. On the surface, there are lots of floral notes, plus perfume, talc, cassis, and vanilla.  But breathe too deeply and the high alcohol becomes evident. On the palate, all three of us felt that the alcohol distracted from the fruit. The wine has a medium finish that Glenn felt was harsh.

At Julio’s Liquors for $33.99.

Bodega Benegas Lynch
Winemaker Federico Benegas Lynch’s family has been making wine in Argentina since 1883, when his forefather Tiburcio Benegas founded the well-known Trapiche winery in Mendoza.  Tiburcio is credited with bringing vine cuttings to Mendoza and introducing French varietals to the country. Over the generations there has been a strong association with Bordeaux, which continues to this day. Bordeaux wine consultant Michel Rolland is helping to make these wines and putting his stamp on the Benegas Lynch brand.

We had the 2006 Benegas Lynch from Mendoza. This 100% Cabernet Franc wine came from 100-year old vineyards that are said to be “pre-phylloxera” and is aged for 18 months in new French oak casks. Dense garnet color with a hint of brick starting to show.  The nose is more reserved than any of the other Cabernet Francs in this tasting. Black raspberry, cassis, burnt vanilla toast, and band aid. A bit meaty on the second day. Chocolate, cherry, and perfume on the palate. Glenn dubbed it an “Argentine wine for Bordeaux drinkers” and found it to be too classic and borderline boring.  I thought the mouthfeel was the most elegant and integrated, especially with regards to the alcohol. The tannins are moderate and velvety, the acidity is medium minus. Long, tactile finish.

At Federal Wine & Spirits for $40.

Overall, it was an interesting showing of Cabernet Franc. However, with all four wines having 14.5% to 14.8% alcohol, our overall impression was that the alcohol was high and all four wines were “hot.” Is this a characteristic of Argentine Cabernet Franc or just a coincidence that each wine was high in alcohol?  It’s a question worth exploring in a future tasting.

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Katrin is one of the co-founders of Wine Dine With Us. She enjoys sharing her love of wine on the blog, and is particularly fond of wines from Argentine, Alto Adige, and Germany. A lifelong environmentalist, Katrin has become increasingly interested in issues of sustainability in wine and food, local food production, biodynamics, and organic agriculture. When not drinking wine and writing about it, she is a nonprofit professional, specializing in fundraising and special events.

One Response to “Beyond Malbec: Exploring Cabernet Franc from Argentina”

  1. Charlie Rose
    February 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Best Cab Franc’s in U.S. are from Washington State!

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