Wine Talk: Frankly Cabernet

After being planted here in the 19th century and almost disappearing in later years, the Cabernet Franc has been making a comeback.

Cabarnet flowers 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Cabarnet flowers 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Cabernet Franc is a grape variety that is becoming more popular in Israel.
However, it is not new here. In the 19th century, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild first insisted on planting varieties from Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc was planted along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Originally more Cabernet Franc was planted than the other two varieties. In those days it was known as Bouchet or, confusingly, Bordo.
However, it gradually disappeared, as yields were too low for the growers, and there was no market for a more expensive table wine. The wine consumer then wanted inexpensive kiddush wines or altar and communion wine “from the Holy Land.” Quality grape varieties were not needed for “liquid religion” wines. So when the noble Bordeaux grapes became affected by phylloxera, the louse that devastated vineyards throughout Europe, they were grubbed up and replaced with Carignan and Alicante.
Cabernet Franc returned to Israel in the 1990s. The first winery to use it in blends was the Golan Heights Winery. It added it to some of the early Yarden Katzrin wines.
It was only in the 2000s that the variety really made its comeback. The first of the larger wineries to produce a varietal Cabernet Franc was Carmel, which came out with its Appellation Cabernet Franc in the 2002 vintage. The smaller wineries to support this variety were Margalit and Vitkin, which produced their first Cabernet Francs in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
Cabernet Franc, though less famous than the all-conquering Cabernet Sauvignon, was in fact the original Cabernet grape. In Bordeaux, it usually plays only a supporting role to other, more dominant varieties. Cabernet Franc is overshadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon in the Medoc and by Merlot in St. Emilion and Pomerol. It comes into its own in the Loire Valley, where red wines from the villages of Saumur, Bourgueil and Chinon are made from Cabernet Franc. These normally produce light, herby, earthy wines. The very best expression of this variety is in St. Emilion’s Chateau Cheval Blanc, one of the world’s finest wines, where more than 60 percent of the blend is Cabernet Franc. It also grows with success in northeast Italy, where it is sometimes known as Cabernet Frank or just Cabernet. Lately it has also been planted in California, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa.
Cabernet Franc tends to be at its best in cooler climates, and possibly the Upper Galilee is where it thrives best in Israel.
However, there are also good Cabernet Francs from the southern Mount Carmel area and from the Judean Hills. It is lighter in color than Cabernet Sauvignon and is less tannic. The resulting wine is usually light to medium bodied. It is fruitier, with aromas of raspberries and blackcurrants, has good balancing acidity and a green, herbaceous character. There some followers of Cabernet Franc who believe this is the grape for which Israel will become known in the future.
The Good Stuff:
Some of the better Cabernet Francs in Israel are listed below (NK = Not kosher):
BEST VALUE NIS 50 TO NIS 75 Carmel Appellation Cabernet Franc 2008: Medium-bodied Cabernet Franc with delicate berry fruit, an aroma of bell pepper and a clean, well-balanced finish. The wine comes from the Upper Galilee vineyards and represents excellent value.
BEST QPR NIS 75 TO NIS 100 Tulip Mostly Cabernet Franc 2008 (NK): Full-bodied Cabernet Franc with a pronounced sweetness from oak aging.
Tulip is a praiseworthy winery in Kfar Tikva. Some of its workers have disabilities or special needs. It will produce kosher wine from the 2010 vintage.
Recanati Cabernet Franc Reserve 2008: This wine has a nose of cherries and raspberries with a backdrop of sweet vanilla from oak aging. The Recanati Winery is situated at Emek Hefer in the Sharon Plain. Most of its vineyards are in the Upper Galilee.
Psagot Cabernet Franc 2008 :This wine shows good varietal character, including the slightly green character that fans of Cabernet Franc like. It is made by the Psagot Winery, which is situated in the northern Jerusalem mountains. It is a fast-improving winery.
SPECIAL PURCHASE NIS 100 - 150 Vitkin Cabernet Franc 2008 (NK): A full-bodied, quite tannic Cabernet Franc, which will soften with bottle age. It shows good fruit with blackberry, raspberry and cherry notes. The Vitkin Winery is a specialist in lesser-known varieties.
Ella Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2007: One of the best Cabernet Francs produced in Israel. This wine has good cherry, blackberry fruit, rounded mouth feel and soft tannins. The Ella Valley Winery is situated in Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Heh.
LUXURY NIS 150+ Margalit Cabernet Franc 2008 (NK): Full-bodied, deep-colored wine showing complex aromas of blackberry, cassis and tobacco with a herby, oaky backdrop. Margalit’s Cabernet Franc comes from its vineyard in Binyamina.
Pelter T Selection Cabernet Franc 2008 (NK): Tight, elegant Cabernet Franc with notes of blackcurrant and cherry, green pepper and good balancing acidity and tannins. The Pelter Winery is one of Israel’s finest boutique wineries and is situated on the Golan Heights.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about Israeli wine for international and Israeli publications.
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