Speaking franc-ly about aging

I finally got around to writing about one of my favorite red grapes, cabernet franc, in last week’s Liquid Assets column, and the next day a reader inquired about cellaring these wines.

I’ve always believed in saying “I don’t know” when that actually is the case (the inquirer will discern that anyway), and since I never have hung on to any cab franc for long, I tossed the query to three wine-trade folks I respect mightily. Their responses:

Veteran Euro wine buyer I: “I have had some amazing experiences with old cab francs from Saumur, Bourgeuil, and Chinon. The best old wines tend to be top cuvees from growers perfectly stored in their cellars.

“Some of the top growers today are using artificial corks for bottling that ought to have aging potential. Those artificial closures may be better than they were a few years ago, but I am a skeptic for aging wine under them.

“Have you ever had an older Clos Rougeard? It could pass as an old St Emilion or Burgundy and best either of them.”

Veteran Euro wine buyer II: “One of the greatest examples of cellaring Cab Franc are the wines of the Bourgueil rock star Pierre Jacques Druet. Yes, Loire reds do age well.

“I have known Pierre and his son for years; his wines are without a doubt the longest-lived red wines in the Loire, yet expensive and impossible to sell as nobody collects Bourgueil. I recommend reading this and you will see that WineDoctor loves the old wines! I wish I could bring these in and sell them.

“Aw heck, I will likely try to do just that in the next year or two. I like rolling the boulder up the hill.”

Veteran retailer/sommelier trainer: “Cellaring old Franc can be tricky. Depending on vintage (remember that cab franc usually needs help in ripening in the Loire and sometimes in Bordeaux), it can age very well. In slightly warmer vintages cab franc does not lose acid the way most red grapes do, so it can have tannin, acid and fruit in spades whereas a cab sauv might become too sugar-laden and acid-poor.

“I’ve found that in the New World cab franc is hard to age under any circumstances. Just too much fruit to age for anything longer than 5 to 8 years.

“Remember that … a good overall Loire vintage might not be so for places like Chinon. So learn to look at specific regions and sub-appellations for vintages rather than overarching guides. There are producers out there (Breton, Couilly-Dutheil) that I’ve had 15+-year-old wines that drank great.

“2009, as it is just about world-wide, is freaking fantastic for cab franc from the Chinon and Bourguiel. Some I have are already shutting down, but I have high hopes for their futures.”

1 Response

  1. On aging Cabernet Franc, and Franc-Merlot blends in Right-Bank Bordeaux style: Collectors and critics alike still rave about the 1947 and 1961 Cheval Blanc, don’t they? As another “Franc-based” winery in Napa, I think the cooler-climate wines have the acid structure to go the distance, and longer hang-time ripening achieves the subtle nuances of flavor that continue to evolve over time.

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