Made you look, didn’t I? Let’s face it, when wine lovers talk about Cabernet Franc, we’re usually discussing its role in Bordeaux, where it does yeoman’s work as a blending partner with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a few other grapes, or the Loire Valley, where it gets top billing in the vineyards of Chinon and Bourgueil. If we’re really lucky perhaps we’ve stumbled across a bottle from California, New York, or Virginia that boasts 100% Cab Franc. But until recently, not many of us would be waxing poetic over a bottle that came from Argentina.
Well, there’s something new happening just about every day in the wine world: new regions bringing their products to market, advances in winemaking technology and, as in this case, familiar grapes reinventing themselves in unfamiliar locations. Think about Carmenère in Chile and and Tannat in Uruguay. And Malbec is now so closely associated with Argentina that many people forget its origins in Bordeaux and Cahors, both in France. So it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that Cabernet Franc occupies a tiny but respected place in Argentina (just 700 hectares out of 200,000 planted). I had read a few articles and tasting reports on South American Cab Franc, all published within the past couple of months, and they piqued my interest. I love Cab Franc in all its expressions but I had yet to see one from South America. So yes, I was pleasantly surprised (delighted!) when a casual stroll through the Whole Foods wine department turned up a bottle of 2012 Guarda Cab Franc from Luján de Cuyo, Argentina. Wine treasure – in the least likely of places!
Guarda is produced by Bodega Lagarde, which has been making wine since 1897. Owned and operated by the Pescarmona family, it is one of the oldest and most traditional wineries in Mendoza’s Primera Zona, home to some of the most esteemed vineyard sites in Argentina. Soils are alluvial and multi-layered with diverse components such as clay, silt and sand, and the family has retained terroir expert Pedro Parra (https://pedroparrachile.wordpress.com) to help them match grape varieties to the most favorable parcels. In the case of Guarda Cabernet Franc, that is Finca La Jacintana, in the Perdriel region of Luján de Cuyo, where the soils are stony and the climate cool. (As it happens, the first Viognier vines planted in South America also call La Jacintana home. My next wine Odyssey . . .)
How do all those factors alchemize in the glass? As a true feast for all the senses. The wine is a beautiful ruby red, not unlike a Chinon from the Loire Valley; but the Guarda has a density to it that’s really intense, vibrant and concentrated. Like, if you jumped into the glass, the wine might hug you. Sounds weird, I know, but it was so deep! As for the nose, it was seductively floral, with notes of red fruit and a hint of spice. Over the course of the evening the spices came forward, along with an earthy mocha element. It just got better and better! On the palate, the hedonistic promises of the bouquet became reality: juicy red cherries and currants, a touch of cinnamon and, on the finish a whisper of licorice. Enchantment!
As you can tell, I fell head-over-heels for this wine. I’ve been drinking Cab Franc in all its glory, for a long time. But the Guarda is a whole new way of looking at the grape and how it expresses itself. I can’t really compare it to a classic Loire Valley red, racy with acidity and underpinned by a slight herbal inflection or, for that matter, a New World varietal wine with juicy black fruit and structure you can hang your hat on. It’s something else entirely; an exploratory wine adventure of the most delicious sort!
Goldstein, E. Wines of South America, 2014.
Robinson, J., et al. The Oxford Companion to Wine, 2015.
Tapia, P. “Top Cabernet Franc from Argentina and Chile,” Decanter, January 9, 2016.