A few weeks ago, an international conference on Cabernet Franc was organised in the southern Hungarian Villány wine region. It’s starting to become a tradition; we wrote about last year’s conference here, when the guests were producers from the Loire region in France. Then the slogan was ‘Villány invites Europe!’

The conference was called Franc&Franc and by the way was born when in 2000 Michael Broadbent wrote approvingly of Villány Cabernet Franc in Decanter, stating that the variety had found its natural home in this wine region (I’d just like to note in brackets that it’s the region’s marketing people’s biggest mistake that they tried to take advantage of this for the first time fifteen years later when everybody in the world had long forgotten that Michael had ever said such a thing.)

On the first day of the conference, we tasted Hungarian, Italian and Eastern European Cabernet Francs, accompanied by presentations from winemaker László Romsics, Croatian wine writer Sasa Spiranec, Caroline Gilby MW and Elizabeth Gabay MW, whilst on the second day, the Villány wineries hosted other wineries, so on this tasting day, buses transported visitors between the various tasting locations.

Elizabeth Gabay and Caroline Gilby MW

Based on the tasting, it’s worth noting the following conclusion: those wine regions which also take Cabernet Sauvignon seriously have already elaborated their own styles. That was true last year regarding the Loire and is true this year too if I think about the wines of Friuli Grave. This is not a qualitative statement, I would simply like to demonstrate that in that flight of wines, there was far less divergence than in the Hungarian Cabernet Franc flight. However, it is important to note that the Villány winemakers appeared to be open to dialogue, and I can only trust that the world will also sooner or later take notice of the Cabernet Franc marketed under the brand name of Cabernet Franc.

There are problems of course, this project is still in its infancy, but I’d like to entrust the summary of these to a greater wine expert than myself, so I interviewed Elizabeth Gabay MW, which you can also read here on WineSofa in a few days’ time. Until then, here are the tasting notes:

Szemes, Villányi Franc 2013 (14%)   I 85 points
Spicy nose of pepper, graphite and sour cherry with a strong oak influence. Rounded acidity, tight structure and raw tannins.

Weninger&Gere, Villányi Franc 2013 (14.5%)   I 87 points
Jammy nose with sour cherry, blackberry, plum and punch. Full body, seems a little flabby, silky tannins. Fine spicy flavours.

Lelovits, Cabernet Franc 2012 (13.5%)   I 89 points
Fresh red berry fruit and violet flowers on the nose with a little pepper and lovage. Medium body and a firm structure. Fresh and fruity!

Csányi Chateau, Teleki Villányi Franc 2012 (13.3%)   I 86 points
Vanilla, cloves, biscuit and sour cherry on the nose. Medium body with slightly grippy tannins. The palate is dominated by red berry fruit.

Ruppert, Villányi Franc 2012 (15.5%)   I 84 points
Intense aroma of star anise, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, plum and leather. Full-bodied and mouth-filling, it almost rolls. Jammy flavours and the alcohol is very warming on the finish.

Sauska, Cabernet Franc 2012 (14.5%)   I 88 points
Plenty of fruit and sweet spices on the nose. Full body yet still an elegant overall effect. Flavours of liquorice, fruit and spice with a long finish. Still needs to mature!

Vylyan, Mandolás 2012 (14.3%)   I 87 points
Fruit bomb on the nose, with an attractive array of spices in the background. Full-bodied, rounded and elegant, but could perhaps do with a little more acidity. The palate is spicy rather than fruity.

Gere Tamás&Zsolt, Villányi Franc (Várerdő vineyard) 2011 (13.5%)   I 86 points
Very mature nose with tertiary notes of earth, beetroot, plum and spice. Medium to full-bodied on the palate with crisp acidity, toasty notes, sour cherry, cedar and earth. Long.

Jekl, Cabernet Franc (Fekete-hegy / Black Hill vineyard) 2011 (15%)   I 87 points
Plum jam, oriental spices and pink pepper on the nose. Full body, soft tannins, punch, marzipan, sour cherry and chocolate on the palate. Dense and long.

Bock, Cabernet Franc (Fekete-hegy / Black Hill) 2011 (15%)   I 88 points
Dense aromas of cognac cherry, chocolate and liquorice. Full-bodied with ripe black berry fruit, blackberry, chocolate and cocoa. The alcohol is a little a warming, the structure a little flabby, but compensated for by the emergence of avocado on the finish. Exciting.

Heumann, Cabernet Franc 2011 (15.5%)   I 86 points
Liquorice, sour cherry and rosehip on the nose. Full body with fresh acidity, sour cherry, rosehip and jamminess on the palate. The finish is dominated by oak.

Malatinszky Kúria, Cabernet Franc 2008 (15%)   I 90 points
Aromas of liquorice, pipe tobacco, chocolate and pepper. Full body, tight tannic structure, attractive acidity. An exciting stony, mineral streak appears on the palate. Very long!

In conclusion, it’s ascertainable that at least four differing styles were presented to us by the Villány winemakers. Unfortunately, the international market is not that sophisticated; if the average consumer likes a Villány Franc. then, they’d like to find something similar the next time. If this is not the case, then they won’t buy any more of these wines. I also feel that the high alcohol is a problem as is sometimes the use of oak.

Cantina di Bertiolo, Cabert Cabernet Franc 2015 (12%)   I 82 points
Cherries on the nose. Tight and fresh with crisp acidity. Light and very quaffable.

Pitars, Cabernet Franc 2015 (12.5%)   I 80 points
Sour cherry and herbs on the nose. Light, perhaps even a little green, with unripe acidity, herbs and cherry.

Valentino Buttassi Kret, Cabernet Franc 2015 (12.5%)   I 85 points
Aromas of pepper, rose and fruit. Medium body, well balanced with plenty of fruit on the palate. Very drinkable!

Tomasella, Cabernet Franc 2015 (12.5%)   I 83 points
Pink pepper, sour cherry and smoke on the nose. Lively acidity, plenty of fruit and a medium finish.

Tenuta Bosco Albano, Cabernet Franc 2014 (12.5%)   I 87 points
Exciting nose with mint, purple flowers, sour cherry and orange zest. Mirrored on the palate with sour cherry, blood orange, mandarin, pine and orange zest. Tight, exciting, super!

Tenuta Fernanda Cappello, Cabernet Franc 2013 (12%)   I 80 points
Stalky bitterness and pepper on the nose. On the palate, light with lively acidity and a bitter note reminiscent of sour cherry stone.

What can be said about the Italian wines is that although they can’t compete with their Hungarian peers in terms of complexity, they are easier to communicate thanks to their uniformity. From a producer’s point of view, it’s apparent that they make their wine following the same one principle, subordinating their egos to the common goal.

Chamlija, Cabernet Franc 2014 (13.5%)   I 85 points
A Turkish Cabernet Franc. Aromas of red and black berry fruit, medium body and fresh acidity. Very drinkable. I’d buy this for myself any time.

Bratanov, Cabernet Franc reserve (14.5%)   I 79 points
On the nose, jammy, cake-like character. Dense and full-bodied on the palate with very coarse tannins.

Edoardo Miroglio Elenovo, Cabernet Franc 2013 (14%)   I 86 points
Liquorice, mint, preserved sour cherry on the nose. Full body, attractive acidity, an international approach with plenty of fruit. Long, spicy finish.

Balla Géza, Sziklabor Cabernet Franc 2011 (14%)   I 87 points
Restrained on the nose. Full-bodied on the palate, with lively acidity, firm tannic structure, plenty of fruit and lovely spiciness. Very long finish, but slightly blowzy overall impression.

Emeran Reya, Cabernet Franc 2013 (13%)   I 86 points
Blackberry and blueberry on the nose. Medium body, lively acidity, plenty of fruit flavours and fine tannins. Medium finish.

Pusula, Cabernet Franc 2012 (13.5%)   I 76 points
Vanilla, cloves and raw wood on the nose. On the palate, it tasted like freshly cut planks in a saw mill. You couldn’t taste anything due to the all-enveloping wood. It was as if splinters were piercing my tongue.

DiBonis, Cabernet Franc 2011 (14.8%)   I 86 points
Ripe fruit and cognac fruit on the nose. Full body with exciting acidity, punch, cognac cherry, oak and spice. Unfortunately, the alcohol came across as a bit too high.

Degrassi, Cabernet Franc Contarini Riserva 2011 (13.5%)   I 84 points
Animalistic nose with talcum powder and medical rubber gloves. Medium body, good acidity with flavours of earth, tar and plum. A wine to share.

Degrassi, Cabernet Franc Contarini Riserva 2008 (13.5%)   I 83 points
Rum, Gerbeaud slice and ground walnuts on the nose. Elegant acidity, medium body with rosehip, walnut and earth on the palate.

Scurek, Cabernet Franc 2006 (13.5%)   I 86 points
Vanilla croissants and other Christmas pastries on the nose. Lively acidity, medium body, exciting fruit, but a bitter note from the oak creeps in on the finish. Exciting.

The international or rather the Central and Eastern European vision showed me that the majority here also don’t know what to make of the Cabernet Franc variety. True, they don’t actually want to stick it on their flag, but they still want to break into the world market with it, just like Villány.

We can safely say that the Villány producers still have a long way to go, but I’m personally rooting for them to realise their plans at some point. In the meantime, they can read the forthcoming interview with Elizabeth Gabay MW!

Happy Cabernet Franc Day everyone!

Photos by Gadget Fotó