A few words on Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is believed to originate from Pais Vasco (Basque Country) in Spain, but today France has by far the biggest area planted with Cabernet Franc (36,948 ha per 2009) in the world. Cabernet Franc is predominantly known for being a component in Bordeaux blends, in part as an insurance policy against poor viticultural performance of Cabernet Sauvignon in the tricky Bordelaise climate. Also, Cabernet Franc is a super important variety in the Loire Valley, where it can produce fragrant, medium bodied and silky wines.
Cabernet Franc has the advantage over Cabernet Sauvignon, that it ripens earlier than the latter and thus it can be produced in regions with shorter growing seasons, e.g. in Canada. Earlier ripening, Cabernet Franc does much better on clay-limestone soil and when sourcing your Cabernet Franc, be aware that insufficient ripeness may lead to marked levels of methoxypyrazines (green bell pepper notes) in the wines.
In Villány, ripening the fruit is hardly an issue
Cabernet Franc is such a chameleon and the different climates and terroirs of e.g. Loire, Bordeaux, Bolgheri or Finger Lakes all produce wines with very different impressions.
Villány, situated in the deep South of Hungary, only a less than two hours drive from Budapest, is a perfect place to grow big, bold red wines, and Cabernet Franc really thrives here, showing its full potential. The climate enjoys a Mediterranean climate with plentiful sunshine. The Villány Mountains with the eye-catching 442 meters high Szársomlyó protect the vineyards from northerly winds. Some vineyard sites are located at slightly higher altitudes allowing for a bigger different between day and night temperatures, which allows retaining freshness in the wine. Pure loess soils tend to producer softer wines, whereas loess in combination with limestone produces wines with higher acidity.
“Cabernet Franc has found its natural home in Villány” – Michael Broadbent MW.
I first came across Villányi (From Villány) Cabernet Franc back in 2006 or 2007 and its impact on me has remained the same ever since and I remember reading in a Hungarian magazine, how a Weninger & Gere Cabernet Franc Selection outperformed numerous French and Italian top ones in a tasting and I immediately wanted to seek these wines out.
That 2004 Weninger & Gere, despite so young, remains one of the very best memories, I have of tasting Cabernet Franc on its own, combining richness and flesh with quite a firm structure. A magnificent wine. Such was the beginning of my relationship with Villányi Franc.
I discovered Cabernet Francs of e.g. Vylyan and Bock and tried to reveal this “secret” to people, as these wines really tricker a sweet spot with Danish wine lovers with their big body, ripe and juicy fruit of black cherries and plum with chocolate, vanilla and mocha from the barrel ageing and barely any of the green pepper associated with the varietal in cooler regions.
Villányi Francs are serious wines, yet in all of their richness, to me the best ones are both comforting, soothing and alluring. They want to make friends you and they want to make you feel good.
Now, wait… ‘Villányi Franc’? Not Villányi Cabernet Franc?
To understand the difference, one must know just how important Cabernet Franc is to Villány and this is best explained through the classifications of wines in Villány:
Classicus: Most wines in Villány fall into this category and any permitted varietal can be used.
Premium: To be labelled Premium the wine must meet stricter requirements than for Classicus. E.g. they must show greater typicity of the producer and the terroir and have to be aged for 12 months in barrels. Still, any permitted varietal may carry this classification. These wines may be labelled as ‘Villányi Franc’.
Super Premium: This category from 2014 is exclusively for high-quality wines made from 100% Cabernet Franc. Requirements are super strict and include e.g. both limited yields and passing a blind tasting. Vinification must include minimum 12 months in bottle plus an additional year in bottle and labelling has to be ‘Villányi Franc’.
This is how important Cabernet Franc is to Villány, which by 2016 was planted on around 330 ha. of the region’s 2.500 ha. under vine.
Top 20 Villányi Franc
Every year since 2015 a competition is held in Villány, aiming to select the very premium Cabernet Francs of the region. Normally, the winners are announced during the Franc & Franc conference in November, but 2020 was by no means normal and hence the results announced, very fitting, on the International Cabernet Franc Day, which is December 4th.
During a study trip to Villány, I got to taste the full Top 12 from 2020. 62 wines entered the competition from which a Top 12 was selected: The three best Classicus, the six best Premiums and the three best Super Premiums. No overall winner was elected and no winner within each category.
Tasting through these wines, you can’t help being amazed by the quality of Villányi Cabernet Franc and how different the wines express themselves.
1) TAMÁS LELOVITS Villányi Cabernet Franc 2018
Sweet, ripe blackcurrant, ripe black cherry and blackcurrant. Subtle oak You sense the absence of new oak here. Very soft on the palate. M(+) levels of very fine tannins.
2) PÉTER BAKONYI Siklós Cabernet Franc 2018
Blackcurrant, blackberry and black plum with a fresher, cooler sensation to it. Moderate oak influence. Cloves, tobacco and chocolate. A wine with big tannins with grip.
3) CSÁNYI WINERY Villányi Cabernet Franc 2018
Black cherry, overripe blackcurrant and stewed plum. Maybe the grapes are were harvested slightly later. Slight coffee note and sweet oak spices. A very ripe style, yet edgy. Very well-made wine.
4) AGANCSOS WINERY Capitalis Villányi Franc 2017
Ripe black cherry and blackcurrant as well as blackberry. On the palate plums add to the mix. Herbaceous in a minty way. Chocolate and tobacco from the oak. Full bodied with big and chewy tannins.
5) SZENDE CELLAR Kopár Villányi Franc 2017
Ripe fruit character. Blackcurrant, black cherry and plum. Obvious, spicy oak here. Chocolate and mocha. A herbaceous, minty touch. High levels of very ripe yet grippy tannins.
6) TAMÁS GÜNZER Bocor Villányi Franc 2017
Such ripe fruit profile. Slightly jammy. Black cherry, blackberry and black plum. The level of fruit concentration here is good and the oak is very well integrated. High levels of very ripe tannins.
7) SAUSKA Villányi Franc Siklós 2017
The oak is so well managed in this wine. A Bordelaise feel to it. Ripe black cherry, blackcurrant and blackberry as well as plum. The oak is there with notes of cloves, coffee and chocolate. Everything seems to come together here.
8) GERE TAMÁS & ZSOLT WINERY Villányi Franc
Underneath the blackcurrant and plum the wine has a gamey touch. Obvious oak presence: Pipe tobacco, chocolate, cloves and cinnamon. The wine has a fresher, herbaceous impression. High levels of tannins add to the full body.
9) RUPPERT BORHÁZ Villányi Franc 2016
Ripe cherry and plum. The use of oak is obvious here and masks the fruit a bit, but the wine shows the first signs of development.
10) TAMÁS RICZU Villányi Franc 2017
Blackberry, blackcurrant, ripe black cherry and jammy plum. Coffee, vanilla, dark as well as milk chocolate and mocha from the oak. Full bodied.
11) GERE ATTILA WINERY Villányi Franc 2017
A very young wine, and one with great potential. Blackberry, black cherry and plum. Coffee and dark chocolate from the oak and a definite gamey touch to it. Full bodied with high levels ripe, chewy tannins.
12) BOCK CELLAR Villányi Franc Fekete-hegy Selection 2015
This wine is obviously slightly older with tertiary aromas showing up. Stewed fruit character of black cherry, blackberry and black plum. Spicy aromas from the oak such as nutmeg, cloves and sweet spices. Big, chewy tannins in this full-bodied wine.