Complete Cabernet Franc and superlative Syrah

The Raats family make excellent Chenin Blanc that sells for prices way below those you would expect given their quality level. I have been following their old vines cuvée for many years and when I serve it, blind, people always remark on its high quality. When I reveal all, they are stunned by its bargain price.

However, Chenin is not the only Loire varietal Raats specialise in – they also grow Cabernet Franc. I have a lot of time for quality Cabernet Franc. The best Loire growers can make (in warm vintages) fresh, lively wines with power and real personality.

I am jumping in right at the top of Raats’ Cabernet Franc line-up with the Eden Single Vineyard – High Density Planted. You may be wondering what they mean by this.

Most vineyards in the New World are planted with vines approximately 3m x 1.5m apart, whereas in the Old World they are planted approximately 1.5m x 1.5m apart. This difference has large implications.

High density planted vineyards, like those in the Old World and in this Eden Cabernet Franc cause the vines to struggle to gain nutrients and water, thus lowering the yields they generate and causing the vines to produce higher quality fruit.

High density planted vineyards are undoubtedly a Good Thing. I wish more growers in the New World would adopt this technique. Lower yields and better quality fruit are clearly going to result in better wine.

With this Eden Cabernet Franc, the yields are such that effectively one vine produces one bottle of wine – in line with the typical yields of a quality European vineyard.

A vineyard planted at half the density but producing the same yield per hectare would obviously have each vine producing two bottles of wine. The restriction of yield caused by high density planting is clearly going to result in better fruit.

Alas, such a reduction in yields means that only one barrel of Eden vineyard Cabernet Franc is produced each year. This is bugger all for the world to slake its thirst on. I am lucky to be tasting one and I am expecting great things from it.

Sons of Sugarland is a South African Syrah that has a cock-and-bull story on the back label supposedly explaining the slightly unusual name. You can get the full story on Greg Sherwood MW’s website.

If I may summarise, it is a collaboration between three growers who wanted to showcase the exceptional quality of the Syrah fruit they grow. This wine has an exceptional reputation and has a very enthusiastic following at Handford (where both wines are sold).

Both wines were decanted back into their original bottles two hours before they were tasted.

Bottle imageCabernet Franc ‘Eden Vineyard High Density Planted’ 2017, Raats Family Wines

Freddie Mugnier, the towering figure amongst Chambolle-Musigny winemakers, has told me that the word ‘concentrated’ is a terrible thing to say about a wine. Well, bollocks to that! This wine smells, in the best possible meaning of the word, concentrated.

There is a rich abundance of fruit: blackcurrants, blueberries and blackberries. These all smell totally beguiling and lubriciously attractive. The rich power of this fruit is seriously compelling.

It also has a powerful character that one seeks in all Cabernet Franc wines: it smells leafy. This does not mean it is unripe, far from it, Eden Cab Franc is deliciously succulent with ripe aromas. Rather this is a character of the Cabernet Franc grape.

This leafy character is not just simple greenness, the force of personality in this wine has brought the leafiness to smell herbal: thyme, sage and rosemary aromas are here. Lawks, what a complex nose this is!

The alcohol is a little high, but in good balance with the other deliciously laiscarpotic aromas on the nose. A little wood is noticeable but again the harmony is just fantastic.

This is the nose of a really fine, complex and captivating wine; it charms, excites, begs you to drink it. So, I will!

This has a beautiful, fresh, spirited palate with a lick of luxuriant fruit to enhance its charm. Even on a small first taste it charms and excites.

As I dive into Eden Cabernet Franc further, I can really taste the delicious fruit up front, more blackcurrant and blackberry. The fruit seems perfectly ripe and not over-blown or overripe in the slightest. God, it is lovely!

The fruit is supported and intertwined within a quite rigorous but highly attractive structure. There are good, but not too hard, tannins and a great freshness that keeps the whole thing bursting with vivacity and charm.

It seems to have a granite chip flavour to it, that I find pleasing in a wine that is quite large in scale. There is also a hint of wood tannin that shows on the tremendously long finish. God, this is lovely! Oh, I said that. Let me expand on that.

Eden Cab Franc’s palate undoubtedly has some scale, both in terms of fully mature fruit and a powerful, lively structure, but it is all beautifully tied together with perfect harmony and it is highly attractive. This is Cabernet Franc for the ubermensch.

No! It is wine for the ubermensch! It is appealing, it is structured for ageing but easily enjoyable now, it pulses with dimension. There is layer after layer of seriously delicious flavour to wallow in and give your palate and your mind a good time with. This is wine already!

As I stated this is structured for ageing, Eden Cabernet Franc will age and improve for a long time yet. This is not because it is a big, ripe bastard of a wine or simply hugely tannic, but because it has a beautiful harmony to match its delicious personality.

If I had another bottle of this it would go in the cellar for a decade or more and come out just as beautiful but restrained and mellowed by time. This needed the two hour decant to show well, but it is not tough, it just needs time.

Quite brilliant. Easily the best monovarietal Cabernet Franc I have ever had. Compared to the Raats Family Eden, other labels of Cab Francs are not worth the paper they are printed on.

bottle imageSyrah ‘Son’s of Sugarland’ 2017, Ron Burgundy Wine Collaboration

This is made from 100% whole bunches; the stems are included in the fermentation. This is a good thing with a varietal like Syrah because it reduces tannin and gives freshness to the wine.

The nose is very svelte with sleek, refined fruit aromas. Cherry, plum and redcurrant, I would suggest. The fruit is very polished and refined and would not be out of place in a larger-scaled Côte-Rôtie.

There is quite a bit of spicy, pepperiness as well. The power of this seems to be a particularly South African characteristic. It is not unbalanced, though, and gives the fruit lovely support and complexity.

Along with this lovely seasoning of peppery spice Son’s of Sugarland has a pronounced aroma of crushed rock. This time I am not going to try and guess what type of rock; the aroma simply reminds me of when I collected fossils as a child and would whack rocks with my rock pick. This all adds to the serious complexity of the nose.

The nose is highly attractive, all the fruit, pepper and rock swirl together in perfect harmony and there is no excess of alcohol or wood to detract from there beauty.

If you would like a nearest Old World approximation to this nose it would be a ripe vintage of one of the more powerful Côte-Rôties.

Identifying this in a blind tasting, the clues would be the increased pepperiness that is easy to detect, it is more graceful and smooth than young Cote-Roties tend to be and it does not have the bastard load of oak that most Côte-Rôtie producers seem to love slathering their wines with. I much prefer this nose to any young Côte-Rôtie I have had recently, but I have not had terribly many.

It tastes an absolute dream! There is plenty of fruit here, but it is refined and sophisticated. As far from the Barossa fruit bombs as it is possible to get without buying your red wine from Wales!

The pepper spice gives it a good bite and there is a silky but firm – certainly not hard – tannic structure. This, together with the bright, vivacious freshness of the wine makes Son’s of Sugarland an amazingly winsome Syrah to relish drinking.

It is also distinctly complex, with crushed stone and an exceedingly well integrated acidity adding to this feeling. The more I drink Son’s of Sugarland the more I love it! It is a perfectly balanced, graceful, sophisticated Syrah of considerable allure. Out of the many South African Syrah’s I have now tried, all of which I have loved, in my mind this is edging toward the top of the peak. I really, really love it.

It has the balance and poise to age into something possibly even more beautiful. I say ‘possibly’ because it is so splendid now, I cannot see much that needs improving upon. Buy a case and do the experiment with six bottles. They will age and if I am forced to commit myself, I think they will improve. Drink the other six over the next two-to-three years with nigh-unbounded gratification.

This is a brilliant wine and is better than most Northern Rhône’s at multiples its price. What can I say? I love it! I will buy more. You buy some!

These wines are both available from Handford.