Growing in sex appeal? Cab Franc tasting yields 14 gold medallists

NOT THAT long ago, a Bordeaux-style blend from the Helderberg in Stellenbosch called Cordoba Crescendo, made by Chris Keet, stood out as a Cape red with something of a cult status. Contrary to the majority of combos in this category dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Crescendo had Cabernet Franc playing the leading role. The brand is no more – a consequence of unfortunate circumstances but by no means for want of a solid fan base. By the time the last vintage left the cellar there were barely two dozen single-varietal Cab Francs on the market, however the cultivar looked to be gaining traction – enough to progress beyond niche status.

Some hold that of the five main components traditionally associated with famous blends from either side of the Garonne river in France – not forgetting Petit Verdot and Malbec – none can be as good on their own as when working their magic together. Yet some would argue that when flying solo, in the context of South African wines, generally speaking, Cabernet Franc is today more successful than Merlot as a red Bordeaux variety capable of world-class quality and interest value to rival the calibre of the country’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon. And the category is growing…

The second South African Cab Franc Challenge involved 50 wines on the tasting bench – including 11 entered in a class for older vintages, to see how well they were maturing. Holden Manz 2012, a winner in the 2016 Challenge, was judged to be the best of the older submissions and there were 14 wines deemed to be of gold medal standard (see below). Head of the judging panel, Cape Wine Master Christine Rudman, reported a 38% increase in the number of SA Cabernet Francs over the past five years. She and fellow jurors Samarie Smith (wine writer), Tinashe Nyamudoka (sommelier), Mike Brampfield-Duggan (retailer) and Izele van Blerk (winemaker) loved the wines featuring minerality and ‘dusty road’ characteristics. “We also tasted a few upfront and funky examples with loads of red fruit,” said Rudman, “as well as the more varietal-typical wines with classic perfume notes of violets, scrub and red berries.”

One wonders when renowned SA Cab Franc ambassador Bruwer Raats will rank among the competition winners… Apparently just about every producer of these wines was represented in 2017. And among this year’s standouts: Warwick has been one of the two most successful Cab Franc cellars over the past 10 years (together with Raats), Rainbow’s End won two gold medals, and My Wyn, a boutique cellar high up on the mountainside in Franschhoek, has what is probably the most attention-grabbing label in the class (as illustrated above).


Doolhof Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 – Wellington cellar
Kaapzicht Cabernet Franc 2014 – Bottelary cellar, Stellenbosch
Lisha Nelson Cabernet Franc 2014 – Paarl cellar
My Wyn Cabernet Franc 2014 – Franschhoek cellar
Rainbow’s End Limited Release Cabernet Franc 2015 – Banghoek cellar, Stellenbosch
Warwick Cabernet Franc 2013 – Simonsberg cellar, Stellenbosch


Audacia Cabernet Franc 2013 – Helderberg cellar, Stellenbosch
Bushmanspad Cabernet Franc 2012 – Robertson cellar
De Trafford Cabernet Franc 2013 – Stellenbosch cellar
Ondine Cabernet Franc 2013 (Ormonde) – Darling cellar
Rainbow’s End Cabernet Franc 2015 – Banghoek cellar, Stellenbosch
Stellenrust Barrel Selection Cabernet Franc 2013 – Stellenbosch cellar
Uva Mira Cabernet Franc 2013 – Helderberg cellar, Stellenbosch
Whalehaven Cabernet Franc 2013 – Hemel-en-Aarde cellar, Hermanus


CAB FRANC CARNIVALS: tastings coupled with opportunities to buy the winning wines are scheduled to take place at Avontuur estate in Stellenbosch on 20 May and at the Wanderer’s Club in Johannesburg on 2 June – tickets available via and


One comment

  • Peter F May

    Few SA Cab Franc wines are available in the UK, but KWV The Mentors Cabernet Franc 2013 is a delicious, ripe, silky CF that has gained top votes at the South African wine tastings I have been presenting recently. As I recall, Norma Ratcliffe at Warwick pioneered CF as a varietal wine from the Cape, so its good to see their wine is still impressing.

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