USA: U.S. Malbec, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot
What About US Cabernet Franc, Malbec, & Petit Verdot?
Cabernet Franc is very closely related to Cabernet Sauvignon and, indeed, it is widely presumed that Cabernet Franc is just a well-established mutation of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is ideally suited to cooler climates as it buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Additionally, it is less susceptible to poor weather during harvest. In the Médoc and Graves regions of Bordeaux, where it typically constitutes about 15-percent of the final blend, it is seen as a measure of insurance against poor Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot weather. Cabernet Franc used to be planted almost as widely as Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux well into the 60s, but Cabernet Sauvignon had swung into such favor that 20 years later it had twice the acreage of Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc tends to be lighter in color and tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon, with an earlier maturing character. On Bordeauxs Right Bank, Cabernet Franc has a stronger foothold, and is best known as the dominant grape in the blend for the famed château, Cheval Blanc. In the Loire it is the most widely planted red varietal where it yields lighter wines with distinct herbal overtones. U.S. Cabernet Francs are still largely in the experimental stage and there is a huge spectrum of interpretations, from heavy Napa wines to lighter styles from the East Coast.
Malbec is a rarely planted varietal in Bordeaux that yields a wine of great color. It is, however, often somewhat short on flavor. It can be tricky to grow, as it is susceptible to a range of vineyard diseases. Nonetheless, it has taken hold in Argentina, where it produces a rich, rustic wine. In the U.S. there is very little planted, but some early efforts have proven to be promising.
Petit Verdot, on the other hand, can yield a wine of great depth and personality. It has fallen from favor in Bordeaux, however, as it ripens later than Cabernet Sauvignon and hence only in the best of years. This might bode well for the varietal in California, which has no such ripening problems, and indeed, some of the early efforts with the grape have been surprisingly well-executed, with solid structures, deep colors, and exotic aromatics. Of all three varieties in California, Petit Verdot just may be the one to watch in the long run.
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