04 July 2022 / Sue Tolson Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

Villány celebrates Cabernet Franc with the first Franc du Monde

The southernmost wine district in Hungary, Villány, organised the Franc du Monde competition for the first time this year. This international wine competition focuses on Cabernet Franc and brought together 101 Cabernet Francs from 8 different countries to be judged by an international jury.

Strange bedfellows, or are they?

 

It may seem a strange thing to be organising an international wine competition for a French variety most closely associated with the Loire and Bordeaux in a small Hungarian wine region close to the Croatian border. However, the location of this competition is no coincidence. Villány is becoming increasingly known for its high-quality single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines, not only in Hungary, but also abroad.

 

The variety has been in Villány for around 100 years, but the world, and the local winemakers, began to take notice of this following a comment made in 2000 by the late Michael Broadbent MW in British magazine Decanter, when he stated that “Cabernet Franc has found its natural home in Villány”. The local winemakers realised that Cabernet Franc, often overshadowed by its more famous offspring Cabernet Sauvignon, had the potential to produce premium wine in Villány and have not looked back. The region has set its sights firmly on being a top Cabernet Franc producer and ‘Villányi Franc’ has become one of its key brands.

 

Cabernet Franc in Hungary

 

There are around 1,400 hectares of Cabernet Franc planted in Hungary, making it the eighth largest Cabernet Franc producer in the world after Chile. Villány boasts the largest share of this with 350 hectares (15% of its vineyard area), followed by Szekszárd, with 250 hectares, where its slightly cooler climate produces wines that are lighter and less concentrated than Villány’s and more often used in blends than released as single-varietal wines, although there of course are some exceptions. Eger’s 230 hectares yield wines with crisp acidity, moderate tannins and floral notes, which are likewise often used in blends. There is also some good quality Cabernet Franc produced in Tolna, Balatonboglár and Kunság; however, all eyes are on Villány when it comes to top quality single-varietal Cabernet Franc.

 

Villány and Cabernet Franc

 

Villány’s warm sub-Mediterranean climate and limestone-based soils provide the ideal backdrop to produce concentrated, complex Cabernet Franc. The region boasts important historic vineyards, such as Kopár, Jammertal, Csillagvölgy, Remete and Ördögárok, which yield ripe, concentrated fruit, perfect for premium wines.

 

The region has created three quality levels applicable for Cabernet Franc: Classic, Premium and Super Premium. The first has no ageing requirements, but wines are typically aged 6-9 months in oak and/or stainless steel, the second must be aged for at least one year in oak, but 24 months is more typical, while the latter must be aged for at least two years, one of which must be oak. The latter two can be called Villányi Franc, while the first is simply Cabernet Franc.

 

What’s in the name on a label?

 

So why is Villányi (Cabernet) Franc so important? Let’s stop and think for a moment. Although Cabernet Franc is one of the 20 most planted varieties in the world, its name rarely features prominently on the label. In France, which boasts nearly 60% of the world’s Cabernet Franc plantings, it either disappears anonymously into blends in Bordeaux or its name is hidden behind the appellation names in the Loire – instead of seeing Cabernet Franc on the label, you see Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil or Chinon. In Italy, which grows 10% of the world’s Cabernet Franc, Veneto and Friuli make wines from often high-yielding vines resulting in the green bell pepper notes which many find unappealing, and your Cabernet Franc might even be Carmenère, while in Bolgheri or Maremma, which produce rich yet elegant complex wines, it is also often blended or labelled with a ‘fantasy name’, such as ‘Dedicato a Walter’. So, there’s a clear opportunity for Villány to showcase the variety, along with some new world countries, such as Chile and Argentina, which are increasingly producing great monovarietal Cabernet Franc too.

 

Villányi Franc

 

Villányi Franc demonstrates the new polished, elegant face of Cabernet Franc, with rich concentrated ripe black fruit and spice, ripe tannins and little of the familiar green bell pepper which many find off-putting. Moreover, its fresh acidity and elegant structure make the wines long lived. Indeed, in Franc du Monde, wines from 1993 and 2002 won gold medals!

 

The wines can be quite oaky, especially the premium and super premium versions, although the classic wines are lighter and fresher with less evident oak. The cooler subregion of Siklós generally produces more restrained, elegant wines.

 

Franc&Franc

 

Villány has already demonstrated its commitment to the variety with its annual conference in November, Franc&Franc, which will be in its seventh edition this year. The conference brings producers, journalists and other experts together to discuss the future of the variety. This was the first step towards internationalising Villány’s connection to Cabernet Franc, as each year guests from other regions, such as the Loire, north-eastern Italy and new world wine regions have been invited to take part and share their wines and experiences. The next day is a ‘tasting day’ where invitees as well as Hungarian Cabernet Franc enthusiasts are invited to traverse the wine region and immerse themselves in Cabernet Franc at five tasting venues.

 

Gergely Nagy, executive manager of Tenkes Regional Development Nonprofit Ltd stated, “Our decision to create a new wine contest was inspired by the experiences of the past years, since the Villány wine region has already organised the Cabernet Franc themed trade and consumer events six times so far. During these years, many of the most significant old and new world producers have presented their wines at Franc&Franc. They are devoted producers who believe in the variety and make varietal wine of it.” Thus, it seems Franc du Monde was the next logical step.

 

Franc du Monde 2022

 

But back to this year’s competition, which saw wines not only from Villány but also from other wine regions in Hungary, as well as from France, Argentina, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey and Romania, among the contestants. Jury members, including two Masters of Wine, also came from a wide range of countries including the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, UK, Italy, Serbia and as far afield as Chile.

The wines could be entered into four categories: classic, premium, blends (with at least 70% Cabernet Franc) and library wines (ten years or older). The jury, almost two-thirds of which were international judges, clearly had a good impression of the wines, as they awarded 12 gold medals to wines from Hungary (Villány, Szekszárd and Eger), Argentina and Slovakia, as well as 21 silver medals to wines from Hungary, Serbia and Croatia. The standard of the wines entered was so high that many who scored sufficient points to earn a silver medal did not receive one, as the competition was run according to OIV rules that state that only 30% of wines can be awarded a medal. Indeed the average score of the medal-winning wines was 89.2 points, with wines of 86 and above deemed silver medal worthy and 92 and above worthy of a gold.

 

Therefore, it can be said that the first edition of Franc du Monde was a resounding success. The organisers plan the competition to be biannual and hope they will see a growing number of international entries, making the competition a truly global Cabernet Franc evaluation and promotion.

Top 12 Villányi Cabernet Francs

 

Every year a blind tasting panel selects the top 12 wines to present as representative of the style, 3 classic, 6 premium and 3 super premium. This year, the following producers’ wines were included among others, so their wines are a good place to start your exploration of Villányi Franc:  Vylyan Vineyards and Winery, Jackfall Winery, Günzer Tamás Winery, Jammertal Wine Estate, Gere Attila Winery, Lelovits Tamás Winery, Heumann Winery, Ruppert Winery, Sauska Winery and Bock Estate.

 

Let me finish on a lovely quote from Cees van Casteren MW, one of the competition’s panel chairs. “If you’re talking Cabernet, it pays to be Franc!” And we heartily agree, so, forget Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy Franc. And, don’t forget to celebrate the next International Cabernet Franc Day on 4 December with a glass of Villányi Franc in hand!

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