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Cabernet franc

CABERNET FRANC, A GRAPE VARIETY FINDING ITS PATH
by Iulia Scavo DipWSET 15.07.2020

INTRODUCTION
When people think about Hungarian wine the first thing that comes into their mind is Tokaj. Most of the time this is the first and only thing they can imagine about Hungary. Some might also know the reputation of the Bikavér, the Bull’s Blood, in which case the image is not always the best. Only wine geeks will quote the Franc and people they might address to would barely imagine that Franc is actually Cabernet Franc, in which case it will be the inferior cabernet… Never ending turmoil. 

Oldies are goodies…

Cabernet Franc is undoubtedly a very old variety. So old, that some consider it a “population-variety” rather than a grape in its own right. Whether we admit that or not, its diversity of synonyms is typical to old varieties for which origin is older than time!

Achéria, Ardounet, Bidure, Bordeaux, Bordo, Boubet, Bouchet Franc, Gros Bouchet, Bouchy, Breton, Cabernet Breton or Plant de l’Abbé Breton or Plant Breton, Capbreton Rouge, Cabernet Gris,Cabrunet, Carmenet, Couahort, Sable Rouge, Trouchet, Tsapournako, Verdejilla tinto, Véron, Vidure, Vuidure, Grosse Vidure these exotic names also show how this grape moved from its supposed departure point in the Basque Country to its nowadays regions in France and then further eastwards, to countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Greece and eventually Hungary. The father of its mighty off-spring Cabernet Sauvignon, has become the classier of the two in this country.

Known as the “unsung hero” of Hungarian wine, Cabernet Franc is supposed to have landed there by the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century. It was then easily integrated into a number of blends, either Bordeaux style or the traditional “Bull’s blood”. The latter became known as a run-of-the-mill plonk during unfortunate times under communism. For the former, the less interesting Merlot easily made it imperceptible in those blends, as quickly as the over-whelming Cabernet Sauvignon masked it with its unmistakable character. This was around the 60s.

During the last 20 past years or so, Cabernet Franc had almost found its “second home” in the southernmost spot of Hungary in Villány. The pioneers of the “Villány Franc”, among which the forefather was Gere Attila, once set around a table and discussed winey ideas, and the Cabernet Franc was one of them. This is how the label came about in 2014.

My humble contribution

The purpose of this paper is to highlight what was considered an “inferior” Cabernet in a country that seems to have found the best strategy to make the Franc express itself in a world where it remained quite reserved until Hungary put it into the spotlight. I will then focus on the Villány area and develop upon the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of their beloved Franc in this specific area. I strongly believe that it can one day become “the unique selling proposition” of the Hungarian red wine market which I will try to demonstrate with my “4Ps marketing mix” hypothesis further on. I was lucky enough to have found some bottles to taste and comment on at the end of my paper in order to illustrate the style of the “Villány Franc”.

 

MY NAME IS FRANC, VILLANY FRANC…

Few words of history

As mentioned above, Cabernet Franc seems to be old, very old. Historical sources suggest that the synonym Vidure could come from Bidure itself deriving from Biturica or Biturigiaca mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Collumella as the grape of the Bituriges Vibisci, Celtic tribes from the nowadays Gironde area. Other suppositions lead us to Gascony in which dialect “bit dure” that means hard vine and harsh to prune. DNA evidence suggests that it could have gone as far south as the Pays Basque.

However the oldest and most certain written evidence might be that of French writer François Rabelais, in his “Gargantua”, in 1534: “ce bon vin Breton…” which actually was not from Brittany, as we learn further on, but from Verron near Chinon. This makes us understand the link with the Vascos country as the grape might have come from the area, navigated to the French Brittany and so entered the Loire Valley. At first the climate allowed it to thrive in the area, then as it got cooler by the end of the 16th – beginning of the 17th century, it was obliged to penetrate the valley and settle eastwards.

Another explanation about the Breton synonym also exists, given by Alexander-Pierre Odart in 1845: in 1631, Abbé Breton would have planted the best plants of Bordeaux under Richelieu’s guidance in Chinon and Bourgueil. At that time the Abbot was still a teenager, so the story might have been more of a legend than that of a true historical fact. Nevertheless, historical documents used to mention plantings of “Plants de L’Abbé Breton” or simply “Plant Breton”, regarding Cabernet Franc.

The oldest mention of a similar name to the nowadays one is “Caburnet” in 1716. This term is supposed to be derived from the Latin “carbon” meaning black, in reference to the deep colour of its berries. So carbon – carbonet – carbenet and it was then subject to metathesis and eventually changed into cabernet.

This brief history explains why Cabernet Franc is at home in France and namely in the three above-mentioned regions: Loire Valley, Bordeaux and South West.

As shown by Pierre Galet in his dictionary - “Dictionnaire encyclopédique des cépages et leurs synonymes”, Cabernet Franc plantings in France had experienced an incredible growth since 1958 from only 9744 ha up to 36650 ha in 2011 before the release of the book, area which remains more or less stable nowadays.

Now when exactly did Cabernet Franc come to Hungary and how did it arrive? And more precisely to Villány, mainly?

Villány passed under Ottoman rule between 1541 and 1699. Then came people from the Balkans – the Slavonians, who are said to have brought the Kadarka in the area. Germanic populations such as Swabians were brought here by the 18th century under the Austro-Hungarians and they contributed with varietals such as Blauer Portuguiser – Kékoporto and Blaufränkish – Kékfrankos. It was not until the Phylloxera crisis that reached Hungary in 1880 that French grapes arrived in the country. They mainly came from Bordeaux, hence their name as a group – “the Bordeaux”: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot.

Who would have thought that Hungary would ever become the 4th most Cabernet Franc planted wine nation? With only 2% of the vineyard focusing on Cabernet Franc, Hungary ranks after France (66%), Italy (13%), and United States (7%). 330 ha out of the total 1300Ha are found in Villány, a region that encompasses about 2500 ha of vines.

Cabernet Franc DNA parentage

Cabernet Franc is supposed to have parent-off -spring links with very old cultivars from Basque Country: Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza.

Where else in Hungary can one find Franc?

Not all the Hungarian Franc lies in Villány. As seen above, one can find here only roughly a quarter of the area, with almost 1000 ha planted elsewhere in the country.

Neighbouring Szekszard is one of those spots, even though Kadarka is getting classier and Kekfrankos is increasingly making it into the top wines with the “Grand Vin” label including at least 25% of it. Bull’s Blood is also a typically Kekfrankos-led wine. Like in Villány, the Swabian Germans left their footprint here.

Eger with its baroque town is a relatively cool climate area on volcanic rhyolite tuff covered by dusky red “nyirok” and brown forest soil. Except for the Eger hill which is based upon limestone. Even though some compare Eger to Burgundy, while others approach it to the Rhône Valley, here one can also find Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Eger remains synonymous to “Bull’s Blood” so most of these varieties find their way into this blend with various proportions, but always based on the almost ubiquitous Kekfrankos

As the Franc is getting more and more fashionable, there are possibilities to get it from regions less traditional for Bordeaux grapes. It mainly appears in “Cuvées” or Bordeaux blends, or simply supported by the fluffier, softer Merlot. However, some start producing it as a standalone grape on the Blaton shores, especially the southern bank.     

Style of the Villány Franc

“If you think of Villány, think about Cabernet Franc, and if you think of Franc, think Villány” said Gere Attila’s daughter, Andrea.

As mentioned above the Villány Franc is only produced as Premium and Super Premium categories under the Villány DHC, with maximum yields set at 60hl/ha and 35hl/ha, respectively. In addition to the yield restrictions above, that are synonymous with concentration, the “Premium” must spend at least one year in oak, while “Super Premium” must double that with one year in the bottle. We will see further on that few restrict themselves to these minima, pushing the oak maturing to18-24 months. So, does Villány Franc reflect terroir or vinification skills? That is the question…  

With a happy mix of Pannonian influences and Adriatic- Mediterranean like climate, Villány counts about 2150 hours of sunshine per year. With an ideal situation on the terraced slopes of the Villány Mountains, which protect it from cold northern influence, this special Mediterranean méso-climate also has a peculiar soil consisting of calcareous deposits from the Mesozoic. Dolomite, marls, limestones are covered with a layer of sandy leoss. These calcareous and alkaline soils preserve the acidic character of the wines, while loess deposits add softer layers. Summers are hot and autumns are mild. Slopes range from 140 to 350 m and culminate with the Szársomlyó. In this warm Panonnian region of Villány, Cabernet Franc can easily reach 14-15% of alcohol, tannins are ripen and firmer than elsewhere. The wines are full and the oak maturing helps then become even fuller. The fruit is mostly black, showing blackberry, blackcurrant, and plum, as well as bramble complimented by spices such as paprika, ripe capsicum or balsamic herbs that work well with the spicy character of the oak. Fruit and acidity are always vibrant, while the latter is notably lesser than elsewhere in Europe, the wines feel more velvety and richer, with riper attack, mellower mouth feel and generous style. 

Hungary wine region map

Courtesy of  https://tastehungary.com/                                                                               

SWOT ANALYSIS

Strengths

French Grape – this gives it certain credibility. Moreover, as Bordeaux and South West Cabernet Franc is mainly blended, while Loire Valley mono-varietal is only a wine geek’s affair, there are few comparisons to be established. For instance, when one tastes a Bordeaux blend, an oaked Chardonnay or a traditional method based on Champagne grapes outside France, people tend to compare to the strong references that are in this case red Bordeaux, white Burgundy and of course Champagne.

Niche-product not everybody can put Villány on the world wide wine map and not all Villány is Franc. So once the demand is created, the product can only be a very good, niche wine, that few can have on their table, under privileged conditions. Villány is also lucky to have Gere Attila who is already cult: 7 generations of wine producers, the charismatic Attila and the iconic Kopár making it almost synonymous with Hungarian wine itself…if it weren’t for Tokaj!

Mono-varietal Cab Franc with the grape stated on the label –this is both a force in itself, and a possible weakness as the word Cabernet Franc is not stated entirely on the label. Appearing partly on the label (Franc instead of Cabernet Franc) makes it intriguing. When it comes to Bordeaux, nobody thinks of the Cabernet Franc, or see it simply as a complement. In the Loire Valley it is almost impossible to see it on the label. The Villány Franc is supposed to put this “lesser” Cab on the map!

Perfect capacity of ripening without the herbaceous character – Cabernet Franc appears in Bordeaux areas mainly on the right bank, where the mighty Cab does not ripen perfectly. It also brings freshness to the soft and creamier Merlot together with herbal signature. However, other than Château Cheval Blanc and few exceptions, Cabernet Franc is there to support not to show off otherwise the result resulting pattern would be too herbal for a Bordeaux wine. In the Loire Valley the global climate change helped it to become herbal rather than herbaceous and even pushed it into a floral, airy area. With the help of new viticulture and winemaking skills, true pyrazine is not an issue anymore except for poor vintages or techniques. With the Villány Franc things change totally. The area crosses Pannonian with Adriatic – Mediterranean influence, resulting in important sunshine, warm summers and long autumns that French may call “été indien”. These together offer the perfect ripening conditions for Franc.  As a mid-ripening grape, its maturation here is long and even sometimes pushing it deep into October. Flavours are riper than elsewhere, at least in Europe, fruit is always vibrant and acidity is preserved, while tannins are soft with an elevated level. High alcohol is almost the norm, body is full and the wine is very flattering in its youth, as well as benefiting from a long aging potential. 

Vinification skills developed to push the Franc to the pinnacle – forget about the former red plonk that was the image of almost all Hungarian Wine with the exception of Tokaj. Maceration- fermentation can take place in the best conditions of temperature control, malolactic fermentation is precise, oak maturing is almost a pastry-chef affair in terms of dosage of oak quality, size, origin, age and seasoning.

Excellent aptitude to match Hungarian cuisine – if Loire Valley Cabernet Franc was known as a mid-bodied, soft and vivid red able to be served slightly chilled to compliment cold cuts and fresh water fish, Villány Franc is the serious wine able to stand up to the spiciest, most unctuous and most rustic specialities of the Hungarian gastronomy: gulas, paprikas, venison stew, Saint martin’s goose and even “foie gras” specialities for those who want to change from Tokaj. It can also perfectly match the modern fusion in the classy fine-dining restaurants from Budapest or surprise with classic dishes from the French or international cuisine: Chateaubriand, Rossini tournedos, entrecote à la Bordealise, bisteca à la Fiorentina, T-bone, lamb cuts such as ribs, saddle or leg… it all depends on the style and age, or it is just a matter of taste.

Unique selling proposition - It is difficult to find a region elsewhere in the world that produces this full-bodied style of Cab Franc whilst preserving its distinguished aromas. It is also difficult to find another successful grape that tastes like the Villány Franc…

Villány Franc, but not only… The late Michael Brodbent once said in 2000 that the Cabernet Franc “came into its element and found its second home in Villány”, but it also grows in other regions in Hungary, showing different faces, expressions and aptitudes.

Villány Franc can only be Premium or Super Premium, which can be both a strength and a weakness, as one can see below. The force of the brand stands in the high-level to high-end positioning only using the “Premium” and “Super Premium segments”. That means oak is compulsory, at least one year, doubled by another one in the bottle, for the highest level. However, most of the producers mature it for 18 to 24 months in oak and sometimes brand their 12-month as “Classicus” (which is a DHC Villány but not Villány Franc).

Bordeaux grape, with almost Burgundian classification – since the creation of the Villány - Siklós Wine route in 1994, tourists and wine enthusiasts had the chance to rediscover famous terroirs and growth organised like the “climats” – “lieu-dits” from Burgundy: Ahancsos, Bocor, Csillagvölgy, Gombás, Jammertal, Kopár, Mandolás, Ördögárok, Pillangó, Remete…Now they are systematically seen of the most famous labels and in conjunction with the Premium and Super Premium qualifications they are meant to contribute to the “premiumization” of Villány, in the same way as the Royal Grand Crus of Tokaj. Like in Burgundy, their names might indicate historical facts or legends, soil or climate features or can hint to the vegetation surrounding the area. Most of their names had been given by German settlers when they moved here around the 18th century. Jammertal literally means the “Valley of the tears” relating to the Turks’ agony after their defeat.  Ördögárok is the “Devil’s hole” while Kopár means the “naked hill”. Like the famous “Montrachet” – “the bald mountain” this is a reference to the shallow soil and lack of vegetation on the top of the Kopár. Mandolás is related to the Almonds trees growing here directly hinting to the Medierranean méso-climate in the same style as Mandelberg in Alsace or the Mandelgarten in Pfalz, both lieu-dits being famous for the mild and warm climate, with specific vegetation. 

Weaknesses

Hungarian wine is mostly synonymous with Tokaj - to give you an example, when I started working on this project I searched importers and distributors in France who sell Villány Franc. Not only do they have no Villány Franc, but red seems almost neglected. With the exception of Gere Attila’s Kopar and one Bikavér, if you are lucky enough to find them, most only hold Tokaj: sweet and mainly from the 2-3 best known produces. In some cases they have Oremus, because they sell Vega Sicilia, or they can provide you Disznòkő as they import Quinta do Noval. It is rare to find a wine merchant in France that has Tokaj due to personal convictions and beliefs (like “Valade&Transandine” selling Demeter Zoltan or “Dionis vins” with Sárospatak for instant…). To sum up there is an issue of weak or limited distribution channels and those that exist mostly propose Tokaj or bull’s Blood!

Hungarian language – even though it is a phonetic language, Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language like Finnish and Estonian. It is thus difficult to compare with wine terms from other groups of languages and the pronunciation is also considered a restraint. Unlike Slavonian languages that are more consonants, Hungarian claims to have not less than 14 vowels as Hugh Johnson tells us in his Pocket Wine Book! Cabernet Franc or Franc is fortunate to be a French grape that people might have heard of. The problem would come from Villány itself for English speakers. Villainy in English means infamous… in Hungarian the word should be pronounced “Villàn”…except when it comes to “Villányi”, where the second “I” is articulated. Few might know that therefore the “Villány Franc” can be close to mockery in the English world. Confusion might also come between the Latin name DHC – “Districtus Hungaricus Controllatus” and the Hungarian translation that also appears on the label: “Védett Eredet Bor”

“Villány Franc” the varietal name is simply suggested but few may know it is referring to Cab Franc. In fact few might know exactly where Villány is. There is much work to be done to promote wines from Hungary, beside Tokaji, then to promote Villány, its DHC and eventually explain the concept of Villány Franc…

Wine law is both complicated and simplified. There is little communication about “Classicus”, “Premium” and “Super Premium”… The fact that the Villány Franc can only be “Premium” or “Super Premium” excludes the un-oaked categories, so the terroir signature disappears under the winemaking. It is a pity not to include the “Classicus” as a benchmark category. Some produce wines that could access the “Villány Franc” label but classify it only as a DHC Villány Cabernet Franc even if they oak it following the standards of a “Villány Franc”. So they can only mark “Classicus” on the label even though the wine might have some oak signature.

Hungary has a very complicated bureaucracy that is also reflected into the wine industry. Many producers craft their wines outside the law, they don’t submit their production to the wine boards anymore. This happens a lot in eastern European countries however, not only in Hungary!

Cabernet Franc is actually a quite un-known variety. Many think that people should know about it because it comes from Bordeaux, but there, it is seen like a less important Cab. Few have heard about Loire Valley as Cabernet Franc is rarely stated on the label so people do not particularly know the grape.

“Villány Franc” still seems to search the sense of terroir, there is no uniform style for the label and each producer has his or her own signature. Some use oak, others don’t and declassify their Franc into the simple DHC level – “Classicus”. Like in the Austrian DAC system, the style should be imposed and the “Premium” or “Super Premium” should have a more uniform meaning. “Villány Franc” could hence be more consistent in terms of stylistic. Not to mention that Kékfrankos tends to have more sense of the place than that of Cabernet Franc.

Opportunities

2014 “Villány Franc” – a new label intended to promote the region’s flagship grape - the Cabernet Franc and unite the winemakers of the area in a joint effort. This label is also meant to show the world that Cabernet Franc really thrives here and finds itself a second home.

Could the Franc become one day the signature red grape for Hungary? Maybe, why not… which means that Villány should become the ambassador of Hungarian red wines, and not only in the Bordeaux blend area. Actually this recurrent comparison between Villány and Bordeaux is getting tiring. Bordeaux with its moderate maritime climate, situated next to large masses of water cannot be compared to the dry, almost Pannonian area of Villány smoothened only by mild Adriatic entries. The Kopár Hill itself means the “Naked Hill” a semi-bald, lightly vegetated terroir of lunar white limestone.

DHC Villány – In fact all started with the DHC which is the country’s first, even before the most famous denomination of Hungary which is Tokaj. The DHC encompasses the whole area and not only the Franc, which is both part of the denomination and the “Villány Franc” label. The DHC Villány also has the advantage of being very distinctive owing to the symbol of the “white crocus” easy recognition on the labels.


Mono-varietal with the grape on the label – even though the name is not completely written on the label, it is easier to understand that the wine is sourced from Cabernet Franc than for a bottle of Chinon or Bourgueil.

UK market stands for an opportunity as a cosmopolitan market crowded with merchants that try to distinguish themselves from the competitors with original selling propositions.

MWs writing about the Cabernet Franc many personalities of the wine business including influential MWs keep an eye on the Villány Franc. Since the first Franc&Franc event in 2015 one can notice a real effervescence among MWs such as Elizabeth Gabay and Caroline Gilby, both specialists of eastern European wine countries. Articles, interviews, reviews, tasting notes they are all meant to highlight the new prodigy child of Hungary – the brand new Villány Franc!

Threats

Loire Valley Cabernet Franc becomes less herbaceous with the global change of the climate: a kind of sleeping beauty of the Loire Valley, the red Cabernet Franc based appellations awake from obscure times with the kiss of new talented winemakers, the global warming and the new sommelier’s trends. Both fresh and ripe, with freshly cut roses scents more than herbal or herbaceous, with riper tannins and more polished textures, wines that can age, that fairly go beyond the infamous green reds from the past, mostly served chilled in old fashioned Parisian brasseries.

Economic crisis Covid-19 one cannot much predict yet, but the COVID-19 will certainly have a major impact upon less mature markets, new comers, less established products. Champagne for instance always has a major negative impact during economic crisis but its great experience as a major player on the international market makes it among the first to wake up from crisis. Knowing that during the last years efforts were driven upon the UK market, its wine geeks, MWs and simple curious wine enthusiasts, panic could come from this direction, as the City and the whole Kingdom have suffered heavily from the pandemic. It is now up to the Villány Franc to use the fact that it mainly relies on the inner market (80% of the sales) that as seen below is normally considered as a threat, to get the positive effect out of it. Hungary is among the luckiest nations which controlled the pandemic quite well, with relatively few cases and deaths. It can now securely open to tourists and show their products at the source. The touristic sector is making a lot of effort to attract visitors by offering discounts, proposing free wine tastings, gifts and many other initiatives. Some restrictions generated by the COVID-19 regulations are to be relaxed by August 15th. To be continued…

Moldova discovers the Cab Franc – everyone knows the aggressive exporter that is the Republic of Moldova. Whenever they attack a market their plan is always precise with perfect adaptation to the market’s needs. They keep an eye on every single trend and reproduce styles as closely as possible from the stylistic of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to Italian Pinot Grigio or Prossecco copies. With surprising results they then seduce new markets with surrealist price-quality ratios thanks to low labour costs, facilities having high-end technologies and specialists sent abroad to learn and reproduce styles. They recently discovered the Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon is not really adapted to their continental climate with the cold weather coming relatively quick in autumn time. So they are seriously thinking of the Franc as the name Cabernet is a good marketing vector. One needs to keep an eye on this competitor.

Villány is sold at 80% rate in Hungary, relying on a single market is very risky nowadays. The COVID-19 crisis might affect the inner market and as explained above it is up to the Hungarians to invite potential customers discover the Villány Franc in Hungary hoping that they will fall in love with and take it abroad. Otherwise it is never a good strategy to consider that if the product works very well on the inner market there is no need to explore outside the borders as it will be so forever and ever…

Kékfrankos is still the nation’s most widely planted red-grape and is becoming more and more famous as a single variety, also helped by success in Austria where it is known as Blaufränkisch. It is also more suited here in the southern Villány, as it gets riper and fuller, with higher alcohol, more of a black fruit character with blackberry and blueberry than its usual red-fruit style( especially cherry). The grape’s natural acidity is very much appreciated nowadays.

People are tired of Bordeaux varieties and seek for original indigenous grapes – that is as simple as “ABC” or “Anything But Cabernet”! And sometimes, the more obscure, the better is regarded, which might explain why people might know Juhfark, Kéknyelű, Hárslevelű better than Hungarian Cabernet Franc!

Unique Selling Proposition

Villány Franc definitely has the power to become the Hungarian USP, at least on the red wines segment. Please find below my “4Ps marketing mix” – Product, Price, Promotion and Place that could suggest this hypothesis.

PRODUCT

Cabernet Franc might not be the oldest grape of Hungary, but its history can be traced back far enough and especially as it has a strong link with the French expertise that brought Bordeaux grapes soon after Phylloxera in 1880. While Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrive everywhere in the world, not many produce mono-varietal Cabernet Franc. When crafted as a single grape, like in Loire Valley the customer does not specifically know that it is Cabernet Franc, but a precise denomination (e.g. Chinon AC, Bourgueil A.C. etc). The Villány Franc is now ruled by a brand and is part of the Villány DHC which offer strong guarantees to the customer: delimited area, 40 historical growth, adapted varieties among which only Cabernet Franc can access the Villány Franc, different categories depending on oak and bottle maturing. Villány Franc benefits from a “premiumization” process, only the “Premium” - 12 months in oak and “Super Premium” – 12 months in oak and another 12 months in the bottle, categories can pretend to obtain the label. However, the label doesn’t brand it as a strict and very traditional product, but quite a flexible one, with expertise concentrating on different styles of maturing, different oak origins and sizes of the contents and so on.

Its style is somehow unique in the small universe of world- wide Cabernet Franc: deep ruby-purple colour, almost opaque, pronounced nose with ripe and concentrated black fruit such as plums, prune, cherries, bramble complimented by spices and fine herbal aromatics, without any herbaceous notes. Spices from the oak signature or hints of oaky aromas can complete the olfactory panel. The palate is dry with ripe attack, full, velvety, with vibrant acidity and ripe, elevated tannins as well as an often high alcohol, intense flavours reminding the nose and long, spicy, savoury finish.

PRICE

It is not advisable to price Villány Franc low, as it would be detrimental to its image and appeal. The pricing is mostly on the mid to high- level with some high-end examples such as the one of Gere Attila. The price segment ranges between 12€ and 29€ on average on the export market. However this still represents a very good quality-price ratio especially combined with the pleasure element in this ratio.

PROMOTION

The producers’ association joins the efforts of each member to promote the Villány Franc label. The touristic site of the Villány commune also promotes the Villány Franc, highlighting its best craftsmen, their knowhow and the art of pairing this speciality with both local and international food. One can read on the website: “ It is an elegant, rich, long- living, impetuous wine with scented spices, a serious structure, lively, taut acids and smooth tannins: that is with a lovely equilibrium.”


The annual “Franc&Franc” event is meant to promote the label. The first was held in 2015 and has taken place every November ever since. The most influential MWs and other specialists bring their expertise to this project in order to understand the challenges the region and the label must surmount to get its sought-after recognition. The speakers are there to help improve the global quality and consistency. Besides Tokaj, Hungarian wine suffers from the image of “Eastern European Plonk” or “cheap Bull’s Blood”. The attendees advise the producer in order to avoid over-ripening, over-extraction, over-oaking, warming alcohol often more than 15% abv., as well as any signs of Brett or oxidation that seemed to be frequent issues over the last decades or so, as Hungarian wine met the Western-European palate. 

Wine fairs such as Prowein also provide excellent opportunities for promoting the Villány Franc with conferences lectured by the same famous speakers.

The impressive growth of the young plantings at the height of 67% also expresses this common will to promote the Franc and fight the supremacy of its country of origin – France.

PLACE

It is obvious that the main aim of all this promotion is to seduce the export market. Villány Franc works quite well on the inner market with 80% of sales concentrated on this segment. Now it is time to attract clients outside the frontiers. Wine enthusiasts from the UK barely know the Villány Franc and is about time to attract them with a Cabernet Franc that does not resemble to any other until yet. There is still work to do and Hungarians should speed before the USA (3rd Cabernet Franc plantings with 7%) and Argentina grab the market shares. Especially the latter that suggest that in few time the varietal could become one of the country’s most important variety second only to the national Malbec. Nobody can contest the French supremacy with 66% of the plantings, but the style is so different. The DOC Friuli Grave and other spots in Northern Italy craft more of this style too: fresh, herbal, lean and mid-bodied. In my opinion Villány Franc situates itself in a kind of New Old World space and the only competitors could come from the American continent. Still, they do not have that historical link that Hungary has with the Franc and that sense of terroir that should be pushed to pinnacle with Villány. There is so much to do on the European market.

To sum up, Villány Franc is a distinguished product with unique stylistic and none of the competitors on the market propose this character yet. USA and Argentina might have the possibility to get similar features out of the Cabernet Franc so, Villány Franc should emphasis the sense of place rather than vinification skills. Winemaking is not an issue anymore no matter where in the wine world, so what Villány Franc could do is to reveal more of the terroir. Customer is also very keen on this aspect and that is the promise he or she would expect.

Tasting

Not all Villány is Franc, as it represents around 15-20% of the plantings in the area and not all of it is branded as Villány Franc. Parts of it enter into blends, Bordeaux blends especially. A handful of skilful winemakers craft this rare product and it is a unique chance for me, living in France, to get some bottles, among which are famous names. The pioneers of the area beginning with the forefather Attila Gere: Jozsef Bock, Zoltán Polgár, Ede Tiffán and Pál Debreczeni started thinking how to put Hungarian red wine on the European map. They were soon joined by Christian Sauska, Csaba Malatinszky, Erhard Heumann, Horst Hummel, and Tamás and Zsolt Gere (Attila’s cousin and his son). Among them I could find Villány Franc from the Debreczeni family – Vylyan Winary, Tamás and Zsolt Gere as well as the patriarchs Bock and Gere Attila himself.

VILLÁNYI FRANC 2016 VYLYAN WINERY, Premium DHC Villány 13,5% abv.

Deep ruby colour, the nose is clean, intense with ripe aromas of black cherry and plums complimented by a delicate oak signature with hints of cocoa and tobacco, a developing wine that still bears a juvenile fruit of a vibrant freshness. Dry, with soft and elegant mouthfeel, the acidity is elevated and fresh, tannins are medium plus to high wrapped by the velvety texture, flavours feel pronounced, both fresh and ripe: black fruit mainly with chocolate and spices tones that linger on the long finish. A very good wine, that can drink now or be enjoyed after further cellaring of around 6-8 years. It will perfectly pair with roasted duck breast, poached cherries in spiced red wine, celeriac purée on the side.

VILLANYI FRANC 2015 GERE TAMÁS & ZSOLT WINERY Premium DHC Villány 13,5% abv.

Colour shows deep ruby. The wine still in its youth, with lots of black and red berries, bramble, some prune with a touch of spices coming from the oak maturing, a hint of sweet flavoured vanilla, too. The palate is dry, with mellow and ripe attack, acidity is elevated and so are tannins, with a moderate alcohol, perfectly mastered for such a warm vintage, the wine feels, nevertheless full and the texture is silky. Flavours are intense and reflect the same characters as the nose. The finish is long, a bit serious with a firm touch from the tannins, but not austere. I would keep this wine for another 3-4 years to allow tannins to soften, it can drink now with the help of decanting, otherwise potential can go up to 6-7 years plus. Perfect match with slow cooked pork belly, slightly caramelized and served with creamy polenta.

VILLANYI CABERNET FRANC 2015 BOCK WINERY Classicus DHC Villány 13,2% abv.

This is Cabernet Franc but not “Villany Franc” as the winery had chosen a “Classicus” category with 12 months of large oak maturing.

The colour is dark ruby red. The nose is clean, concentrated with black fruits such as prune, black cherry and balsamic herbs. No oak evidence, fruit is ripe, pristine and the wine is started developing with hints of desiccated herbs, faded flowers and almost candied fruit. Palate is dry, acidity is medium plus, tannins are firm and elevated, and the texture is silky, with deep extract. The alcohol is of a moderate feeling, digest for this warm vintage, the body feels quite full, however, with density and the mouthfeel. Ripe black fruit, herbal cents and some paprika on the long finish. Maturity is not yet reached, it can go for another 5-7 years. It needs quite unctuous and fatty dishes with a hint of spiciness, like a paprikas with galusca.

VILLÁNYI FRANC 2017 GERE ATTILA WINERY Premium DHC Villany 14% abv.

Deep purple colour, bright and lively. The nose is pronounced and expresses blackcurrant, blackberry, Morello cherry, tones of toast, with vanilla, chocolate and oaky spices. Dry with rich and soft attack, the acidity is vivid and tannins elevated, but ripe, soften into the velvety texture. Alcohol is high and generous, contributing to the mouthfeel, the flavours are intense pending between deep and concentrated black fruit and toastiness, with cocoa, coffee, oaky highlights that linger on the long finish. An outstanding full bodied wine, which is so youthful today and needs time to develop, to digest its oak signature. The full development should come after 6-8 years, the wine can age easily more than a decade. Should pair with wild boar fillet glazed with concentrated blackcurrant and red wine reduction, oven backed sweet potatoes.

CONCLUSION

Frankly, reading these few personal tasting notes of Villány Franc should be enough to tempt some wine enthusiasts and seduce them with wines that have lots of personality, both matching Hungarian goodies and International cuisine, with the potential for beautifully aging for a while, offering interesting further development. Very good to outstanding wines, they can stand on any fine dining table next to the most prestigious of the wine world. Hungarian Cabernet Franc is about to find its path. We are only talking about a mere 15 years’ experience with Villány Franc, and the results are already at the cutting edge of technology. Now it is time to understand that besides soil and bedrocks, climate, altitude, aspect, grape variety with all the viticulture and winemaking processes terroir also includes the human element. This should absolutely be there and observe the sum of all the former elements and translate that with the sense of the place, not only his or her own signature. It is then that Franc, Villány Franc will not only be “Premium” or “Super Premium”, but GRAND!

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Babo, L. von (1844), Der Weinstock und seine Varietäten, Frankfurt, Brönner,

Galet, P. (2015), Dictionnaire encyclopédique des cépages, France, Editions Libre&Solidaire

Goethe, H., (1878), Handbuch der ampelographie, Garz, Commissions-Verlag von Leykam-Josefsthal,

Johnson, H., (2016), Pocket wine book 2017, 40th anniversary edition, London, Octopus Publishing Group

Robinson, J. MW., Harding, J. MW., Vouillamoz, J., (2012), Wine grapes, London, Penguin Group

Robinson, J. MW., (2015) Oxford companion to wine, IV Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Smyth, R., (2015), A tasting trip to the new old world, First edition, Somerset, Blue Guides Limited

Articles

Smith, D. (2016), Is Villány the new home of Cabernet Franc? , https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2016/12/is-villany-the-new-home-of-cabernet-franc/ (Accessed July 10th, 2020)

MR. François (2017), Villány (Hongrie), l’autre pays du Cabernet Franc, https://dico-du-vin.com/villany-hongrie-lautre-pays-du-cabernet-fran/ (Accessed July 14th, 2020)

Websites

https://tastehungary.com

https://elizabethgabay.com

https://www.jancisrobinson.com

https://www.hungarianwines.eu/