The red grape variety comes either from France (Bordeaux) or from Spain (Basque Country = País Vasco). There are about 80 synonyms that testify to its great age and worldwide distribution. The most important ones, grouped alphabetically by country are Achéria, Ardounet, Arrouya, Bidure, Boubet, Bouchet Franc, Bouchet Saint-Émilion, Bouchy, Breton, Cabernet Aunis, Cabernet Francese, Cabernet Franc Noir, Cabernet Gris, Cabrunet, Capbreton Rouge, Carmenet, Couahort, Crouchen Negre, Crouchen Noir, Gros Bouchet, Gros Cabernet, Gros Vidure, Messanges Rouge, Morenoa Veron Bouchy, Noir Major, Plant Breton, Plant de l'Abbé Breton, Sable Rouge, Trouchet, Trouchet Noir, Véron, Vidure, Vuidure(France); Tsapournako(Greece); Cabernet Franc Crni(Croatia); Cabernet Bresciano, Cabernet Frank(Italy); Bordo(Romania); Bordeaux(Switzerland); Verdejilla Tinto(Spain).
Although it appears to have synonyms or morphological similarities, it should not be confused with the Ardonnet, Arrouya, Béquignol Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Gros Cabernet or Hondarribi Beltza varieties. It is a very old variety in Bordeaux, but genetic and historical facts suggest that it originates from the Spanish Basque Country. According to one hypothesis, Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced to Spain under the name Achéria by pilgrims from Irouléguy (French Basque Country) on their way to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). However, the opposite route is also conceivable.
According to an unlikely hypothesis, it is the ancient variety Biturica mentioned by the Roman authors Pliny the Elder (23-79) and Columella, which is what the synonym Bidure is supposed to indicate. The parentage (parenthood) is unknown. It is considered an important leading variety in the European grape variety gene pool. DNA analyses have been used to determine direct descendants of presumably natural crosses and parent-progeny relationships. In addition, it was a crossing partner of some new breeds:
A first mention of the variety as Breton could date from 1534 by the famous poet François Rabelais (1495-1553) in his work 'Gargantua and Pantagruel'. According to another variant, in 1631, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) sent over 1,000 vines from Bordeaux to his estate administrator Abbé Breton, who planted them in the Loire regions of Bourgueil and Chinon. The name Cabernet Franc was first mentioned in 1823, but the name Cabernet and the old synonyms mentioned were also used for other varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes it difficult to identify exactly.
The medium-ripe, small-berry vine is susceptible to both mildew and botrytis. It is particularly well suited for clay-calcareous and also sandy soils. The variety produces not particularly colourful, spicy red wines with soft, silky tannins with raspberry aroma and vegetable notes. However, the wines, which generally mature quickly, can be stored if matured appropriately. The wine, which is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, is somewhat overshadowed by the higher-quality offspring and is seldom vinified as a single variety.
The variety occupies 36,302 hectares of vineyards in France, with a downward trend. It is mainly present in Bordeaux with around 12,500 hectares, in the Loire with around 16,000 hectares and in southwest France, where it is permitted in numerous appellations. With Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot, Cabernet Franc is a classic partner in Bordeaux blending. However, in the great wines it is only (if at all) included up to a maximum of 10%; examples are Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild (Médoc) and Château Pétrus (Pomerol). In Château Cheval Blanc (Saint-Émilion) on the other hand, it is even dominant.
Other countries are Germany (16 ha), England (1 ha), Greece (23 ha), Italy mainly in the north-eastern regions (6,314 ha), Kazakhstan (56 ha), Croatia (95 ha), Austria (56 ha), Portugal (24 ha), Romania (73 ha), Russia (20 ha), Switzerland (54 ha), Spain (849 ha), Turkey (23 ha), Hungary (1,352 ha) and Cyprus (203 ha). Overseas stocks are found in Argentina (626 ha), Australia (591 ha), Brazil (229 ha), Chile (1,321 ha), China (507 ha), Canada (664 ha), New Zealand (163 ha), South Africa (934 ha) and Uruguay (334 ha), and in the USA (2,215 ha) in Indiana, California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Washington. The variety occupied a total of 53,042 hectares in 2010. This put it in 17th place in the worldwide grape variety ranking.
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)