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Penalolen Cabernet Franc 2009
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
A source of reliable, budget-friendly wines and, increasingly, more premium bottlings, Chile is one of South America’s most important wine-producing countries. Long and thin, it is largely isolated geographically, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Andes Mountains to the east, and the Atacama desert to the north. These natural borders gave Chile the very favorable benefit of being the only country to avoid the disastrous phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s. As a result, vines can be planted on their own rootstock rather than grafted. Though viticulture was introduced to the country by conquistadors from Spain, today Chile’s wine production is most influenced by the French, who emigrated here in large numbers to escape the blight of phylloxera. These settlers have invested heavily in local vineyards and wineries.
Chile’s vineyards, planted mainly with international varieties, vary widely in climate and soil type from north to south. The Coquimbo region in the far north contains the Elqui and Limari Valleys, where minimal rainfall and intense sunlight are offset by chilly breezes from the Humboldt current to produce cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Aconcagua region contains the eponymous Aconcagua Valley—hot and dry and home to full-bodied red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot—as well as Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley, which focus on light-bodied Pinot Noir and cool-climate whites like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Central Valley is home to the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, and Maule Valleys, which produce a wide variety of red and white wines. Maipo in particular is known for Carmenère, Chile’s unofficial signature grape. In the up-and-coming southern regions of Bio Bio and Itata, excellent cool-climate Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are made.
The subtler and more delicate of the Cabernets, Cabernet Franc is the proud parent of Cabernet Sauvignon and shares many of the structural elements of Bordeaux’s cornerstone variety. In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is often planted as an insurance policy against its later-ripening offspring, as it is more likely to thrive in a difficult harvest. But don’t mistake Cabernet Franc for merely a supporting player—this grape variety produces outstanding wines on its own or as the dominant component of a blend. It produces perhaps its most alluring wines in France’s Loire Valley, in the regions of Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny, where brighter, riper wines can be achieved. Outside of France, Cabernet Franc has performed quite well in parts of California, New York, and Virginia.
In the Glass
Paler, lighter, crisper, softer, and much more aromatic than its progeny, Cabernet Franc typically tastes of red raspberries, cherries, and herbs, with a stunning perfume of violets, tobacco, and spice.
Mouthwatering acidity makes Cabernet Franc an incredibly food-friendly wine, helping to cut through the richness of fatty meat dishes. It especially shines in tandem with lamb, and its affinity for the spice cabinet allows it to pair perfectly with Chinese dishes prepared with Szechuan pepper and five-spice.
Under-ripe Cabernet Franc can be leafy and green with harsh tannins and mouth-searing acidity, so it is best to avoid highly spiced curries and fiery chili dishes.