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Details for Château Franc-Cardinal, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux

AppellationFrancs Côtes de Bordeaux AOC
Cabernet Franc
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Château Franc-Cardinal
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The most famous wine region in the world, Bordeaux is found in France’s southwest, surrounding the historic city of the same name.  The name derives from the French au bord de l’eau (“beside the waters”), referring to the Gironde estuary and its tributaries the Garonne and the Dordogne, which run through the heart of the region.
The climate so close to the Atlantic is decidedly maritime, with plenty of rain that can fall at any time of year, making vintages very variable.  Great strides have been made in overcoming the vagaries of the vintage, especially by the most famous châteaux who now have second and third wines that they can declassify part of the crop into, to preserve the quality of the Grand Vin.  Lesser names are more dependent on the weather.
Despite that, wines from this region are often rated as the best in the world, and have long been held as a benchmark style for the rest of the world to copy.  Bordeaux is the original home of Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps the most famous black grape of them all, but almost all Bordeaux is a blend.  Merlot is the actually the most-planted variety with over half of the vineyard area, while Cabernet Franc has almost as many vines as its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon.  The remaining three permitted varieties – Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenère – account for less than 1% of the vineyards.
It is on the left bank of the Gironde and Garonne that Cabernet Sauvignon rules, although seldom are wines made from 100% Cabernet.  The left bank is divided in two by the city of Bordeaux itself.  To the north, along the Gironde, lies the Médoc and its five famous villages St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien, Margaux and Cantenac.  To the south lies the Graves, whose most northerly and best section was renamed Pessac-Léognan in the Eighties.  This is where winemaking in Bordeaux began, when the Médoc was just a marsh.
The Médoc was the subject of the famous 1855 Classification, which divided properties into First to Fifth Growths based on the prices they fetched in Paris.  The Graves were not included apart from the famous Ch. Haut-Brion, which was made a First Growth along with Chx. Lafite, Latour, and Margaux of the Médoc.  Ch. Mouton-Rothschild was elevated to join them in the Seventies – the only change that has ever been made.  While the 1855 Classification is still remarkably pertinent today, there are many quality wines on the left bank which did not make the grade more than a century and a half ago.  These are referred to as Cru Bourgeois and can be particularly good value.
On the right bank, east of the Gironde and north of the Dordogne, the clay soils make Merlot a more suitable grape to grow than Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Franc is its usual blending partner.  The most famous appellations are St-Emilion and Pomerol, but there are dozens of others including Côtes de Blaye, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Bourg, and Fronsac.  These can be excellent value, and are often more approachable than the austere, slow-maturing left-bank wines.
Bordeaux is also the region of Sauternes, another world-class, benchmark style of wine.  Made from one or more of the three white grapes Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, which have been concentrated by botrytis (“noble rot”), they make heady, perfumed sweet wines.
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are also used to produce dry white Bordeaux.  Most of this is fresh and easy-drinking, but a few châteaux, especially in Pessac-Léognan, produce a much richer, oak-aged version that can age very well.  The fresh, unoaked style used to be the speciality of the region between the rivers Garonne and Dordogne called, appropriately, Entre-Deux-Mers.  Some is still produced but much of the land has now been given over to reds.

Château Franc-Cardinal

Now one of the top châteaux in the up-and-coming Francs Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, Ch. Franc-Cardinal only began to bottle its own wine in 2001, when it was bought by Canadian Philip Holzberg.  Philip transformed the estate’s three vineyards, Boscamenan, Nardou and Bois de Naud, converting them to organic cultivation (though full certification is still in the pipeline).
Sadly Philip died in a car accident in 2010, but his wife Sophie continues to run the estate.  The diving otter logo which appears on the labels is a reference to his Canadian origins and his love of swimming, and to the new, pesticide-free regime in the vineyards: otters thrive only in unpolluted waters.

about this wine About this wine

Bordeaux is the most famous wine region in the world.  In the words of Hugh Johnson, the châteaux of Bordeaux “form by far the largest supply of high-quality wine on earth”. Yet I suspect that few of us drink Bordeaux very often. The famous ones are far too expensive, while cheap generic red Bordeaux tends to be thin and stalky, making new world Bordeaux blends a safer bet at the price.  In between there’s a bewildering array of minor châteaux and lesser-known appellations.  This is where the value is, but you have to know where to look.
And when.  Vintages really matter in Bordeaux, especially for the less-famous producers who don’t have near-unlimited sums to spend overcoming whatever nature throws at them.  No wonder most of us buy southern-hemisphere Bordeaux blends instead; at least we can rely on them tasting the same year on year.  And there’s plenty of choice – red Bordeaux must be the most imitated wine style in the world.
But the reliably warm climates in which they’re grown mean that those imitators don’t actually taste all that much like real red Bordeaux – or claret, as the English have called it for centuries.  Last week we drank a real English white wine: but for most of the last nine hundred years, claret has been the de facto  English red, shaped by English ownership and trade to please English tastes.
It started in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy, bringing the lands of Bordeaux with her.  Two years later he became Henry II of England, marking the start of almost three centuries in which Bordeaux would belong to the English crown.  Even after the French retook Bordeaux at the end of the Hundred Years' War, making English traders unwelcome for a time, their place was taken by Scottish merchants who were given privileged trading status under the “Auld Alliance”, and who were just as happy to deliver wine to London as to Edinburgh.
Britain remained the main export market for Bordeaux until this century.  Even today, the British wine trade imports more Bordeaux than any other nation, although a good deal of that is then re-exported; China and the USA are now the largest consumers of claret.  Bordeaux grew rich on the trade with Britain, and naturally fashioned the wine to please les rosbifs (a gently mocking reference to our national dish – roast beef).
Yet claret isn’t just a single style.  The various appellations of Bordeaux have their own individual characters based on differing geography and soil, and the choice of grape varieties to suit them.  Almost all Bordeaux is a blend, which is as much an insurance policy as anything else: in this unpredictable maritime climate it helps to grow varieties that flower and ripen at different times so that an estate doesn’t lose its entire crop to a badly-timed spell of bad weather.
The main division is between “left-bank” and “right-bank”.  The banks in question are those of the Gironde estuary formed by the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.  The Gironde flows north-northeast to the Atlantic, so the vineyards to the west of it (and of the Garonne) are left-bank, while those to the east of the Gironde and north-east of the Dordogne are right-bank.  Between the two tributaries is Entre-Deux-Mers, which traditionally produced mainly dry white but today produces most of the red sold as basic AOC Bordeaux.
The left bank is closer to the sea, but its soils are deep gravel beds which drain well and warm quickly.  Here you find Cabernet Sauvignon; it dominates the vineyards of the top châteaux, though it is still outnumbered by Merlot in most estates.  There are smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc.  The left bank is also where you find the iconic First Growths of the famous 1855 classification of the Médoc: Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion.
Right-bank soils contain more clay, which makes them denser and more moisture-retentive so they take longer to warm up – they’re colder.  This effect, combined with their generally higher altitude, trumps the slightly warmer summers consequent on being further inland.  Cabernet Sauvignon has trouble ripening here and is rarely found; its place is taken by the earlier-ripening Cabernet Franc.  Merlot ripens earlier still and is easily the dominant variety.
The more clay in the soil, the more Merlot you find.  The appellation of Pomerol is almost entirely clay, and almost entirely Merlot.  This doesn’t seem to do the wines any harm: the most expensive claret of them all, Château Pétrus, is from Pomerol.  Nearby St-Emilion is the other really famous right-bank appellation, home to Cheval-Blanc and Ausone.
Right-bank wines are rounder, fruitier and fleshier than the more austere left-bank wines, though still generally leaner and more sinewy than Bordeaux blends from the New World.  Some vintages favour one bank more than the other, though the historic fame of the left bank tends to colour the perception of Bordeaux vintages as a whole.  This can make right-bank wines particularly good value in vintages where the left bank underperformed, like 2012.
St-Emilion and Pomerol may be the most famous right-bank appellations, but there are a host of others.  The easternmost of them all is the little-known Francs Côtes de Bordeaux, which is also the newest Bordeaux appellation (created in 1967) and at only 450 hectares, the smallest.  This is tiny by Bordeaux standards – there are individual Châteaux with more than half that area.  Nevertheless, it has been attracting a lot of big-name investment lately; the de Boüards of Ch. Angelus in St-Emilion and the Thienponts of Pomerol superstar Vieux Château Certain have bought properties here.
Right-bank Merlot did much better than left-bank Cabernet Sauvignon in 2012, and as the most easterly, farthest-inland appellation, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux has the most right-bank climate of them all, with colder winters and hotter summers.  Sitting equidistant from the rivers Isle and Dordogne, it’s also well-protected from heavy showers and hailstorms, whose paths tend to follow the river valleys.  All these worked in its favour in 2012.
This wine comes from Ch. Franc-Cardinal, one of the older estates in the appellation.  However, it was not until it was bought by Canadian Philip Holzberg in 2001 that the wine began to be bottled and sold under its own name.  Prior to that it had been sold in bulk to a négociant.
The blend here is fairly typical right-bank, with 72% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Franc, though the inclusion of 4% Malbec is a little unusual.  Malbec was once common in Bordeaux but is now a distant fourth behind Merlot and the Cabernets, with just over half a percent of the black-grape vineyard area.
Unusually for rainy Bordeaux, these grapes were organically grown, although the estate is not yet certified.  After crushing, they underwent cold maceration before a long fermentation on the skins in concrete tanks.  Each variety was femented and aged separately, then blended together for bottling.  Aging was eight months in older oak barrels, with a low proportion of new oak.

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