Thursday, October 15, 2015

Checking Up on Loire Valley Cabernet Franc

Cab Franc grapes ripening in Chinon. My father
took this picture on a Loire trip a few years ago.
I can’t get enough of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. When I was first getting into wine in the early 2000s I fell in love with wines from appellations like Chinon, Saumur-Champigny and Bourgueil for a few reasons.

Value: a lot of these wines were (and remain) relatively inexpensive considering the frequency of high quality options. If you’ve ready any listicle about underrated wine regions in the past ten years, I’m willing to bet Loire Valley Cab Franc was on there. Thing is: Even with an increased attention on these wines, many of them still carry attractive price tags.  

Flavor: I love the combination of bright red fruit with earthy, spicy, tobacco and pepper notes that I get from the Cabernet Franc grape, and nowhere are these elements more fully realized than in the Loire Valley.

Freshness: A cooler climate, diverse soils and traditional winemaking make many of these wines vibrant, fresh and so friendly with all sorts of food dishes, especially hearty autumn foods. Sure some of them can age beautifully, there are many immediately pleasurable offerings for very reasonable prices.

Chinon is perhaps the best known appellation for Cabernet Franc, and for a good reason. New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov recently featured three really good Chinons for his monthly “wine school.” I think this is a great idea for those looking to learn more about wine, as Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines (and specifically those from the Chinon appellation) offer all sorts of lessons in vintage variation, distinctions in terroir, differences in winemaking styles and age-worthiness. 
Chinon, Loire Valley, France. Photo credit: James A. Baker.
I always keep some Chinon around for aging, but I also like to pop some when they’re young to see how they’re structured.

I recently tasted two Loire Valley Cabernet Francs, one Chinon and one unique wine from vines grown outside of traditional Cabernet Franc zones. Both of them were absolutely delicious, food-friendly and full of complex floral, earthy and spice components.

Don't let the funky chicken label fool you. This is
early-drinking but seriously delicious Cab Franc.
Marc Ollivier is best known for his stellar, oceanic, mineral-driven Muscadets. But thank goodness he also works with Cabernet Franc. Vibrant ruby color. Smells of juicy black cherries and red and black currants. Complex notes of smoke, black pepper, mushroom and worn leather. Medium-bodied palate with bright and refreshing acid, lightly dusty tannins. Juicy black cherries, plums, currants, the fruit has a tangy edge. Complex web of smoke, pencil lead, black and green pepper, sweet tobacco mixed in with the fruit. Lovely stuff, so accessible and fun but not simple at all. Some of the best juice I’ve purchased for $14. (89 points)

2012 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon
Ruby-purple color. Smells of rich black cherries and plums, along with a lot of tobacco, bell pepper, black pepper, smoke and some funky mushroom. Medium bodied with a solid but dusty tannic structure, tart acid, all of this combines for a bold yet fleshy appeal. Juicy plums and cherries mix with incense smoke, graphite, bell pepper and mushroom. This wine is surprisingly fresh and evocative, although it clearly has a lot more to show with five-to-ten years of cellaring. Beautiful stuff, as always, from Baudry. For $30 you get a whole lot of world class juice. (92 points)
Have you tasted any good Loire Cab Franc lately?


  1. An enjoyable read Isaac! I'm going to have to look for some of these! Have you tried any Broc Cellars Cab Franc?

  2. An enjoyable read Isaac! I'm going to have to look for some of these! Have you tried any Broc Cellars Cab Franc?