Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Loire Valley: Classic Cabernet Franc

This is the final post in a series which has stretched over 1.5 weeks and sought to educate readers on the primary characteristics, and selected growing regions, of the "Cabs" in #Cabernet Day.  Today we close by spotlighting the region that provides the benchmark expression of the Cabernet Franc grape -- the Loire Valley.

The Loire Valley is the largest wine growing area in France and is dominated by the Loire River as it flows from the Massif Central in the heart of the country northwards to its final destination, the Atlantic Ocean.  The broader region is further divided inot four sub-regions -- Central Vineyards, Anjou-Saumur, Pays Nantais, and Touraine -- and, while better known for whites from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, its reds from Touraine (Chinon, Bourgueil, St. Nicholas de Bourgueil) and Anjou-Saumur (Saumur-Champigny) are classic representations of Cabernet-Franc-dominant wines.

The Chinon AOC covers 18 communes on both sides of the Vienne River prior to its merger with the Loire River.  There are approximately 4500 acres of Cabernet Franc vines in the region and, in general, the wines from the area are fresh and supple with flavors and aromas of red fruits and violets.  Three different terroirs have been identified in the area, however, and the wine styles vary based on their terroir of origin.  The slopes and hills along the Vienne River are composed of a Late-Cretaceous limestone called Tuffeau and the wines from this soil have great structure and ageing capability.  The area around the commune of Veron is characterized by a Late-Cretaceous clay and produces wines that are intermediate to the lighter Chinons produced in the alluvial sand and gravel soils that can be found in communes such as Panzoult.  Chinon wines are barrel-aged but the neutral barrels impart no oak flavors to the wine thus allowing the natural character of the grape to advance unimpeded to the bottle. Quality Chinon producers include Couly-Duthiel, Bernard Bautry, and Charles Joguet.

Bourgueil and St. Nicholas de Bourgueil are both located on the north bank of the Loire River.  Winemaking in these areas stretch back to Roman times but became institutionalized with the founding of the Abbey of Bourgueil in 990 AD.  As in Chinon, the wine styles are terroir-driven.  Vineyards planted in sand and gravel soils produce fruity wines which lend themselves to early drinking.  Vineyards planted on the south-facing hillsides take advantage of the clay and limestone soils to yield richer wines with greater ageing potential.  The climate is favorable for Cabernet Franc based on the regulating influence of the Atlantic that is pipelined along the Loire Valley and the forest-provided protection from the north winds that is afforded vines on the south-facing slopes.  Quality producers from these AOCs are Domaine de la Butte, Frederic Mabileau, and Yannick Amirault.

Saumur-Champigny is a red wine appellation within the larger Saumur AOC and its Cabernet Franc wines may be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and a local varietal called Pineau d'Aunis.  The Cabernet Franc vines in the AOC are over 50 years old and reside on Tuffeau cliffs on the south bank of the Loire.  The wines are described as being softer and rounder than the wines from Touraine.  In addition to serving as the base terroir for the vines, the limestone cliffs serve as underground cellars for ageing of the wines.  Domaine de Varinelles produces good Cabernet Franc wines in this region.

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite grapes. I love it alone or in a blend. The lavender, soapy quality and complex mix of red and black fruits captivate me.