Cabernet Franc: The Underrated Jewel of the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley, renowned for its splendid chateaux, holds a very special place in my heart. Living in Paris in the 1990’s I spent many enjoyable week-ends at my good friend Béatrice’s family home in a tiny village, 15 miles from Anger. In fact it was during my first visit to their home in 1986 that I first discovered the red wines of the Loire.
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The Loire Valley wine region is both large and diverse, comprising over 70 different appellations, which are dotted all along the valley of the river Loire.

While most people are familiar with the Loire’s white wines its red wines are still largely underrated outside of France. Perhaps, this is because they are typically characterized by delicacy, rather than power. Loire red wines are essentially about Cabernet Franc. Less tannic and more fragrant (think raspberry and lead pencil shavings) than Cabernet Sauvignon, it is often regarded as Cabernet Sauvignon’s little brother. However, Cabernet Franc along with Sauvignon Blanc are in fact the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon!

One of the many things I love about Loire red wines is that they are for enjoying now. No need to cellar for years before enjoying. Certainly, many of the wines can age, but for the most part they are light to medium bodied with smooth tannins, and packed with juicy red fruit. In short, perfect for spring and summer.

The most important Cabernet Franc appellations in the Loire are Anjou Rouge, Bourgueil, Chinon, Saumur Champigny, and St. Nicholas-de-Bourgueil. Of these Bourgueil and Chinon tend to be the more full-bodied, with firmer tannins and greater ageing potential.

Dry with refreshing acidity, Loire reds pair with many different dishes. The lighter styles, which can also be served slightly chilled, are perfect with cured meats, grilled rainbow trout, steamed white asparagus, Pad Thai and fresh goat cheese. The more full-bodied Bourgueil or Chinon extend to stuffed quail, lamb kebabs, pulled pork, grilled hamburger or eggplant Parmigiana.

Hopefully I’ve whetted your appetite! So here are some great Loire reds that I’ve tried recently.

• Domaine de Montgilet, Anjou Rouge 2006 - $12. 100% Cabernet Franc. Packed with youthful red fruit, raspberries, blackcurrants and even some floral notes. Light-bodied, dry and smooth with a delightful spicy finish.

• Clos Roche Blanche, Cuvee Pif, Touraine, 2006 - $14. Cabernet Franc and Malbec (locally known as Cot). Medium-bodied. Brimming with ripe red and black fruits, raspberry, cherry and boysenberry with lots of peppery spice.

• Domaine de Beauséjour, Chinon 2006 $16. – Shows lots of bright juicy fruit with hints of greet pepper, cinnamon and tobacco. Medium bodied.

• Bourgueil "Franc de Pied", Breton 2005 - $22. Made from ungrafted vines. Full of ripe berry fruit. Pretty with some floral and spicy notes.

Stores that carry a good selection of Loire reds include:

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PA)
Astor Wines (Manhattan, NY)
Winerz.com (Orange, CA) - web only
Chambers Street Wines (Manhattan, NY)
Beltramos (Menlo Park, CA)
Vineyard Gate Cellars (Millbrae, CA)
Total Wine & More (various cities, FL)
Sam’s Wine & Spirits (Chicago, IL)
Grapes of Norwalk (Norwalk, CT)
56 degree Wine (Bernardsville, NJ)

So until next week, enjoy some interesting Loire reds!

-- Mary

State Shipping Laws
Each week we will cover a different state.

California - Direct shipping is allowed in California. In 2005 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger converted California's reciprocal shipping laws to a permit system. Effective from January 1, 2006 any licensed winery in the United States can ship to consumers in California. There are no volume limits under the new law.

For more information on wine shipping in California go www.abc.ca.gov and, for more information on Direct Shipping of wine throughout the United States visit Wine Institute, Free the Grapes or Ship Compliant.

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Drinks, Wine

Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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