The Loire Valley offers Cabernet Franc that is flavorful, inexpensive and pairs superbly with food. It is a food wine par excellence. It ranges in style from easy-drinking, fresh and dry to complex, earthy, and firmly tannic. This range of styles makes it a wine that complements a wide variety of dishes. Unfortunately for the wine-loving public, Loire Valley Cabernet Franc seldom has a prominent place on the wine store shelf. However, the inquisitive consumer can easily purchase it via the internet from wine stores specializing in wines of the Loire. To help guide such purchases, in our Report # 22 Grapes and Wines of the Western Loire we identify the best wines currently being made in the main Cabernet Franc appellations of the Loire in Bourgueil, St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Chinon, Saumur and Anjou. Reviews of some especially good value Cabernet Francs are given at the end of this article.
The Unique Character of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. The early ripening character and disease-resistance of Cabernet Franc is well-suited to the Loire Valley, which is located at the northern margin of viticulture and can suffer from cool, damp summer weather. It is perhaps the struggle against the elements, or perhaps the unique chalky tuffeau soil originating in the ancient seas of the Paris Basin, that give Cabernet Franc from the Loire it’s special sense of place.
Due to its terroir, the Cabernet Franc of the Loire is quite different from that of California or Virginia or South Africa. Less fruit forward and lower in alcohol than the Cabernet Franc of the New World, it is a wine of unique character and complexity. This isn’t to say it’s better, but it’s certainly different. Wine lovers who haven’t yet tried Cabernet Franc from a good producer are missing out on a real treat.
Not all Loire producers make great Cabernet Franc, and there is considerable vintage variation, so it’s important to choose well. Fortunately, the 2008 and 2009 vintages were very good to excellent in quality, and we’ve provided below some reviews of exceptional values from our Report. The full Report contains reviews of over 175 wines, many of them of excellent quality and exceptional value.
Cabernet Franc from the Loire: Exceptional Values
Château de Coulaine 2006 Chinon Rouge “Bonnaventure” ($23) 91
This is the estate’s finest wine and is aptly named after the family of owner and winemaker, Etienne de Bonnaventure. Modern in style, it exhibits ripe black cherry fruit, vanilla, and cedar aromas. These are followed by a soft lush attack of pure and ripe red fruit with excellent balance and concentration on the palate. A stand out wine that is truly delicious.
Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, New York, NY
Charles Jouguet 2007 Chinon Les Petites Roches ($22) 90+
This is a fruit-forward fresh tasting cuvée, exhibiting fragrant aromas of black raspberry and earthy notes. On the palate it is nicely focused with brambly red fruit, dark cherry,and black pepper. Lush on the palate, the wine reveals round tannins and a sweet long finish. A terrific wine for the price.
Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant Berkeley, CA
Domaine de la Butte 2007 “Le Haut de la Butte” Bourgueil ($23) 91
This wine is produced by winemaker Jacky Blot from a 14 ha estate situated on the slopes overlooking Bourgueil. It exhibits a soft and velvety attack, concentrated black cherry, blackberry and cassis flavors, herbal notes, and soft round tannins on the finish. A beautifully balanced and delicious wine.
Importer: V.O.S. Selections, Inc., New York, NY
Domaine des Roches Neuves 2008 Saumur Champigny Rouge ($20) 90+
Winemaker Thierry Germaine’s Saumur Champigny shows bright red and black fruit with earth and cocoa notes. It’s low in alcohol and extremely food-friendly. A perfect wine for times—like hot summer days—when you want a low alcohol, medium-bodied red that complements, rather than overpowers, food. Domaine des Roches Neuves is a biodynamic producer.
Importer: VOS Selection, New York, NY.
Domaine des Rochelles 2007 La Croix de Mission Anjou Villages Rouge ($28) 89
This Anjou Villages of Jean-Yves Lebreton, the 4th generation owner of this family winery, displays a dark ruby color and aromas of ripe plum, chocolate, spice and forest floor. Matured in stainless steel tanks, it offers flavors of plum, black olives, minerals and earth on the palate with high acidity and a dry crispy finish.
Importer: Robert Kacher Selections Washington, DC
Domaine Frederic Mabileau 2007 Les Rouillieres St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil ($18) 89
This cuvée reveals a medium dark ruby color and aromas of red plum, herbs and sweet oak. It is lush on the attack with a velvet texture with candied red plum, black pepper and minerals. The wine has a lovely sweet and juicy red fruit finish.
Importer: Simon N Cellars Charlottesville, VA, Jon-David Headrick Selection, Asheville, NC