The Loire Valley in France is best known for white wines, such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Muscadet and Vouvray. But there is plenty of red wine to like in this gigantic wine region (France’s largest in size and third in production).
The “other” Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, is king of the hill among Loire red varietals. Cab Franc (known as Breton in the Loire) is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon withmore immediate fruit (generally cherries and raspberries). Softer tannins, less oak influence, good acidity and herbaceous notes all make it a better food wine than its Cab cousin. And because Cabernet Franc is less well-known (and thus in less demand) it is often a good value.
Red wine grapes have historically struggled to ripen in this cooler region. However, with the exception of 2007, the weather has been kind the past eight years, especially 2002, 2003 and 2005, all rated excellent vintages by Wine Spectator.
Last fall The Loire Valley Wine Bureau held a tasting exclusively of red wines. Cabernet Franc was the star of the show but got lots of support from Pinot Noir. There were also wines from Gamay, Cot (Malbec), Negretté (a fruity, perfumed grape from the Southwest) and Pineau d’Aunis (sometimes called Chenin Noir but having no relation to Chenin Blanc or Pinot Noir).
While some Loire reds came from appellations more associated with white wines, such as Menetou-Salon and Sancerre, the primary red wine regions of the Loire are Chinon, Bourgueil, St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, Saumur and Saumur-Champigny.
- •St. Nicolas de Bourgueil Domaine Talau Cuvée Malgagnes 2003 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $20). Ripe and earthy with good acid balance. (C&D Wines, www.cndwines.com)
- • St. Nicolas de Bourgueil JP Mabileau Cuvée Graviers 2006 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $20). Ripe rich and fruity with nice earthy aromas. Really delicious. (Frank Johnson Selections, www.fejselections.com)
- • Chinon Chateau de Vaugaudry Plessis-Gerbault Fut 2003 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $20). Still a bit tannic but juicy and ripe with good acid balance. (Frank Johnson Selections)
- • Saumur-Champigny Sebastien Bobinet Amatéus Bobi 2006 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $32). Ripe and juicy with good structure. (Jenny & Francois Selections, World Wide Wine Ltd., www.worldwidewine.net)
- • Fiefs Vendéens Domaine St. Nicolas Pinot Noir 2006 (100% Pinot Noir, about $23). From biodynamically produced grapes, which yield a delicious, ripe and balanced wine. (Jon-David Headrick Selections, www.jondavidwine.com)
- • Chinon Domaine de la Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens 2005 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $20). Lovely herbal and spice notes (especially fennel) wrapped in ripe, delicious fruit. (Jon-David Headrick Selections)
- • Touraine Cot Clos Roche Blanche 2006 (100% Cot, about $26). Though still fairly tannic, this unusual and yummy Malbec has lots of cured meat notes to go with its juicy fruit. (Louis/Dressner Selections, LDM Wines, www.louisdressner.com)
- • Chinon Couly Dutheil Barronie Madeleine 2005 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $29). From 50 to 60-year-old vines comes this unusually viscous wine (for Chinon) with ripe fruit and meaty, leathery notes. (Metrowine, www.metrowine.com)
- • Chinon Couly Dutheil Cresenco 2003 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $72). Pretty steeply priced for a Chinon but delectable enough (well, almost) to merit the cost. (Metrowine)
- • Thierry Germain Saumur-Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves La Marginale 2004 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $40). Bursting with dark cherry fruit. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a Loire red wine so concentrated. Yet it’s still bright, fresh and balanced. The best wine of the tasting. (V.O.S Selections, www.vosselections.com)
- • Thierry Germain Saumur-Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves La Marginale 2006 (100% Cabernet Franc, about $45). Not far behind the 2004, this peppery, raspberry scented wine isn’t as dark and brooding but it’s still terrific. (V.O.S Selections)