Wednesday, April 2, 2008

For WBW #44, French Cabernet Franc

Kudos to Gary Vaynerchuk for selecting French Cabernet Franc for Wine Blogging Wednesday #44. I say kudos since these wines can be tinny to many (taste) buds and it's my hope that these quintessential bistro wines earn more of the respect they deserve.

France's Loire Valley is known more for its whites — Vouvray, Sancerre, et al — than for its reds, and their white grapes thrive in the chalky tuffeaux soils that characterize this region. But in some places the soils are so limey they promote chlorosis, so it becomes desirable to grow red grapes such as... Cabernet Franc. And these red wines are, if known at all, known for their freshness, their acidity, and their frequent vegetal expressions; hence their apparent tinniness to many palates.

Myself, I like Loire Cabernet Francs as a rule. The flip side of that rule is that I can find them more intellectually interesting than emotionally engaging. The interplay of green olive, tobacco, and cherry is undeniably fascinating, but not always lovable. Yet as I have fallen madly in love with a Loire red or two, I seek others to fall for. For this event I tasted two — one from Saumur, one from Saumur Champigny — and opened my heart.

Thierry Germain Saumur Champigny 2005
Thierry Germain Saumur Champigny 2005
Germain is the well-regarded owner of Domaine Roches Neuves but this is a negoce bottling, made "for" Theirry Germain Sélection (49). This wine is not as tobaccoey (is that a word?) as Germain's Roches Neuves bottling but is likewise an extracted, concentrated, but still terroir-specific Saumur Champigny. The black cherry is both thick and slightly tart, the acidity is in your face, and there's a dark mineral undertow that casts an almost sinister shade behind the bright, happy fruit. I imagine this would be terrific with almost anything this side of a shellfish. In short, it justifies itself as a good bistro wine, particularly at $16.

Domaine de Château Gaillard Saumur 2004
This is a phenomenal, ageworthy wine. Now, the Saumur appellation is less esteemed than its neighbors: supposedly meaner than Saumur Champigny, less structured than Bourgueil, and less refined than Chinon, which The World Atlas of Wine says "makes the silkiest, most tender wine of the [middle Loire] district." Yet this wine encapsulates all that is good about those regions: it's refreshing, structured, and refined.

The nose here is totally intriguing. It's softly meaty, something between cold flank steak and blood sausage, accompanied by sweet green herbs such as tarragon. Likewise, it's softer and more herb-sweet in the mouth than your typical sharp-cherry-and-tobacco Loire Cab Franc; and yet it also displays that typicity as well. With air, the tannins start lashing the tongue. I've never had a Loire red quite like it!

On day two this becomes a bit more typically Loire-ish — the meaty aromas have faded, chalky sweet cherry-n-tobacco aromas take the fore, the tannins have melted a bit without sacrificing structure — but it's still elegant and delicious. The minerality is a touch salty, the ripe tannins hint at sweetness, the acidity is cut like a swimmer's body.

Why is this wine so balanced? Maybe it's because of Mattieu Bouchet's Demeter-certified biodynamic farming. Maybe it's because many of the vines are over 80 years old. Maybe it's because the wine sees no new oak. All three and more, I'd wager; and I'd certainly wager the $17 I paid for this. Absurd.


RougeAndBlanc said...

Thanks for explaning the origin of this cuvee from Thierry Germain. I guess for a few dollars more, the estate bottled Terre Chaude is a better QPR in the long run.
I think Germain has made his '05 cuvees a "more extracted" wines than they should be. (Maybe this is due to a riper vintage also).

Your '04 Gaillard Saumur is a good find for the price. Thanks for recommendation but too bad it is not available in NY.

Wicker Parker said...

Thanks for the note. As I mentioned on your blog, patience is a virtue, so I'd love to see how Germain's wines shake out over the next five years. I had an interesting comparative experience last year with his entry level '05 Roches Neuves: it was totally syrupy in the spring of '07 but by the fall it had become more classic in weight, and was very refreshing. I still wonder if Germain pushes extraction beyond what I prefer but I hesitate to judge too quickly.

David McDuff said...

Great notes, Mike. I've yet to have either wine. Based on your descriptions, the Gaillard in particular calls for a little search and sip mission.