Discovery Course: Loire Cabernet Franc

The second of our two explorations into the wine styles of the Loire gave our tasters a deep dive into the different expressions of its signature red: Cabernet Franc

Climate change means some growers have harvested their Cabernet Franc in August – six weeks earlier than usual. Pic: Philippe Caharel

For many people, Cabernet Franc is the ‘other’ Cabernet after Sauvignon. But in fact, as this course’s presenter in London, Rebecca Gibb MW pointed out, it should be the other way round, since Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc) is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Franc’s original heritage is uncertain, with grape historians suggesting that it arrived in the valley from (variously) the Basque country, Bordeaux and Britanny. The latter would, at least, explain why it’s still often called ‘Breton’ in the region.

An earlier-ripener than its progeny, Cabernet Franc is well suited to the Loire’s cooler climate, and it is used for everything from reds and rosés to sparkling wines.

That said, there’s been a rise of 1.3ᵒC in the Loire over the last 50 years during the growing season – most of it since 1980.

Saumur-Champigny grower, Arnaud Lambert, who we heard from via Zoom mentioned that typically he would pick his Cabernet Franc in mid-October, but in 2020 harvested it at the end of August!

The higher temperatures have meant more sugar and ripeness of fruit and tannin, but milder winters have also created problems with vines becoming active too early in the year, at a time when frost can still occur. Spring frost damage has seen a growing number of short harvests since the millennium.

Milder winters put the vines at risk from frost in springtime

As well as naturally higher ripeness levels, the region’s winemakers have gone through some stylistic changes of their own, too, over the last few decades.

Initially, the higher sugar and ripeness levels saw producers working their wines hard in the latter stages of the ferment, extracting more colour and tannin, which they then backed up with relatively high amounts of new French oak. This created bigger, richer wines.

But the last ten years have seen a shift. Producers look to extract the colour and tannins earlier in the fermentation when temperatures are lower, and are using significantly less oak.

Key tasting terms, according to Rebecca, are ‘red fruit, graphite, grass and bell pepper – but we’re seeing more violet perfume in the wines now because of the changes in the way they are making them.

‘One of the beauties of Cabernet Franc,’ she went on, ‘is the perfume – and you don’t get that if you ferment at 32ᵒC.’

A flight of Chinons, ready for our tasters in Edinburgh

Chinon

Slopes in the Loire are gentle, but significant in defining a Cabernet Franc’s style. Pic: InterLoire

Chinon is the largest of the Loire’s red wine appellations, located round the Vienne river – mostly on the north side, to give south-facing vineyards. Typically, it gives fuller-bodied styles that can age 10-20 years.

Near the river, the soils are sand and gravel, which tend to give lighter-bodied, early-drinking wines, often unoaked.

On the slopes (or coteaux) the soil is clay over limestone, giving more refined, long-lived wines that are often oaked.

The plateau – a slightly raised flat dip – gives wines that are stylistically halfway between the two.

This is a stylistic pattern that is repeated across the region’s different Cabernet Franc growing regions.

‘I was really interested by the differences in soils and how that tied in with the winemaking techniques of oak and no-oak.’

Konstantinos Kannellakis, Ekstedt at The Yard

Oak in Loire reds doesn’t often mean small barrels, however. ‘Small barrels and Cabernet Franc don’t really work,’ explained Rebecca.

Anjou

The Anjou reds line-up

Just to the east of Angers, the soils change from the black, schistous sedimentary earth of the coast to the white clay/kimmeridgian limestone of the Paris basin. Anjou straddles both of these – ‘black Anjou’ and ‘white Anjou’ – resulting in a variety of wine styles, depending on where the vines are grown.

‘I was impressed with the quality of the Anjou Cabernets,’ said Damien Trinckquel from Number One at the Balmoral Hotel. ‘I always buy the white Anjous, but I forgot about the noir and blanc soil types.’

Like several other tasters, he was impressed by the Domaine de Bablut Anjou Villages Brissac.

‘I was a big fan of that,’ added Isobel Salamon. ‘The nose made me swoon a bit. Beautiful graphite, mulberry integrations, with a nice, sweet smokiness on the palate. I want this with game – venison or pheasant.’

Saumur-Champigny/Puy Notre Dame

This was probably our most popular flight of reds, in both Edinburgh and London

The Saumur-Champigny appellation consists of vineyards round eight villages near the town of Saumur. The soil is very chalky, giving gentle, light reds that are acid- rather than tannin-based. They’re all about delicacy and purity.

‘You always find that lovely chalky sensation with Saumur-Champigny,’ said Rebecca. ‘They can be serious but the serious ones rely on their fruit purity, not oak or extraction. They aren’t tricked up.’

A good number of attendees picked Saumur-Champigny as their favourite region from the eight Cabernet Franc flights tasted.

‘I found them really balanced, with well-polished flavours and smooth tannins. The 2018 vintage seems to give the wines a lot of ripe fruit.’

Fernando Cubas, The InterContinental

Fernando suggested using these wines in his sommelier selection to help them sell. His favourite example was the Domaine Antoine Sanzay 2018.

Chewton Glen’s Natasha Senina picked Les Loges from Domaine de la Guilloterie as her favourite, saying it was ‘beautiful and fresh, slightly tense, but juicy with red fruit and blackberry aromas; tender and delicate – enchanting!’

‘I adored this flight,’ agreed Isobel Salamon, from Eden Locke. ‘The Domaine du Vieux Pressoir from Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame was honestly what I want to have on my Christmas table.’

Scotland’s somms make notes in between flights

Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil

On the north side of the Loire, with south-facing vineyards, and protected from the northerly wind by a forest on top of the plateau, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil can provide the next longest-lived examples of Loire Cabernet Franc after Chinon – up to 10 years as a rule of thumb.

The soils are the same combination of sand/gravel and clay/limestone as Chinon. ‘It’s probably easier to pick the sites within an appellation than to tell one appellation from the other,’ said Rebecca.

As Mathieu Longuere MS, presenting in Edinburgh, put it, ‘You can have Loire Cabernet Francs that taste like Bordeaux, and some that taste like Beaujolais.’

Mathieu believes that these wines benefit from decanting. ‘You can see the initial nose can be savoury, even rustic. But over time they become a lot more aromatic and expressive.’

Mathieu Longuere MS in Edinburgh
Merlin Ramos pours some Chinon for Julio Tauste
Another hard day’s work…

Condita’s Konstantinos Katridis agreed, picking out Frederic Mabileau’s Les Rouillères 2019 as his top red, saying it would be great paired with beef tartare.

James Payne MS, from Douneside House, meanwhile, went for La Chevallerie ‘75cl de Terroir’, which, he felt, stood out because of its lightness and elegance.

‘All of the Cabernet Franc-based reds were enjoyable and the overall quality level impressed me, with really pleasant, bright, fruit-driven styles, fine grained ripe tannins and silky textures.’

James Payne MS, Douneside House

As a means of engaging and intriguing your customers, James suggested serving Loire Cabernet Francs alongside fuller New World versions, say from Salta in Argentina, to highlight the differences in style.

The mighty Loire, cutting through hundreds of kilometres of world-famous vineyards. Pic by Osman Tavares
Loire - Saumur

Discovery Course: Loire Sparkling Wine

Variety is a big part of the Loire story – and the members who attended our sessions in London and Edinburgh discovered big differences in the key sparkling wine styles.

Loire sparkling wines come in a wide variety of styles – as our tasters discovered. Pic: Creative Room

With nearly 500km from its coastal vineyards to those furthest inland, it’s no wonder that the Loire is one of the most varied wine growing regions in France. There are significant amounts of wine in pretty much every style, from light, early-drinking whites like Muscadet through its famous Sauvignon Blancs to richer, long-lived Chenin Blancs and Chardonnays.

And that’s just the still whites. Add in rosé (a quarter of all production), probably the world’s benchmark expression of Cabernet Franc and sweet and sparkling wines, and it’s clear that there’s an awful lot to get to know.

Most sommeliers are pretty familiar with Loire Sauvignon in general, as well as Muscadet. But how about some of the less well-known expressions? Probably not so much.

So in these two masterclasses, in association with the folk at InterLoire, we decided to take our members on a journey through the region’s sparkling wines and Cabernet Francs.

Our tasters in Edinburgh were fortified at lunchtime with a plateful of Scottish venison

The reds and sparkling wines are somewhat less ubiquitous than the still whites, though they’re not exactly niched. Between them, red and sparkling wines are over 1/3 of the region’s production.

Although they are slightly unusual, there’s still really good availability, which means these styles can be a great way to add some real layers of interest to your list.

You name it, the Loire can make it…
From white, rosé and red…
to sparkling, bone dry and sweet…

Loire Valley Wines

Our sparkling masterclass started with a quick introductory flight to prepare palates and show off some of the region’s still, non-red styles, from Muscadet to sweet Vouvray via a Rosé d’Anjou.

‘Many Loire regions can go in any direction, to make still wine, sparkling wine or sweet,’ explained host, Mathieu Longuere MS. ‘What they make on any given year usually depends on the vintage.

A journey along the Loire courtesy of white wine

‘If Chenin Blanc is not ripe enough one year to make still wine, they can make sparkling,’ he explained. ‘They are lucky with the varieties they have.’

A still Chenin Blanc, the Chateau de Villeneuve Saumur Blanc, was popular with Isobel Salomon who found it a ‘particularly elegant expression, and very balanced.’ Her suggested pairing was cod or Scottish halibut with a buttery emulsion.

Saumur Fines Bulles

As an ‘instant sell’ to your customers, it’s hard to beat the chalk cellars of Saumur – the kilometres of passageways and caverns carved out under the cream-coloured town are a UNESCO world heritage site.

Saumur’s limestone buildings (and cellars) are a sign of good terroir for sparkling wine. Pic Martin Falbisoner, Wikimedia Commons

That same thick ridge of limestone works well with white varieties, in particular. Most of the Saumur Fines Bulles are all or mostly Chenin Blanc, with Chardonnay and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc commonly used as well. ‘Fines Bulles’ (fine bubbles) is used for sparkling wines from appellations that also make still wine (such as Saumur, Touraine and Vouvray).

Given that they all came from one area, just south of the town, the Saumur Fines Bulles wines showed a surprising variety of styles, from clean, classic ‘aperitif sparklers’ to more ‘vinous’ “Méthode Ancestrale” versions with lower fizz.

All the wines in Saumur are méthode traditionelle, with a second fermentation in the bottle.

‘But in “Méthode Ancestrale” wines they use a semi-dry base wine to start the second fermentation,’ explained Mathieu Longuere MS. ‘The more time the wine spends on lees, the more integrated the bubbles.’

Some of these differences are due to winemaking decisions, others are down to the various slopes, angles and microclimates, that give wines of very different ripenesses even within the same appellation.

‘You could see from the flight of five Saumur Fines Bulles wines that we had that there’s a huge variety of styles within the appellation,’ said Mathieu. ‘There’s a lot of freedom – space for everybody.’

While Condita’s Konstantinos Katridis picked the decidedly gastronomic Domaine du Vieux Pressoir as his favourite wine, he felt that, in general, these would be great as pre-dinner serves.

‘The Chateau de Montgueret Tête de Cuvée was my favourite sparkler. Mature and full-bodied with a creamy texture, intense and small bubbles, full-bodied with a long after-taste.’

Natasha Senina, Chewton Glen

Crémant de Loire

The big swings in style seen in the Fines Bulles appellations of Saumur and (later) Vouvray, is less of a factor for Crémant de Loire. Grapes can be taken from across the region so it’s a lot more consistent. Here, the biggest flavour influencer is the varieties used.

Chenin (naturally high in acidity) is usually the preferred base variety, but Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc can figure prominently, too.

The wines must have at least 12 months bottle ageing, though many producers give them more than this. Yeasty autolytic characters start to appear after 18 months.

The InterContinental’s Fernando Cubas was a fan of the Langlois Crémant de Loire brut for its freshness and acidity, and felt it would be a good (and well-priced) by-the-glass addition.

Certainly, our tasters felt that reliability and value were a big selling point of this flight.

‘It’s not a Marmite wine, love it or hate it,’ mused Mathieu. ‘It’s a style that people will never turn down. And though there are times when you want to surprise a customer there are also times when you don’t.’

The Edinburgh venue, Good Bros wine bar, had a festive air to it for our day’s tasting.

Vouvray Fines Bulles

From rocky hillsides, and with a minimum of 12 months ageing, Vouvray Fines Bulles must be 100% Chenin and, with its taut acidity, has the potential for good mid- to long-term ageing.

Although these wines were all from one single appellation, it’s perhaps no surprise that there were big variations in the wines here. Vouvray runs more or less along the Loire river from just east of Saumur through a further eight municipalities.

The Vouvrays were very popular with our tasters in London and Edinburgh

Not only were winemakers making wines from quite different microclimates, but it was obvious, too, that they were also making the wines in quite different ways. Perhaps because of this, it was the star sparkling flight for several of our attendees.

‘The Vouvray Fines Bulles wines surprised and impressed me in terms of delivering the quality that I look for when encouraging guests to step out of their bubbly comfort zone and trying something new,’ said Douneside House’s James Payne MS. ‘Either by the bottle to accompany food or as part of a tasting menu wine flight.’

Mathieu agreed. ‘They all have a varietal character – you really know you’re in Chenin Blanc territory,’ he said. ‘But within that, they will all be different.’

Several attendees picked out the Domaine Vigneau Chevreau nv as their favourite sparkling overall.

‘It had brilliant flinty notes alongside that hazelnut, quince jam sweetness,’ said Eden Locke’s Isobel Salomon. ‘It’s a great champagne alternative.’

Damien Trinckquel from Number One at the Balmoral also loved its medium body.

‘Elegant mousse and very precise with chalky mineral and a saline finish. It will keep everyone happy around a table.’

Damien Trinckquel, Number One at The Balmoral
The Loire at sunset. Pic: Fotolia Matlanimal

Discovery Course: Loire EDINBURGH

17 November, 2021 @ 10:00 am 3:30 pm GMT

The Sommelier Collective, in conjunction with InterLoire and Sopexa, is delighted to announce its first LIVE, educational course in November 2021.

This exclusive tasting opportunity gives our members the chance to learn about the wines of the Loire Valley in-depth with Matthieu Longuère MS who will be joined on live video link by winemakers from the region.

You might think you know about the Loire but this tasting educational course will give you the inside track on what is happening in the region today, the wines you don’t know, the intricacies and subtleties of the different sub-zone…in fact, all you need to know about aspects of the Loire that you need to discover so that your list offers the very best wines from one of France’s renowned wine producing areas.

Hosted by a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine the sessions will be made even more engaging by top winemakers joining live from the region, so you can find out direct from source what really happening in the Loire today. Never before have we have such great input, streamed-live, into a tasting so that you can enrich your knowledge about the new and exciting aspects of the Loire.

Session one

Venue: Good Brothers Wine Bar, 4-6 Dean St, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH4 1LW
Time: 10am – 12.30pm

During the first session you will discover all there is to know about Loire Valley. Tasting some of its benchmark wines Matthieu Longuère MS will guide you through the must-stock Loire wines. He will focus on the region’s Sparkling Wines, from Crémant-de-Loire to Vouvray and Saumur Brut, this seminar will open up a whole new world to you.

Session two

Venue: Good Brothers Wine Bar4-6 Dean St, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH4 1LW
Time: 1.30pm – 3.30pm

In the second session, you will take a deep-dive into the principle red grape variety of the region – Cabernet Franc. You will discover its history and expression in the Loire Valley through major appellations such as Chinon, Anjou and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Looking at the soils, the climates and why this is a must list.

Matthieu Longuère MS

Taking place on the 17th of November in central Edinburgh you will find out about what producers are working on, the latest winemaking trends emerging from the region and how Loire wines fit on a wine list today – what the offer and how to sell them.

This Edinburgh session will be a day long, intensive workshop comprising all the elements of the London sessions, giving our members north of the border the chance to enjoy Loire wines under the expert guidance of Matthieu Longuère MS.

Sign up now to make sure you secure a place to find out about the Loire and meet your fellow Sommelier Collective members in person!

Event registration EDINBURGH

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In association with Loire Valley Wines