Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Loire Cabernet Franc’s Sleeper Status


Here at LSI we’ve always been huge proponents of the Loire Valley, which offers a diverse range of cépages and astronomical value for the money. The marketing machine behind Sancerre over the past decade has had an indelible effect on sales and pricing of these wines (much to the pleasure of the Sancerrois.) But there are a myriad other regions which have curiously received no limelight, despite that their wines are pure, gastronomic, inexpensive, and delicious. The communes of Reuilly and Menetou-Salon in the Centre Loire craft wines of 100% Sauvignon Blanc just like Sancerre; however most people have never heard of these places or their wines. You can sit on the terrace of a café in Paris and order a carafe de rouge, receive a chilled Chinon, guzzle it down with your bacon & egg salad, and never have a clue what it was. These are the wines of French every day life. So why don’t we know their names?

Loire’s red offerings of Cabernet Franc, specifically the wines of Saumur, Bourgueil, Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, and Chinon, are particularly vulnerable in small markets once you stray out of New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Here in LA these wines are often met, even by knowledgable buyers who respect the wines, with a sense of bafflement. “Delicious but…how do I sell it?” is often their perplexed response. It’s particularly sad when you think about producers like Bertrand Galbrun, and his sexily nuanced little Bourgueil. Bourgueil, a sleepy commune situated on the right bank of the Loire River about midway between Angers and Tours, was granted AOC status legally in 1937, but red wine production dates back centuries. Here we see the mainstay grape, Cabernet Franc, produced in its apogee. Clay-limestone soils unique to this part of the Loire, called Tuff, feature lots of fine white calcareous content. Another soil commonly seen in Bourgueil is called graves, an alluvial gravel of small pebbles. The best wines render these soils purely, dustily, a quality that gives Loire reds their mystery.

Bertrand Galbrun is a young guy with a passion for clean, simply-spirited wine. He farms 3.5 hectares of 100% organic grapes. He started his domaine in 2005. He is truly committed to the production of non-interventionist wine in order to eke out the purest, most limpid expression of grape and terroir. Harvest is performed manually. Grapes are collected in small boxes and undergo many tries before vinification. Grapes are then 100% destemmed and crushed by foot. No yeast, no added enzymes, and no SO2 are added to the vat, and the wine is not chaptalized.

Similarly, Beatrice and Pascale Lambert are producing organic, minimally-sulfited Chinon in Cravant les Coteaux and have been since Nicolas Joly & and the early days of the biodynamic movement in wine. Their Chinons, which range from entry level bag-in-box to rich, high-end Cuvée Danaë with all representations and a rare white Chinon of Chenin Blanc in between, are gorgeous.

The reds of Bourgueil and Chinon, which can include up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, are elemental and visceral: they make you want to eat. They are peppery, savory, with just enough tannin to crave food. Perhaps it is their savory component that’s made them hard to understand Stateside. Though it is evolving, the American palate beyond the coasts (and even on the coasts, according to a recent chat with the head buyer at Bristol Farms, who says as much as he loves the wines, he can’t give Loire red away) remains geared toward soft, sweet-fruited juice. But Loire Cab Francs are both vins de meditation and vins de soif. Plus they’re generally low in alcohol, so you can have multiple glasses (which appeals to small people, like myself.)

- Lily Davis 9/26/13