Moreish Loire Reds

The River Loire is mainly known for the variety of delicious white wines that are made from vineyards sited all along the banks of one of France’s longest rivers.  Starting in the west, there’s the crisp, dry Muscadet from near the Atlantic coast – generally much improved, if you haven’t tried a bottle recently.  Then, upstream, the Chenin Blanc grape takes over in the districts around Vouvray and Saumur making wines that can be sparkling, dry, off-dry or, in the Layon, just to the south, some of the best value and most attractive sweet wines in the whole of France.  Continuing your journey east through Touraine, you then move into Sauvignon Blanc country with, amongst others, the steely, minerally Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.

But not all Loire wines are white.  There’s some Pinot Noir grown in Sancerre for reds and (fairly pricy!) rosés and there are also some rosés from Anjou, although the quality there can be quite variable.  But it’s the surprisingly little-known reds from the area around Saumur that I really want to mention: names such as Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, St Nicolas de Bourgueil and Chinon.  All made with 100% Cabernet Franc grapes and all benefitting greatly from the global warming we’ve seen over the last couple of decades helping this underrated variety to reach full ripeness.

It’s difficult to choose just one wine from this group but I’ve picked an absolute bargain – Domaine de la Noblaie’s ‘Le Temps des Cerises’ Chinon (Wine Society, £11.50).  The name translates to ‘cherry time’ – completely appropriate for this fresh, medium-bodied red, full of bright cherry and raspberry flavours and with a long vibrant finish.  Very drinkable, even on its own, but perfect teamed with some grilled lamb chops, so long as you leave the mint sauce in the cupboard – please!  And, on a warm evening, we gave it a half hour in the fridge before opening it which worked fine.

So, whether you choose Chinon or one of the other local Appellations I’ve mentioned above, you’ll find some excellent producers and some delightful, moreish drinking.

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Franc in Mendoza

Think of Argentinian wine and it’s likely that one grape will spring immediately to mind: Malbec.  And with good reason; it has become that country’s ‘signature’ variety and its rich, dark, savoury flavours are a perfect foil for the local beef-dominated cuisine.  

Yet, although Malbec is the most widely planted wine grape in Argentina, it accounts for only one sixth of the total vineyard area.  Other red varieties such as Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah occupy significant chunks of the land as do less well-known but more traditional grapes such as Criolla Grande and Cereza (both pink-skinned) and whites such as Pedro Giminez (not to be confused with Spain’s Pedro Ximinez) and Torrontes.

But there’s one variety that, while it barely registers there at the moment, may have more potential to thrive in Argentina than any of those: Cabernet Franc.  Native to France, it can often struggle to ripen fully in Bordeaux producing ‘green’, herbaceous flavours in the wine as a result, while in the Loire, it has definitely performed better as the climate has warmed in the last decade or so, giving some delicious Chinons and Saumur-Champignys. 

So, it seems that warmth and sunlight are important to getting the best out of Cabernet Franc, and it should get plenty of both in the thin, unpolluted air at altitude in Argentina’s Mendoza region. 

Monteagrelo’s Bressia Cabernet Franc (Grape and Grind, £14.99) is a good example of the results we can expect.  Clearly no issues with ripeness here as the wine comes out at 14.5% alcohol (although there was no sense of this level from the wine in the glass).  But you do find a lovely richness in the mouth and a mixture of attractive cooked plum and dried-fruit flavours, all rounded out by 12 months in barrel – almost certainly mainly older wood as there is no overt oakiness in the wine.

Next time you’re buying wine from Argentina, look beyond Malbec (however tasty some of those wines are) and seek out a Cabernet Franc instead.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.