Château and Caves of the Loire

Posted by Bacchus in Wines October 4, 2015

I’ve just come back from a ‘lads’ holiday in the Loire Valley, and boy was it good.  We drove all the way there and back, so it was a bit of an epic journey through sometimes tedious landscape, but as soon as we reached the Loire it was clear it was worth the effort. I have always loved this region since the first time I visited as a little boy, with its majestic châteaux, languid river and gentle pace of life. Now there was something else I could really enjoy alongside my Dad and brother – the wine.

We started our holiday in the delightful riverside town of Amboise in the Touraine, with its Château perched above the river and the cafés. Next door was Vouvray, an appellation that only produces still white wines and sparkling from the Chenin Blanc grape. This is one of my all time favourite grape varieties and I have been lucky enough to savour some great examples before. We stopped at the local co-op winery to try through their range, which included some excellent quality dry sparkling and a variety of still wines. The styles of Chenin produced largely depend on vintage conditions and can range from sec (dry, although more typically sec-tendre which is just off-dry) through to Liquoreux (full on sticky). Aromas and flavours can vary from fresh apple and acacia flowers through to dried apricots and wild honey. They can have a harder mineral edge and a sharp acidic bite, or be soft, ripe and creamy. This is a chameleon grape that at its best can intrigue and astound.

Cabernet Franc is a much under-appreciated grape, most noted perhaps for playing a part in Bordeaux blends (including all of the very top wines), but in this part of the world it stands alone. Based in Chinon we were right in the middle of its spiritual home.  We visited a cave that stretched far into the famous Tuffeau limestone of the region. This soft stone is easy to quarry and sculpt, and is responsible in part for the beauty of the local château. Here it was providing a perfect temperature-regulated cellar for the ageing Cabernet Franc wines. We tried a few from some of the best producers in the area and they were very impressive. The stereotypical Cabernet Franc is red fruited with a slightly leafy, peppery quality and a savoury edge, often likened to pencil shavings. I find Saumur wines tend to stick to this but Chinon is a little more complex; earthier, often more dark fruited, more structured and given to tertiary aromas of forest floor with age. There was even a nice truffley development to one of the old vine examples we tried. Many that we admired required further ageing but still showed well, with a satisfying fruitiness and an elegance on the palate. I even managed to procure a 1989 bottle of a top cuvée for less than £20 – amazing value really.

In the local restaurants it is all about the local wine – you will find little else on offer in many, and why not? They are a perfect foil for the local cuisine and their lightness means you will come back to them again and again. They can be serious wines but they are not blockbusters and are all the better for it. Vive la Loire!

Tagged: Bacchus Cabernet Franc Chenin Blanc French Wine Loire Sparkling Wine

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