Of Cas­tles and Caber­net Franc: leisure days in the Loire

Luxe Beat Magazine - - Contents - By Michael Cervin

There is a leg­end that the Abbey at Brit­tany was home to some of the first planted Caber­net Franc grapes in the soils of France’s Loire Val­ley. It be­lieved that cut­tings came from the Basque re­gion in the 11th Cen­tury, over 1,000 miles away. We don’t know who planted what when and ex­actly where, but we do know the Ro­mans had vines un­der cul­ti­va­tion in Loire even be­fore that. To­day the Loire is known for Caber­net Franc, and its stun­ning cas­tles of which 42 of over 300 are part a UNESCO World Her­itage site through­out the 600-mile long val­ley. Lo­cated south­west of Paris it is Frances’ third most prom­i­nent wine re­gion be­hind Bordeaux and the Rhone Val­ley. Parts of the East­ern Loire are eas­ily ac­cessed by car just an hour drive from Paris, and a main jump­ing off point for one-day and up to three-day tours. The TGV train can get you to var­i­ous Western points like Angers and Nantes in less than three hours.

Caber­net Franc

Caber­net Franc in the Loire is the an­tithe­sis of Caber­net Franc from Cal­i­for­nia. This should not im­ply that New World Caber­net Franc is lesser in qual­ity, but to truly understand the ori­gins, com­plex­ity and unique­ness of Caber­net Franc, a noth­ing much of a grape in Cal­i­for­nia, you need to taste Loire thereby giv­ing your­self a ref­er­ence point. Caber­net Franc in France is picked ear­lier, rarely gets any oak treat­ment, has a sur­pris­ingly com­plex acid­ity and of­fers spe­cific dark berry notes com­mon to Franc. It is the soils - lime­stone, clay, and slate - that give Franc its struc­ture. “The acid­ity is the ar­row that gives the wine di­rec­tion,” says wine­maker Fredrik Fil­li­a­treau. And what you find from the vil­lages of An­jou to Sau­mur, to Chi­non and Bour­gueil is a wine of di­verse char­ac­ter­is­tics.

At Do­maine Le­duc-frouin in An­jou I vis­ited brother and sis­ter team An­toine and Nathalie Le­duc-frouin who hand har­vest 74 acres of Caber­net Franc, some of which was planted by their grand­fa­ther 60 years ago. Though this age is not un­com­mon, An­jou Cab France is meant to be con­sumed within a few years as it leans to­wards an ex­pres­sion of light bright fruit. How­ever I also tasted through vin­tages dat­ing back to 1999, and you clearly see the age-abil­ity of Cab Franc whereby the in­her­ent acid­ity al­lows for cel­lar­ing.

Just down the road an­other brother and sis­ter team, He­lene and Yves Matignon set to work on their small par­cel of vines. They, too, are third gen­er­a­tion farm­ers, orig­i­nally with grapes, cat­tle and ce­real grains, though the most no­table thing is the ceme­tery next door. But as I trav­eled through­out the Loire I found this to be more com­mon that you would ex­pect: lots of parcels of vines and ceme­ter­ies nearby, cas­tles pop­ping up near the ma­jor free­way and an abun­dance of wines you may never get to try un­less you come here.

As a con­trast to fam­ily winer­ies, Al­liance Loire is a co-op of 150 wine grow­ers who pro­duce 80 dif­fer­ent cu­vées at var­i­ous price points for an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. “There’s a say­ing that An­jou is very soft,” tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Ni­cholas Emereau tells me, mean­ing that the re­gion is tem­per­ate in which to grow grapes. The Al­liance op­er­ates 260 acres of vines in a mas­sive fa­cil­ity. In fact their boxy tast­ing room be­lies what’s un­der­ground. I go with Ni­co­las and wine­maker Eric Lau­rent down a tight cir­cu­lar stair­case 80 feet into tun­nels orig­i­nally ex­ca­vated for their stone in the 1700s. Left be­hind are 33,000 feet of dank tun­nels where the Al­liance ages nearly 10 mil­lion bot­tles (it was also where the Nazis stored am­mu­ni­tion dur­ing WWII). For such a large fa­cil­ity their wines cover a wide spec­trum from in­ex­pen­sive fruity wines to cu­vées with rich

com­plex fruit. As I taste through sev­eral of their wines, The Boss, Bruce Spring­steen, belts out “Born in the USA” over the speak­ers, a re­minder that the Loire is not that far from Amer­ica.

Mov­ing east I vis­ited Do­maine La Jarnoteire in the St. Ni­cholas de Bour­gueil re­gion, where Carine Reze took me into caves quar­ried around 990. It’s deep in th­ese caves, some 60 feet un­der­ground that they age their wines in chest­nut bar­rels, a prac­tice they have done since they pur­chased the property in 1945. Of course it was this ex­act area that Car­di­nal Riche­lieu, in the 1600s, de­cided would be the ex­clu­sive place for Caber­net Franc to be grown. And the Car­di­nal was right. The Caber­net Franc wines of the Bour­gueil (pro­nounced “bur-goy”) ex­press them­selves as the most com­plex, at least to me, of the other Loire Val­ley re­gions. You should not im­ply from this that other ar­eas are lesser in terms of Caber­net France, but that for my pal­ette Bour­gueil was the most com­pre­hen­sive and Carine’s wine show a lovely ma­tu­rity. “Our style is for el­e­gance, not pow­er­ful

The au­thor with Carine Reze

The lovely Chenon­ceau Cas­tle

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