Article

L'Autre Cabernet

Tasting & Matching: Loire Cabernet Franc

Loire Cabernet Franc can be elegant, well-priced and food-friendly. Clinton Cawood calls together an Imbibe panel to see whether the grape can stand on its own two feet and achieve the same success as its big brother cabernet Sauvignon


It can’t be easy, growing up in Cabernet Sauvignon’s shadow. Big, bold and thick-skinned, not to mention all the limelight from the whole Left Bank Bordeaux thing... life’s been tough for Cabernet Franc. 

In the Loire, at least, it has the chance to take centre stage, but even here its reputation is far from perfect. 

Its detractors can justifiably call it weedy and stalky in years when the sun doesn’t shine. 

But with excellent vintages in 2005, 2009 and 2010 it’s said to be showing more of its true character – violet and pencil-shaving aromas, with good acidity and tannic structure. The kind of mid-weight, food-friendly wine, in other words, that restaurants generally love. 

Time, we thought, to take a look. So we called in a selection of the region’s Cabernet Francs (plus a few ‘ringers’ from the New World) to see whether the rumblings of approval are justified. Then with a hi and a ho, it was off to Loves Restaurant in Birmingham for a tasting with some of our sommelier friends from the Midlands.

The results were positive, and at some excellent price points. There are some benefits to being the underdog...


HOW IT WORKS

We called in Loire Cabernet Francs that are exclusively available to on-trade and independent sectors in the UK, as well as a few ringers – Cabernet Francs from the New World. All wines were tasted blind, flighted in order of price. Each wine was scored out of 20, with tasters’ scores collated to give a score out of 100. Only wines scoring over 60% are listed here. All prices are ex-VAT trade.


THE PANEL

Jean-Benoit Burloux, Purnell’s  Clinton Cawood, Imbibe  Claire Love, Loves Restaurant  
Adam Pawlowski, Northcote  Ed Whittaker, Restaurant Alimentum


RESULTS

89 Château de la Grille 2003
‘Redcurrants and blackcurrants stand out, with some nettle leaves in the aroma too. The palate is lighter in concentration – the fruit isn’t as robust, but it offers a serene complexity,’ CL. ‘Dried fruit on the nose – prune, plum, stewed cherries and strawberries. Peppery, spicy notes on the palate, with firm tannins and fresh acidity – a well-balanced wine,’ AP.
£14.63, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

86 Charles Joguet, Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos 2007
‘Lovely tertiary black plum and prune flavours, with a hint of smoke and black pepper. Fresh acidity, polished tannins, and a long, spicy finish. This is beautifully balanced,’ AP. ‘I’m intrigued as to how this will evolve. Brilliant on the nose, with signs of great things to come,’ JB.
£13.89, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

83 Baudry-Dutour, Domaine du Roncée Clos des Marronniers 2008 
‘Bright acidic fruit on the nose – raspberry, almost Ribena. Warm red fruit follows on the palate,’ CC. ‘Very appealing perfume and both dark and red fruit concentration on the nose. Also well integrated on the palate, showing remarkable balance. A good food wine too,’ CL. 
£11.51, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

80 Chilcas, Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2010
‘Blackcurrant and vanilla both very prominent on the nose. Well-structured tannins on the palate, alongside depth and concentration. Maybe lacking in complexity, however,’ CL. ‘Very ripe and jammy – cassis and blackberry, some herbaceous notes, as well as some vanilla,’ AP.
£13.45, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820

79 Château de Targé Quintessence, Saumur-Champigny 2006
‘Ripe and jammy nose of cassis and blueberry, with a hint of liquorice, and plenty of smoke,’ AP. ‘Wonderful aromas on the nose, followed by a good balance of oak and fruit on the palate, accompanied by good acidity,’ EW.
£18.00, Jascots Wine Merchants, 020 8965 2000

79 Domaine Langlois-Château, Vieilles Vignes 2005
‘Some real finesse – there’s a Burgundy-like elegance here. Gamey, with rich, dark chocolate, this is a great food wine, with good length. Very well made,’ JB. ‘Best of both worlds – lots of fruit, but with light acidity on the palate. A great wine – and a good price too,’ CC
£9.75, Mentzendorff, 020 7840 3600

78 Domaine Guiberteau, Saumur Rouge 2009
‘Very well balanced nose of both red and dark berries, with some soft spice. Balanced on the palate too, and approachable. A lighter and more elegant style,’ AP. ‘Hint of that farmyard funk on the nose, but good and spicy on the palate. On the pricey side,’ CC.
£15.95, Genesis Wines, 020 7963 9060

78 Domaine Lavigne, Saumur Champigny Vieilles Vignes 2010
‘Creamy strawberry and black cherry on the nose, there’s also plenty of juicy fruit on the palate – a great wine for the price,’ CC. ‘Vibrant red fruit concentrated with morello cherries, and some menthol aromas. Ripe red fruit on the palate, with ripe tannins – this is a well-integrated and nicely balanced wine,’ CL.
£8.73, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722 538

77 De Ladoucette, Marc Brédif Chinon 2010 
‘Vegetal and herbaceous, this is a gamey and earthy wine, but could maybe do with more acidity,’ AP. ‘A young wine, but well balanced, with plenty of fruit and oak,’ EW.
£9.19, John E Fells & Sons, 01442 870900

77 Joseph Mellot, Chinon Les Morinières 2009
‘Dark red fruit aromas are followed by soft, concentrated red fruit on the palate. Acidity’s high in this one, keeping it fresh on the finish, with dry, ripe and grainy tannins. Good value for money, too,’ CL. ‘Lovely on the nose – perfumed and herbaceous. There’s a richness to this,’ EW.
£6.71, Wine Studio, 0845 085 8855

76 Raats, Cabernet Franc 2008, Stellenbosch, South Africa
‘Smoky black fruit and some burnt liquorice on the nose, as well as burnt cedarwood. Good levels of dark red fruit, and fresh acidity – this wine shows some unusual character,’ CL. ‘Bordeaux influenced! This is sexy, seductive and really well made,’ JB.
£13.95, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

75 Caves des Vignerons de Saumur, La Cabriole Saumur Rouge 2009
‘An easy style of Cab Franc, with little tannin, and good balance of blackberry fruit,’ EW. ‘Young, with good balance of acidity, and a little white pepper towards the end,’ JB
£6.38, Enotria, 020 8961 4411

75 Sébastien David, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil l’Hurluberlu 2009
‘It’s a safari park experience, like being in South Africa chasing elephants! This wine is animal-like, and brilliant fun,’ JB. ‘This jumps out of the glass – black cherry, plums, and rose notes too, as well as some ripe citrus. Interesting, if nothing else,’ CC.
£9.55, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820

73 Charles Joguet, Chinon Cuvée Terroir 2008
‘Spice and an excellent balance of fruit – this is good value for money,’ EW. ‘Some sweet perfume on the nose, along with stewed red fruit. A bit too lean on the palate, though,’ CC
£9.31, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

73 Château du Hureau, Saumur-Champigny Tuffe 2009
‘Creamy and rich, but well balanced too. Maybe a little thin on the palate, this would be good for a Cab Franc beginner,’ JB. ‘Blackcurrants dominate on the nose, along with some cranberry and a hint of ginger. Very ripe, almost baked red fruit on the palate,’ CL.
£9.48, Tanners Wine Merchants, 01743 234500

73 Pulenta Estate Gran Cabernet Franc 2008, Mendoza, Argentina
‘Little question about this one’s New World origins – lots of ripe fruit. Not distinctively Cabernet Franc, but not unattractive,’ CC. ‘Black fruit concentration and some vanilla notes on the nose, the palate is robust, with blackberry fruit and well-balanced concentration,’ CL.
£13.90, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

73 Yannick Amirault, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil La Source 2009
‘Some savoury aromas, damp nettle leaves and redcurrants. The palate is much softer, with some dark red fruit,’ CL. ‘Some animal, gamey aromas, with chunky tannins and fresh acidity. This is a very spicy, savoury style of wine, but maybe not quite ready to drink,’ AP.
£8.89, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

72 Domaine Langlois-Château, Saumur Rouge 2009
‘Starts with a powerful nose of black fruit – this is a big and juicy wine, with nice balanced tannins, and a good, clean mouthfeel,’ JB. ‘Ripe raspberry fruit on the nose, followed by a lighter yet still fruity palate, with good acidity,’ CC
£5.96, Mentzendorff, 020 7840 3600

70 Domaine de la Cotelleraie, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Les Mauguerets 2010
‘Bubblegum red fruit and Ribena on the nose, there’s concentration on the palate, but this is also perhaps too young to judge just yet – the separate elements need time to marry together,’ CL. ‘Fruity, approachable, fresh and balanced. A solid wine, but maybe a bit pricey,’ AP.
£10.20, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924

70 Domaine de la Butte, Bourgueil, Mi-Pente 2008
‘Back to the farm, and back to what Cab Franc is about. At times like a field of lavender, but also gamey and rich,’ JB. ‘Very peppery, with some stewed fruit characters too,’ EW. ‘Some herbal notes, with a liquorice and blackcurrant character on the palate,’ CC.
£15.14, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

69 Bressia, Monteagrelo Cabernet Franc 2010, Mendoza, Argentina
‘Ripe jammy dark fruit, this is full-bodied, with soft tannins and low acidity – New World in style,’ AP. ‘Smooth and fruity, this has chocolate and dark fruit flavours, with a herbaceous finish,’ EW. 
£10.48, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

68 Domaine de la Butte, Bourgueil, 2007
‘Coffee notes on both the nose and palate – there’s some good spiciness too, and good red fruit characters. A pleasant wine,’ JB. ‘Nice fruity acidity on the palate, with a good amount of tannin to give this a food friendliness,’ CC.
£10.98, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

68 Domaine du Bourg, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Les Graviers 2010
‘Farmyard and smoke upfront – this is a particularly rustic wine,’ AP. ‘Good cherry fruit, as well as some redcurrant notes too, which follows to the palate, ending with a mineral, graphite note,’ CC.
£10.41, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2500

67 Foucher Lebrun, Chinon Bon Breton 2010
‘Predominantly cherry on the nose, with a distant chocolate note. Light cranberry, cherry on the palate, juicy acidity,’ CC. ‘Bakewell tart aromas, with redcurrant and cranberries. Some green herbaceousness on the palate maybe overshadows its soft ripe fruit,’ CL.
£6.63, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711

67 Caves de Saumur, Lieu-Dit Les Villaises Saumur Champigny 2010
‘Plenty of cassis and blackberries, this is soft and approachable, and also very herbaceous,’ AP. ‘Young, with light red fruit, especially raspberries, as well as a vanilla note,’ EW. 
£8.33, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2500

66 J-Y A Lebreton, Domaine des Rochelles Anjou-Villages Cuvée Breton 2009
‘Looks like an older vintage, but there’s still a freshness to this wine,’ EW. ‘Rich dark chocolate on the palate, and a creamy finish. A good balance of fruit – this is a very masculine wine,’ JB.
£9.28, Tanners Wine Merchants, 01743 234500

66 Thierry Germain, Saumur Champigny Terres Chaudes 2009
‘Appealing dark cherry and blackberry, balanced by a touch of earth and smoke, this is a well-structured wine. Full-bodied and fresh, with a long, spicy finish, this is ready for drinking,’ AP. ‘Black fruit and farmyard aromas; the palate has more citrus, Granny Smith apple flavours,’ CL. 
£13.85, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820

63 Viña Chocalan Cabernet Franc Reserva 2009, Maipo, Chile
‘Is this Australian? Lots of American oak, maybe too much, this is jammy, with vanilla notes. Big and juicy,’ JB. ‘Ripe, with oak evident on the nose and a slight eucalyptus character too – not sure this wine can support so much wood,’ CC
£8.38, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

Also tasted: Domaine Pierre Sourdais, Chinon Tradition 2009; Olivier Cousin, Pur Breton 2003.

Conclusions 

There was a distinct difference in style between wines at the top and bottom end. And while the very top scoring wines came from the higher end of the price spectrum, there were some high scorers from the lower pricepoints too. 

Tasters were impressed by the value for money this flight presented. With prices starting at £5.96 and not going over £18. Given the high scores overall, the figures support this appraisal.

If there’s one thing that can be said for Loire Cab Franc, it’s that it has a distinctive identity. In most cases, tasters identified the New World ringers, spotting either very ripe fruit, or lots of oak character. 

Age was certainly a factor, with a number of wines perhaps proving to be a bit too young.

For all the concerns over vintage variation, there were high – and low – scores across a wide range of years. Is producer perhaps more important than vintage?

Cabernet Franc proved it’s capable of ageing, with the highest-scoring wine also the oldest in the tasting.

Food-friendliness was undoubtedly a factor here, with a significant number of these being singled out as good for pairing with a  range of dishes. In addition, some tasters thought that some of those showing higher acidity or tannins might benefit from being served with food.


PANEL COMMENTS

Jean-Benoit Burloux, Purnell’s
‘At the cheaper end these were fun, young and lively. They’re wines you’d drink outside when it was warm. Cabernet Franc, to me, is a bit like an excited school kid jumping up and down. With the big boys, there were some that maybe tried too hard, but you could also see the ones that wanted to make something different. You could really spot the New World ringers in there – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s fascinating, what different people can do with a particular grape.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘There were a few distinct styles here, but a real consistency within those styles. There was versatility here today too, with fruity, high acidity wines at the cheaper end, and some more food-friendly offerings at higher price points. Apart from a few of the funkier offerings, these were well made, interesting wines. There’s no question that Loire Cabernet Franc offers good value for money, though, with consistent quality like this.’

Claire Love, Loves Restaurant
‘Overall, this was a satisfying tasting, and we’re not talking massive amounts of money either. You got what you paid for, even if the lowest-priced wines here didn’t quite show that pencil shaving and morello cherry character typical of Cabernet Franc – they leaned more towards cranberry flavours. In general, these are food-based wines. As soon as you have some nice food with it, the dry tannins soften.’

Adam Pawlowski, Northcote
‘Some of the wines here delivered typical flavours that I’d expect from Cabernet Franc. I was looking for bramble, forest fruit, wild berry, wild flowers, some smokiness and a touch of spice. There were examples here that prove that Cabernet Franc can age. There were at least two examples with stunning tertiary character: dried fruit and smokiness, but freshness too. There were a few that were over-the-top, with minty, eucalyptus notes, though. Cabernet Franc doesn’t like a lot of oak. There were also plenty of farmyard aromas that were quite frightening – flavours like that can take over. In general, the wines here complement earthy cooking, like stewed game or beef, but would also be perfect with a roast or peppered steak. I thought there was good value for money here – there were at least five I’d pick for my list.’ 

Ed Whittaker, Restaurant Alimentum
‘The entry level was particularly impressive, with good value for money. There were some real food-friendly wines here, most noticeably at the higher price points, and some that will really show their potential in a couple of years. You’d need to hand sell these – we’ve only got two Loire reds on our list, and it takes some work, but then again, it’s our job to sell.’

Many thanks to the team at Loves Restaurant for all of their help in arranging this tasting, and for hosting on the day.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – March/April 2012

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