First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd August, 2019
It was a Loire Cabernet that started it all. Years ago in Paris, sitting in a wine bar, I was served a glass of a lightly chilled red for the first time. It was an inexpensive, lightly fruity, fairly acidic Cabernet Franc, and it went down a treat with a lunch of Poilâne bread and, if I remember correctly, a bowl of rillettes, some pâté en croute, a few slices of salami, and cornichons. There may have been cheese involved too. There usually is.
Cool for me means about 14 degrees. (Ely wine bar tell me they serve their “cool” wines at 13-14 degrees). As well as Cabernet Franc, young and fruity wines such as Beaujolais, Bardolino, Valpolicella, the Mencía-based red wines of northwest Spain and even unoaked Rioja all taste even better given this treatment.
Cabernet Franc has always been one of my favourite grapes. Generally, it is lighter and less muscular than its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon. Less expensive versions, such as the one I drank in Paris, should be fragrant, light and fruity; these are the wines to chill a little. The very best Cabernet Franc, given time, can morph into magnificent wines that are all soft red fruits, forest floor and pencil shavings. In between you will find all sorts of delicious, elegant wines with wonderful pure red and black fruits – the essence of summer. Most also have a refreshing acidity that makes them great with food – fatty foods in particular.
In the Loire Valley, production is centred within Touraine – Chinon, Bourgeuil, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil and Saumur-Champigny are the names to look out for, although you will also find some very good AOC Touraine and vin de pays too. Each appellation is said to have its own style, Chinon being considered the most elegant, St Nicolas de Bourgueil the most structured. But much depends on the local soils and individual grower.
Elsewhere in France, almost half of all Cabernet Franc is found in Bordeaux, and St Émilion in particular. Some of the greatest wines of all, including Châteaux Cheval-Blanc, Angelus and Ausone, are about 50 per cent Cabernet Franc. A number of producers in Argentina believe that Cabernet Franc has a great future in their country – try Kaiken or the Zorzal Eggo Franco – but made in a very different style.
Sadly, there seems to be a shortage of inexpensive Loire Cabernet Franc in our supermarkets. I suspect that acidity does not always appeal to the Irish palate. Talking to the supermarket buyers, several had tried it, but it hadn’t sold. Independent wine shops are a better place to look: Terroirs, in Donnybrook in Dublin, Le Caveau, in Kilkenny, and Quintessential, in Drogheda, in Co Louth, all have an excellent range.
Langlois-Château St Nicolas de Bourgueil 2017
Classic Loire Cabenet Franc, with delicious light, fresh, crunchy, tangy, ripe blackcurrant fruits, backed up with good acidity. Try it with rillettes.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Bourgueil 2017 Cuvée Prestige Domaine Guion (Organic)
Lovely red cherry aromas, flowing smooth, ripe red fruits, a mouthwatering acidity and a pretty good finish. Very nice wine; try it with a seared breast of duck.
From syips.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie
Bourgueil 2017 La Coudraye, Y Amirault (Organic)
Abundant blackcurrants and other dark ripe fruits, with light tannins on the impressive finish. A lovely glass of wine. With pork chops or sheep’s cheese.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Red Nose Wine, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rednosewine.com; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 6, fallonandbyrne.com
Saumur-Champigny Le Clos 2015, Château Fouquet (Organic, biodynamic)
Very closed at first, then opens out nicely. Very concentrated rich red fruits, a good tannic structure and excellent length. Decant or keep a few years.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie