First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 29th July, 2017
A very happy wine trade friend recently returned from his family holiday in France. Having pitched their tent in a campsite by the river, they spent two glorious sunny weeks wandering down to the shops to stock up on local foods, which they brought home, cooked and consumed, accompanied by an array of local wines. They were fortunate to be based in the Loire valley, a beautiful region with plenty of great summer wines to offer.
The region is home to sparkling, white, rosé, red and sweet wines. For white wines, they offer much more than Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Not only has Muscadet revived itself and is producing excellent wines at very favourable prices, but producers seem to have made great progress in taming the Chenin Blanc. But this week, we stay with reds (and rosés), both very food-friendly summer wines that are perfect with lighter foods.
You will find some Pinot Noir, Malbec, Gamay and a little Cabernet Sauvignon, but the great red grape of the Loire is Cabernet Franc. Long thought to be a cousin of the better-known Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, along with Sauvignon Blanc, is actually the parent of same. You will only find it in quantity in two other parts of the world; the right bank of Bordeaux and northeastern Italy. Essentially, it is a lighter, early-drinking version of Cabernet Sauvignon, although one of the greatest, most long-lived Bordeaux, Ch Cheval-Blanc is more than 50 per cent Cabernet Franc, and some of the best Cabernet Franc from Chinon and Bourgeuil also mature wonderfully. It also ripens a week or two earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, a real advantage in the cooler Loire valley.
In poor vintages, Loire Cab Franc can be a little too green and herbaceous, although this happens far less frequently these days thanks to better viticulture and climate change. Young wines have lovely subtle aromas of and juicy soft redcurrant and blackcurrant fruits. It is generally light in alcohol, with a refreshing acidity, making it a perfect summer wine, served cool or even lightly chilled. The more serious wines repay, keeping up to 20 years, when the wines develop wonderful soft leafy flavours and aromas, sometimes with a characteristic flavours described as pencil shavings. They are among my favourite wines. Compared to Bordeaux and other regions, they are ridiculously cheap.
As mentioned last week, the Loire also produces very good rosé wines; the best-known is Rosé d’Anjou, which tends to be off-dry. JNwine.com has a good range of well-priced Loire reds and rosés. Searsons has the tasty Chinon Clos des Godeaux (€12.95) and Quintessential (Drogheda) an excellent Saumur-Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves (€24.50).
Saumur-Champigny 2015 Plessis–Duval
A delicious light juicy wine filled with crunchy blackcurrant fruits.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Saumur Rosé 2016, Bouvet-Ladubet
A delicious grown-up rosé with elegant redcurrant and raspberry fruits and a lip-smacking dry finish. Try with salmon.
Stockists: Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown.
Saumur-Champigny “Tuffe” 2014, Ch du Hureau, Organic
Classic Cabernet Franc with lovely refreshing red and blackcurrant fruits on nose and palate.
Saumur-Champigny 2015 Ch de Villeneuve, Organic
Perfect smooth ripe blackcurrant and cassis fruits. A charmer.
Stockists: Le Caveau; Blacrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; World Wide Wines; Bradleys.