Last updated on February 3, 2024
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a tasting where I revisited the Loire Valley during an evening dinner event at The Gardens Rooftop at Petit Ermitage called Go On! Bloom Big, Explore the Loire Valley’s Cabernet Franc. My first encounter with Loire Valley Wines was in 2019 for Spring Into Loire Valley Wines. At this dining event, we dove deep into Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite varieties. Let’s dig into the Cabernet Franc grape, the top-growing variety in the reds in the Loire Valley.
The title “Bloom Up” references the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc floral notes. Like a flower, the wines bloom in the variety’s freshness, fragrance, and aromatics. The wine has blooming bright notes, making the wine very friendly, lively, and enjoyable.
The Loire Valley is France’s third-largest appellation, spanning from the Atlantic Coast to the Auvergne. The wines, especially the Cabernet Franc, are defined as fruity and floral with freshness and wonderful deep colors. One often finds ripe red berries, strawberries, raspberries, and red currants on the palate. The AOP wines include those from Chinon, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Saumur, and Anjou.
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Loire Valley Diversity
The area is known for its diversity, especially concerning soils and climate. These components in the cultural landscape are why the Loire Valley is called the Garden of France and befitting to the characteristics of the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc.
The Atlantic Ocean and the Loire River influence the area’s climate. Those locations furthest from the sea see a more European continental climate. Ocean breezes from the Atlantic impact areas like Nantes, Angers, and Tours.
The soils range from metamorphic and igneous rock from the Massif Armoricain in the Nantes to sedimentary rocks and seashells in the Paris Basin. The Massif Central Highland region features inactive volcanos. In Pays Nantais, soils are comprised of gneiss, granite, and volcanic rock. Chalk and limestone exist in Anjou Schists, while chalky soils dominate in Saumur. Touraine sees the chalky soils in its western portions but flinty clay and sand in the east. On the slopes, clay and limestone predominate. On the banks of the Loire, the soils are gravelly. Finally, the Center-Loire has chalk, clay, flint, and limestone soils.
History of Cabernet Franc
Historians believe the Cabernet Franc grape came from Spain around the Pyrenees and originates from an ancient plant called Biturica. As the grape adapted in northern Spain, Aquitaine became the next area to feature plantings of this variety. Other forms of the grape have existed in Spain’s Basque country.
The Bituriges, a Gallic people, established Bordeaux and had relations with the Basques and Aquitaines living in the Basque region of the Pyrenees. Conjecture says they brought Cabernet Franc to France. With commercial trade, it seems natural to introduce the grape in the Loire Valley, especially Val de Loire. Commercial alliances also existed between Bordeaux and the Bretons. In Val de Loire, Cabernet Franc became known as Breton.
The diversity between the Pyrenees and the Loire makes it increasingly difficult as the grape has 14 different names. Many Royal families lived in the Loire Valley. Many Chateaux and abbeys cultivated the vines. In the 17th century, the Cardinal of Richelieu pursued the development of Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley by requesting Bordeaux send thousands of vine grafts. These grafts went to Fontevraud, Chinon, and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil.
Loire Valley Cabernet Franc Production
Today, 45,000 hectares of Cabernet Franc are planted throughout the world. Most of those hectares are in France, followed by Italy, China, and the United States. A small percentage grows in other countries.
In France, Cabernet Franc represents the seventh most planted variety. Both Bordeaux and Val De Loire grow equal amounts of Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Franc is considered one of the oldest red varieties. When in its youth, wines display fruitiness and smooth structures. Cabernet Franc in Val de Loire retains their remarkable freshness and silky tannins with age.
The AOCs of the Loire Valley
Anjou: This AOC covers 800 hectares produced by 300 different winemakers. The soils are characterized by the presence of slate schists and called “Black Anjou.” The wines exhibit distinctive minerality and freshness because of the warm climate and Slat Schist soils.
Anjou Brissac: Wines are produced beside slate mines, giving the wine mineral expression.
Anjou-Villages: The wine imparts depth and structure because of the area’s shist soils.
Bourgueil: This AOC has two different terroirs. Some 122 different winemakers produce Cabernet Franc. The terroir differs from the rolling landscapes and gentle south-facing hillsides, producing light-bodied wines grown in gravel soils to more complex wines with grapes grown in tuffeau limestone.
Chinon: This appellation lies along the Vienne River and produces the largest amount of red wine. The landscape consists of steep hillsides and sweeping lowlands.
Saint Nicolas De Bourgueil: The character of wine from this region includes notes of red fruit, raspberry, strawberry, and blueberry with floral notes of peony and violet. The wine exhibits an excellent balance of fresh, crunchy acidity with silky smooth tannins. This elegance in a glass in this region.
Saumur-Champigny: The appellation consists of 9 winemaking villages surrounding Saumur. The tuffeau limestone gives the wine its freshness and silky, smooth tannins. The area produces light-bodied and fruity wines and complex and concentrated wines.
Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame: Because the terroir formed between the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods, the wines are structured, robust, and harmonious. Red and black fruits are persistent.
Saumur: The area combines limestone and Jurassic soils. The latter caused by the Brossay Volcanic Rift. This area became one of France’s first AOCs.
Explore the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc Wines
My Loire Valley Cabernet Franc venture started with a delightful Diamant De Loire, a Crémant De Loire. This sparkling Rosé combines Chenin with Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Grolleau, and Pineau d’Aunis. I found tiny tight bubbles accenting the creamy strawberry flavors and enhancing the bright minerality. As my first sampling of sparkling wine created from the Cabernet Franc grape, I would happily repeat.
La Croix Des Loges, Anjou 2021: The wine displays red berries and bramble on the nose that extends to the palate, making silky and round Cabernet Franc.
Domaine Estelle Et Rodolphe Cognard Cuvée Estelle, Saint Nicolas De Bourgueil 2019: This wine exhibits herbal qualities on the nose and palate. I found a fresh, bright, and herbal wine with cranberry flavors.
Angelique Leon, Chinon 2020: The grapes come from the valley floor, making this Cabernet Franc softer and more integrated with raspberry and pepper flavors.
Angelique Leon Cuvée Clos De Danzy, Chinon 2018: The grapes come from a higher elevation with limestone soils, making the wine more concentrated. I found notes of cherry and pepper that balanced the silky tannins.
Domaine Fabrice Gasnier Cuvée Vieilles Vignes, Chinon 2020: I found a fruit-forward old vine, 70 years old, Cabernet Franc, that exudes concentration and richness. The winery is both organic and biodynamic.
Domaine Ogereau Cuvée Les Tailles, Anjou 2020: The wine reveals earthy and barnyard character. It opens up and finishes with some spicy flavors.
Brendan Stater-West, Saumur 2020: The wine exhibits itself as bright and balanced with a deep concentration of peppery red fruit.
Chateau De Chaintres Cuvée Les Sables, Saumur-Champigny 2020: Find a concentrated, earthy, yet elegant wine with juicy fruits and florals.
Val De Loire Reserve Des Vignerons, Saumur-Champigny 2020: The wine delivers savory and earthy aromas, a bright wine with tart cranberry flavors.
Final Takeaways From An Evening of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc
My deep dive into my favorite variety left me wanting to explore each AOC of the Loire Valley in person. Cabernet Franc is not just a blending wine for Bordeaux; it has a life of its own in France and other countries. Here’s to the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted winetasting dinner with Vins Du Val De Loire. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.