SUMMER REDS – CABERNET FRANC AKA BRETON
Glorified by Francois Rablais in the first half of the 16th Century, the modest Cabernet Franc grape, which most of us know as a minor constituent in the Bordeaux blend, is an important ancient grape variety that is not only responsible for the creation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere and others, but is also the core of a whole range of Loire Valley reds.
The arrival of Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley from Saint-Emilion dates back to the second half of the 12th Century. Its name Breton is accredited to the steward of Cardinal Richelieu, Abbe Breton, who planted it in Chinon and Bourgeuil on behalf of the Cardinal but more likely the name refers to Brittany, the area for which the wines were intended.
English wine writer Cyrus Redding wrote in 1833 in his book A history and Description of Modern Wines that “…Those [wines] of Saumur [reds] are in esteem… The red wines of Anjou, though little known abroad, are some of the best in France.” His words ring true today. The red wines of the Loire Valley are still the privilege of the local people.
There are a few famous locations for Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley. The red wines of Chinon are softer, more rounded, gently aromatic and seemingly finer than those of Bourgueil, which are more rustic with a greater tannin structure and fuller body in the young wines. However, Bourgueil reds made by the top producers can age for up to 25 years. The limit for wines of Chinon, with some exceptions, is only five. There are also fruity and very appealing wines made in Saumur and Saumur-Champigny which are light- to medium-bodied, fragrant with refreshing acidity, silky tannins and aromas of raspberry, pencil shavings and herbs.
It’s worth knowing that Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines are exceptionally food friendly. They make perfect summer wines at 20-25*C outside temperature and will go down a treat with all sorts of meat, chicken, turkey, game and fish, including white fish, and many cheeses. They are a perfect conversation starter and encourage you to experiment with different types of cuisine. Chill them to 14-16*C depending on the style.
If you want to try the best, begin with Yannick Amirault, who is rightly considered the top producer in Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil. He founded his own domaine in 1977, after working for his father and now runs the domaine with his son, Benoit. The winery exclusively cultivates Cabernet Franc, producing seven reds and one rose. The vineyards are certified organic. They also favour the biodynamic approach and amphora are used.
1. 2017 BOURGUEIL La Coudraye, Domaine Yannick Amirault, Loire France
Lea & Sandeman - £16.95 (75cl bottle)
2. 2016 BOURGUEIL Le Grand Clos, Domaine Yannick Amirault, Loire France
Lea & Sandeman - £21.50 (75cl bottle)
Uncorked (2015) - £21.50 (75cl bottle)