(For all the wine tastings I've done in 2016, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this entry, or just "wine" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)
Greetings again, my libatious friends! For those who need catching up, I'm a writer in Chicago, fulfilling a New Year's resolution to finally get better educated about wine, who has started the process by doing thoughtful tastings once a week of the world's 20 most popular types of grapes, doing the run chromatically from the heaviest reds (which I started right after New Year's in the middle of winter) to the lightest whites (which I'll be getting to at the beginning of May, just in time for the warm weather). So far this year I've now gotten through Syrah/Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chianti, Merlot, (Red) Zinfandel, Garnacha/Grenache, and Gamay; and that leaves only one red left in this series, the decidedly "Old World" (i.e. European) Cabernet Franc.
Much like last week's Gamay, this was not a type of wine I was very familiar with before going into this tasting series; but unlike Gamay, whose unfamiliarity is due to it instead mostly being known by the region most famous for it (Beaujolais), the reason Cabernet Franc is unfamiliar is that the vast majority of wineries grow it just as a stalwart grape to mix with others, not to bottle on its own and promote as its own varietal. (In fact, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this is one of the three grapes used for the famous Bordeaux blend of French red wine.) In fact, about the only place that still does so is the ancient Loire Valley region of France, which has actually been making wine since literally the birth of Christ, and in the Medieval Period was much more highly thought of than the upstart Bordeaux region. Reflecting its actual genetic relationship, Cabernet Franc grapes are much like Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in taste (sour/savory, unsweet); but much less intense in aroma, flavor, or its lingering quality, greatly helped by these grapes becoming ripe much earlier than most other reds, cranking up their acidity and thus their tart, citrus-like aftertaste (but see my detailed tasting notes below for more on that).
The winery I tried tonight, Complices de Loire, is based out of the village of Chinon which is considered Ground Zero for fans of Cabernet Franc wine, and actually buys their grapes from eight different respected vineyards around the region, instead of growing their own. (Interestingly, much like you usually only see in trendy New World wines, CdL gives fun little brand names to each of their wines, and makes a concerted effort to produce cool little hipster-looking labels; the wine I tried is known in English either as "Little Pilot" or "Little Wheelhouse," depending on which online translation tool you trust.) This is now my fourth Old World/European wine of this 2016 project (two from France, one from Italy, one from Spain -- and among the New World wines, one from Australia, one from Argentina, one from South Africa, one from Washington State, one from Oregon, and one from California), and while I can definitely see the argument that Old World fans make about why they're fans -- that European wines are more complex, more subtle, more nuanced, because of being grown in temperate regions around a lot of other produce whose traits they pick up -- in general I have to admit that I've liked New World wines much better, grown in hot environments that really cook those grapes and lead to these extremely bold tastes that can't be mistaken for anything else. It'll be especially interesting, then, to start the next educational project I'm doing after this one, where I'm going to spend the whole summer doing thoughtful tastings of as many different kinds of French wine I can get my hands on, literally the oldest of the Old World wines still made in the world, and that really puts the "sub" in "subtle and nuanced flavor."
“La petite timonerie” Chinon 2013 (100% Cabernet Franc)
Chinon, Loire Valley, France
$15 (Andersonville Wine and Spirits)
Look: Extremely light in color and texture, the closest I've gotten this year to a legitimately pink wine.
Smell: The same kind of sour/savory aroma as Cabernet Sauvignon, no wonder since these grape types are genetically related, but profoundly in intensity and how far the aroma carries across the room.
Taste: Light on the tongue but an extremely sharp and tart taste, so much like citrus that it makes my mouth water after swallowing, a bit to the wine's detriment if I'm to be honest. A flat-out unsweet taste that will turn off many casual drinkers, I now wonder if this is a reflection of all Cabernet Francs or just this particular brand. Would CERTAINLY go well with cheese or salty snacks, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend drinking it by itself or with a heavy meal like steak. (UPDATE: After further research, I've learned that a historically popular pairing in the Loire Valley is Cabernet Franc and goat cheese, which made immediate sense the moment I read it.)
After a Full Glass: After an entire glass paired with pasta in cream sauce, the more herbal/leafy tastes started coming out on the tongue, a good example of why Old World fans say that European wines have a more “subtle” and “complex” taste than currently trendy New World wines from hotter climates. Also, it was interesting to note after further research that Cabernet Franc is one of the few kinds of contemporary wine that will literally get noticeably better after storing it for ten or twenty years in a cellar; and that it's one of the few kinds of contemporary wine that legitimately gets noticeably better when pouring it into a decanter a full hour before serving. Talk about Old World!