The greatest Cabernet Franc wines from the Loire Valley are found one the north and south banks of the river, inside a triangle formed by Chinon, Bourgeuil and Saumur. A zone where the clay-limestone hillsides produce great wine terroirs that give birth to complex and deep wines, built for ageing. But Loire cabernet franc wines cannot be confined to this rather small zone. Without Cabernet Franc, there are no fine Anjou red wines and even less the pleasant finesse of the wines produced in the new Touraine Chenonceaux appellation, where blended with the Cot grape variety, Cabernet Franc produces smooth wines with beautiful aromatic richness.
It is presumably before the year 1000 that monks from the abbey of Bourgueil introduced the cab franc grape variety into the surrounding vineyards. As for the nickname “Breton” given to Loire Cabernet Franc, it could stem from a local abbot named Breton who planted the first vines of the grape somewhere between Bourgueil and Richelieu.
When it is vinified as the main grape variety or alone, Cabernet Franc gives long-aging wines, full-bodied, but whose tannins, naturally assertive, can turn out to be soft and silky. On the palate, it yields wines with aromas of red or black fruits and berries (raspberry, blackcurrant, blackberry) or even floral notes. Over time, these aromas become more complex, evolving towards notes of pepper, liquorice and even chocolate or tobacco.
Depending on the terroir, Cabernet Franc can also express subtle chalky sensations (remember : the subsoil of the region is made of Tufa stone) as well as beautiful notes of violet, tobacco or green pepper. Green pepper you said ? Yes, and let’s talk about it ! Because if the quality of Cabernet Franc is to be frank, it does not stand the lack of maturity. Unfavorable climatic conditions and grapes insufficiently loaded with sugars can make it bitter, resulting in wines that are harsh, earthy, lacking body and with marked aromas of green pepper. If such flavors can be appreciated when they are subtle, less so when they predominate …
If France remains the largest producer of Cabernet Franc, it is mainly thanks to the wines of Bordeaux where it is used as a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon.
But it is in the Loire Valley that can be found the greatest production of Cabernet Franc, vinified as a single grape variety. The most famous appellations for Cabernet Franc are Chinon and Bourgueil. But that is not all. A few kilometers further east is found the Saumur Champigny appellation, which offers some exceptional cab franc cuvées, while Anjou-villages wines deserve to be (re)discovered for their fruity finesse.