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The other Cabernet
When we start getting into wine, one of the first things we learn is that Cabernet Sauvignon is the boss grape in the Bordeaux-style red blend, and that makes it one of the world's primary wine grapes. Merlot comes next in billing, and only after that do we see Cabernet Franc, Malbec and a handful of relatively rare players in the "other" category.
But move outside Bordeaux and the places like Napa that echo its style, and as often as not, "Cabernet" without a surname might mean "Cabernet Franc." In Northeastern Italy, for example, and New York in the U.S. and Ontario in Canada, this Cabernet cousin that favors cool climates often turns up in single-varietal wines with just-plain "Cabernet" on the label.
And in France, where the label most often reflects a location, not a grape, the red wines of the Loire Valley often turn to Cabernet Franc to make memorable reds with chiseled structure and fascinating minerality. It could be argued (although some in St.-Emilion might quibble) that no place does Cabernet Franc better than the Loire.
Today let's celebrate Cab Franc with a taste of a relatively affordable item from Chinon, Domaine de Noiré 2009 "Soif de Tendresse," whose label adds the word "Fruité" to celebrate its producer's focus on fruit, not oak.
Chinon is an ancient and historic village - home of the poet Rabelais and a stepping stone along the pathway of Joan of Arc - situated on the Vienne river off the Loire in the Touraine region around the city of Tours, center of the Loire wine region. The Domaine de Noiré offers a pleasant expression of the regional character, and despite its claim to "fruity" character, it's by no means international nor critic-driven in style. You'll find my tasting report below.
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Why the focus on small wineries? Unlike big wineries, which mass produce millions of cases of wine a year, the artisan family wineries CWC features typically handcraft less than 10,000 cases. This limited production allows them to take a "hands on" approach that is just not possible at large wineries. It's a difference you can taste!
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Today's Tasting Report
Domaine de Noiré 2009 "Soif de Tendresse" Chinon "Fruité" ($15.99)
Dark purple shading to a clear garnet edge. Plums and red berries, a dash of oregano and a hint of smoke; it's not wood, though, as the back label assures, "expression à ce vin FRUITÉ, non boisé" ("the expression of this wine is fruity, not woody"). Crisp fruit and a whiff of dried herbs carry over on the palate with good, crisp acidity and soft but substantial tannic astringency that makes it delightfully food-friendly. U.S. importers: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio; North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, and other regional importers. (Jan. 11, 2012)
FOOD MATCH: On the first night it went very well indeed with a simple omelet made with free-range eggs, stuffed with browned onions and garlic. On the next evening, the remainder of the bottle was fine with a lightly spicy ginger-scented Sichuanese stir-fry with shredded carrots and celery.
VALUE: The middle teens is not an inappropriate neighborhood for a good Loire red.
WHEN TO DRINK: Good fruit, good balance and significant tannins suggest that a year or three in the cellar might add a layer of complexity, but good storage conditions would be important.
Chinon = "Shee-nohN"
You can also buy it direct from North Berkeley at this link.
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