Discovering Loire reds
Speak of France's Loire valley, and most wine lovers will instinctively think of white wine. After all, the world's greatest ageworthy Chenin Blanc-based whites are made here, backed up quite nicely by excellent Sauvignon Blancs and Muscadets.
But here and there along this scenic river valley with its historic and tourist-attracting chateaux - particularly in the region called Touraine around the city of Tours - you'll find interesting reds.
The appellations Chinon ("Shee-nawN") and Bourgueil ("Boor-guh-y") in particular, which face each other across the Loire just west of the city, turn Cabernet Franc, with an occasional dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, into idiosyncratic but pleasant red wines well worth discovering.
These wines represent a real change of pace for palates accustomed to hearty, inky, tooth-staining reds: Often subtle and delicate, they usually show mixed-berry aromas and flavors - raspberry in particular - along with marked herbal scents that often remind me of tarragon or the familiar "pencil-sharpener" aroma of fresh oregano, all backed by a snappy acidity that makes the wines sing with food.
We're focusing Chinon and Bourgueil, and Loire wines in general, as the topic this month in Wine Tasting 101, our free forum that invites you to practice tasting wines and reporting your impressions among peers in a friendly, supportive online community. As "benchmark" wines, I have selected one of each from the portfolio distributed in the U.S. by the first-rate importer Kermit Lynch: Charles Joguet 2000 "Cuvée Terroir" Chinon ($14.99), and Domaine de la Chanteleuserie 2000 "Cuvée Beauvais" Bourgueil ($12.99). To kick off the topic, I've put my tasting report on the Chanteleuserie below.
Both these wines are from the 2000 vintage, a cool and rainy summer that produced lackluster whites but that yielded surprisingly attractive reds that tend to be quaffable if not for aging.
For more information about Loire wines in general, visit The Wines of Val de Loire,
The Bourgueil producers' association has an informational site in French at
Domaine de la Chanteleuserie 2000 "Cuvée Beauvais" Bourgueil ($12.99)
Dark garnet in color, this Loire Cabernet Franc breathes characteristic red-fruit and spice aromas with a pleasant whiff of freshly ground white pepper as a grace note. Fresh and tart on the palate, mouth-watering acidity supports clean, juicy sour-cherry fruit, showing an intriguing textural contrast between light body and smooth but perceptible tannins, with a delicious nuance of chocolate-covered cherries in a long finish. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Sept. 1, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Casting about for an interesting food match with Loire Cabernet Franc, I found a winner in a not-too-fiery Cajun-style chicken gumbo loaded with fresh okra.
VALUE: A wine of unusual complexity and flavor interest for this low-midrange price.
WHEN TO DRINK: The conventional wisdom suggests drinking up most 2000 Loire reds within a few years, and this wine offers no real reason to dispute that, although tannins, acidity and balance should hold it for a while.
WEB LINK: The producer, Thierry Boucard, has a short, simple fact sheet about the winery and its wines in English at
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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003