Rabelais was a French writer of bawdy verse, satires and songs. He was a physician, a monk and a Greek scholar and a Renaissance humanist born at the end of the 15th century. Quite a mixture of styles, then
Rabelais’ home town of Chinon on the Vienne river, is known for red wines made from the Cabernet Franc grape. On the southern side of the Loire, the vineyards of sand and chalk – with a little gravel – traditionally produce wines that are lighter (Rabelaisian?) than those around Bourgueil to the north. However, the winemaker’s influence is paramount and in Domaine Grosbois’ 2017 Gabere from Vin Cognito we found a different style. (the serious side of R?)
The colours of dark purple/red and shy nose (though that did open up) suggested a serious wine, and so it proved on the palate. The trademark herbaceous hint was present but this was a brooding drink which took itself seriously. The tannins, richness and acidity suggested a long life to come, possibly not the common impression that Cab Franc gives. The fruits were black rather than the raspberry reds associated with CF; you could cellar this for quite a few years so we possibly drunk it before its prime time. A high quality wine and deserving its £25 price tag.
[Richard: Geoff had spotted a rave review of this in Decanter so, a few weeks later, when making up a Vin Cognito order I added it to the basket thinking it would make for an interesting Christmas drink. And so it proved. The seller claimed ‘forest fruits and smokey minerals’ which was pretty accurate and it also had a very rich mouth feel which is not encountered in less expensive Chinon. Lots of suggestions it will age well but as a young drink it had energy and precision. Very good. Incidentally, if you have read the previous post about the venerable Palmer and Co (est. 1947) then you should know that the vineyards used for making this wine have been in the same family for 600 years.]
…it must be a Cabernet Franc. and so it proved. A 2012 Domaine de Bel Air from Bourgueil. Old looking, brownish rim, not especially grassy or green but with a touch of farmyard on the nose. A big, pure taste with acidity balancing richness. A refreshing wine which was a pleasure to drink. Further proof that, providing it is well cellared, vintage Cabernet Franc is worth seeking out.
[Okay it was CF – but a good one from Tom Innes of Fingal Rock merchants in Monmouth, remarkable value at about £10. This developed nicely over the course of the evening; it certainly wasn’t one of those one note CFs that you come across all too often. Bourgueil and its neighbour St Nicholas de Bourgueil are the stand out communes for CF and this did not disappoint. No more CF for a while and if I do succumb I won’t report on it.]
Forty years ago, if you wanted a drink a French white wine with a meal chances are it would have been a Muscadet. White burgundy was seen as expensive, Rhone and Alsace whites were hard to find in England and the production of white wines from southern France was small and not exported at all. But Muscadet fell out of fashion, swamped by the rise of less acidic whites like chardonnays from Australia. Then sauvignon blanc followed on, leaving Muscadet way behind. Beaujolais Nouveau suffered a similar fate, albeit for different reasons.
And now? Well, a 2014 article in Decanter claims it is ‘all the rage’, a massive overstatement, not uncommon in the wine press. A 2018 article in Wine Enthusiast talks about a ‘fresh start’. Searching this blog I find that, in six years and nearly 500 posts, we have tasted just one, also from MWW, as it happens. But, I’d tried one a couple of weeks ago, from Tanners, so it was easy for me to recognise the style (Dmne Haut Ferrie Monniere-Saint Fiacre 2014), with the chalky nose a giveaway. A very pale lemon, quite sharp and lemony in taste as well, medium length, gaining complexity as it warmed up – decanting might have been worthwhile – although given it’s age it wasn’t quite as interesting as one might have hoped. But a decent wine, if slightly overpriced at £16 (MWW).
[Geoff: It is interesting how wines go in and out of fashion. In a few years we might be asking whatever happened to Prosecco? Is it over-production leading to a decline in quality or not enough profit generated to incentivise growers. Is the market volatility always at the bargain end, where rewards are closely linked to volume?
Anyway, the Muscadet growers are aware of the need to produce fuller more complex wines whilst still maintaining the recognisable style. This came some way there but there is a fuller one in MWW named Le Pallet, which I found more enjoyable. However, this wasn’t bad and with the right food would be acceptable.]
We have tried a few wines recently which have been rather old-fashioned in that the alcohol levels were low – 12.5% – but there was an abundance of flavour. Not being a lover of wines high in alcohol they really appealed to me and Friday night’s selection was one of those. Melaric les Fontanelles 2014 hales from the Saumur and is pure Chenin Blanc. It had spent 12 months in barrel and a further 8 months bottled in a cellar. The result being an impressive wine.
Deep yellow with some viscosity, it had a spicy nose (ginger?), lemony with richness – R. thought beeswax polish. There was a clean minerality, and some fruit sweetness balanced by acidity. The finish was dry, persistent and gave the impression of power. This is a well-made wine from two growers committed to organic farming on chalk soils in an area more noted for sparkling wines which can be a bit anonymous. This certainly wasn’t. Available via Vin Cognito, it costs £27.95.
[Richard: rather more than I would normally pay for a Chenin Blanc – a grape I rarely drink – but the reviews (from the Jancis Robinson website) were spectacular and I hope it would make for an interesting tasting. A very powerful wine which was unchanged on day 2 and which shows that you don’t need lots of alcohol to give power and persistence on the palate.]
It’s not often we taste lowish alcohol wines (apart from champagne/sparkling wine which is always 12.5%), but this Sunday we tried two.
The first was another cabernet franc (Chinon Cornuelles Domaine Sourdais WS £20), and as last week, I was able to identify the actual bottle. Not difficult because the grape is distinctive in aroma and taste. Together with the appearance of the wine in the glass – clearly mature, slightly muddy – that suggested a wine we have blogged before and so it proved. A classy drink with loads of flavour and length. A shame the WS sold out so quickly although we have a couple of bottles left.
[Geoff: Those of you with excellent eyesight will have seen this is vintage 1996, showing that Cabernet Franc can be a long-liver. I’d had some the night before when it was almost sweet but certainly fragile. I then put it in the fridge (to slow down the ageing) and we tasted it slightly cool. This accentuated its green notes and gave it the ‘bite’ it lacked on first opening. An interesting difference over the two days. Full marks to R. – two tastings, two exact spots. Master of Wine standard, that.]
A nine point scale is used by the Wine Society, and possibly others, to rate sweetness in a wine, with 1 being the driest. Geoff had warned me that this wine might be too sweet for me and so it proved. Bright, darkish lemon in colour with a caramel nose. Good, rich mouth feel, off-dry to medium with a rather one-note taste and a clean, non-cloying, rather dry finish, I found myself repeating what I invariably say about wines of this type – ‘well made, but…’ Just too sweet for me (even though it wasn’t that sweet).
[Geoff: I bought this bottle on a recent ‘official’ visit to the Loire. This wasn’t lusciously Sauterne sweet and I decided to try it with some roast pork in sweetish, apple-rich gravy. I very much enjoyed it, finishing it with some Bleu d’Auvergne cheese later. My wife agreed with Richard, saying it was too sweet. I also think something slightly less sweet would have been an equally good match.]
This was our second tasting of a wine (La Long Bec, Domaine Echardières. Loire Valley 2014) from a comparatively new (2011) appellation – Chenonceaux. A rather mature, dense looking wine, with a smokey, dusty nose and a hint of mint. Dry with dark fruit and a longish finish. A 50/50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc, with the second grape recognisable but not the first – we don’t drink much Malbec. Clearly well made and very drinkable.
[Geoff: I had tried another bottle of this red wine only a week previously and it really impressed me. There is a good blend of the very slight farmyard aromas of an ageing CF together with its trademark raspberry nose. the Malbec (Cot in the Loire) gives firmer, fuller body to the blend. This makes the taste a balanced blend of firmness, body and fruit. It is available from Vin Neuf at Stratford.]