This edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey has Plumboo and I tasting a French Cabernet Franc, as part of Wine Blogging Wednesday #44. This WBW theme comes to us courtesy of the irrepressible Gary V. over at Wine Library TV.
Before Plumboo and I head of to Chinon in France’s Loire valley (more on that later) & get tasting, the Dude needs to give you a bit of French Cab Franc background, lest you navigate these waters all-uneducated-like and get burned picking up a bottle of wine that you hate. Similar caution should be exercised whenever tasting any wine with a French label on it – not because French wines suck (they most certainly don’t), but because French wine labels (most certainly do) suck.
In France, the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system guarantees a wine’s place of origin. It (roughly) forms the basis of most other similar wine quality systems in many other countries. You may now be asking yourself, “wait a second Dude – place of origin or quality… which one is it?”
The answer is… “Yes”…
That’s because in France, they have (with few exceptions) the belief that over centuries of grape-growing (aka trial-and-error), they know what grapes work best for each viticultural area of the country. Which is why you will rarely see “Cabernet Franc” listed on the label of a French wine. Instead, you need to know which areas are permitted to grow and vinify which grape varieties. It’s one of the ways that the French like to use to piss off Americans (caution: joke in progress).
Most French Cab Franc is grown in Bordeaux. But you’d never know it, because it’s one of the grapes (along with the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot) that goes into the classic Bordeaux red wine blends. Cab Franc is an easy-going grape (in terms of soil and climate), and it ripens earlier than it’s little-brother Cab Sav. In the Bordeaux blends, it adds some color, berry flavor, and even hints of floral and vegetable aromas to round out the softer Merlot and harsher Cab Sav.
However, Cab Franc has also found an AOC certified home in other areas of France, where it gets to shine all by its glorious lonesome self. Most notably, this vino-illumination happens in the Loire valley – a very big swath of land that runs along the (very long) Loire river. Along the banks of the Loire are many, many gorgeous castles, and many, many styles of gorgeous wines.
This tasting takes Plumboo and I (virtually of course) to Chinon, an old town that gained importance (dating back possibly to pre-recorded history) due to its location on the banks of the Vienne river where it meets the Loire. The area has been home to monasteries, forts, castles, and good winemaking.
For WBW #44, Plumboo and I chose a 2005 Jean-Maurice Raffault “Les Galuches” from Chinon. This Cab Franc is a gorgeous purple, with lots of dark berry, a bit of green pepper, and a smaller hint of vegetable (stalks) in your nose. There’s quite a bit of cheek-drying tannin and some blackberry in your mouth. A nice “everyday” wine that could end up being a crowd-pleaser at your next party. The Purple Monkey approved, anyway.
While you can find decent example of Cab Franc in many other locales, especially in the U.S. While these are also good everyday wines, they often lack the finesse of their Loire valley counterparts, who have set the Cab Franc standard (and are definitely worth the trip ‘down river’).