Cabernet Franc Increasing
the appeal of Loire reds
Franc is one of the forgotten grape varieties that rarely gets any of
the limelight afforded to star varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or
Syrah. [Aside: did you know that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the
result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc?] While
in Bordeaux it’s a variety that is used as a blending component, in
the Loire Valley Cab Franc is a solo performer, and does really
reds, though, are underappreciated, and have little presence in export
markets. With this in mind, the official body for Loire wines,
InterLoire, devised a special initiative to adapt Loire reds for the
21st Century and then tell people all about them. Named ‘Project
Cabernet Franc’, it brought in wine consultant Sam Harrop MW (below)
to work with the InterLoire technical team to write a winemaking
protocol for producing more export friendly reds.
protocol aims to optimise fruit-driven styles without compromising the
terroir-driven characters that make these wines special. ‘Sam isn't
telling us how to make wine in the Loire Valley,’ says Jean-Max
Manceau, President of the Wines of Chinon AOC Association. ‘After
all we've been doing it for centuries, but he does have some good
ideas and we're getting some great results.’ As well as looking at
winemaking and viticulture, Project Cabernet Franc aims to forge
closer links with the UK trade and reaching out to the consumer, so
communication is a strong emphasis – another of the well-connected
Harrop’s strong points.
part of this communication drive, a blind tasting exercise was
initiated to select a group of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire
to act as ambassadors. I participated in this tasting in 2008 as a
judge, and it was a really good experience. A team of four – Jim
Budd, Sam Caporn, Sam Harrop and myself – tasted for two days
through a large range of Cabernet Francs, mostly from the 2006
vintage. From this we selected out what we thought were the best wines
to go through to a final judging process, where we picked the best of
the best to be used as ambassadors for Project Cabernet Franc.
short film of the tasting process is below.
the quality was high. There’s something very attractive about Loire
Cabernet Franc when it’s ripe and well made, as most of these wines
were. And because they are sensibly priced, they’re often total
bargains. I also had a chance to taste some of the ambassadors
selected in 2007, and my notes are below.
Bel Air ‘La Fosse aux Loups’ Chinon 2005 Loire, France Lovely focused berry and blackcurrant fruit nose is sweet and
smooth with a bit of spice and minerality. The palate shows
definition, ripe fruit, some freshness and nice minerality with some
chalkiness. Tasty. 89/100
Cave Saumur Saumur Champigny Selection 2005 Loire,
France Deep coloured. Sweet
vivid, bright blackcurrant fruit nose is really smooth. The palate is
fresh with a chalky, spicy edge to the pure fruit. Nice balance here:
it tastes like Loire Cabernet Franc but has a modern edge. 90/100
Charles Pain Chinon Cuvée du Domaine 2006 Loire, France Open, smooth bright nose with a distinctive chalkiness. Ripe and
smooth. The palate shows bright blackcurrant fruit with a lovely fresh
chalky edge and good minerality. There’s a little bit of greenness
but it’s really fresh. 88/100
de la Closerie 2006 Bourgeuil, Loire, France There’s a vivid spiciness on the nose along with sweet
blackcurrant fruit. The palate is a but grippy with nice freshness.
Finishes quite tannic. Ambitious. 87/100
Domaine de la Chevalierie ‘Galichets’ 2006
Bourgeuil, Loire, France Deep coloured. Smooth
ripe dark fruits nose: blackcurrant with some spice. The palate has a
lovely sweetness to the fruit. Vivid, open, fresh and accessible with
good concentration and a bit of tannin on the finish. A lovely wine.
de la Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens 2006 Loire, France Smooth dark nose is very intense and rich with a spicy edge. The
palate is supple with lovely focused fruit. Well structured and
mineralic. A lovely savoury, intense but forward wine. 90/100
des Ouches ‘Vingt’ 2006 Bourgeuil, Loire, France Very dark, intense, smoky, mineralic nose with dark fruits to the
fore. The palate has a lovely open fruit character. Nice stuff with
definition and freshness. 89/100
Chinon ‘Domaine René Couly’ 2006 Loire, France Smooth, chalky, minerally dark fruits nose is sweet and supple.
The palate is supple with lovely freshness and a subtle green edge to
the dense fruit. Nice structure and weight. 89/100
Project Cabernet Franc protocol: a summary (taken
from the InterLoire website: it's a bit geeky but I though it might
interest the technoheads)
to get yields down and to restore balance to the vineyards. Canopy
management critical and ensure shoot removal carried out in over
vigorous vineyards. Also leaf plucking critical at the start of
veraison to reduce herbaceous flavours.
timing: Winemakers must inspect and taste the fruit on a regular
basis leading up to harvest. Timing of harvest is paramount to
have a riper richer more balanced style of Cabernet Franc -
harvest should ideally commence when fruit and phenolic ripeness
are optimum. In warm years flavour ripeness will come earlier than
phenolic ripeness and in this instance timing of harvest should be
linked to flavour ripeness and not phenolic ripeness to ensure
that typical fruit flavours of the variety and region are
techniques to be employed to make more balanced wines should work
to preserve fruit, minimise phenolic extraction, and achieve
stability during elevage and at bottling.
a normal harvest day, fruit should be in the cellar before 11:00am
when the ambient temperatures are still relatively cool.
the use of triage to remove dried berries.
using the crushers - this will ensure the wines have less
bitterness and more ripe fruit flavours.
maceration is a technique used a lot with Cabernet Franc and it
can be used to good effect if the fruit is ripe enough. Too often
it is used on green unripe fruit. In this instance the process
merely enhances the unripe, herbaceous notes and this should be
avoided if the winemaker cannot guarantee the fruit is ripe enough
to avoid spontaneous fermentation and to inoculate with select
yeast strains to ensure a healthy and complete fermentation.
Trials were carried out at one producer with a yeast strain that
minimises the herbaceous flavours drawn from the fruit during
the fruit is ripe, a fermentation temperature of 24 degrees C of
the juice to enhance the primary fruit characters through
definition. If the fruit is green a fermentation temperature of
26-28 degrees C.
checking the temperature 2 x a day you will get better control
off on the timing and frequency of remontage – be gentle.
using more Delestage if tannins are ripe certainly after 2 days of
each parcel separately depending on the quality of the fruit
during the extraction process.
should be kept at 20°C during post fermentation maceration to aid
the extraction process.
sulphur levels on wines 1 x every two weeks, post MLF fermentation
and adjust to keep levels at 25ppm to avoid MLF and oxidation.
hygiene and quality use a lactic acid bacteria culture to start
MLF. Keep the temperature at 20°C and monitor the MLF closely. As
soon as the MLF is complete add SO2 to ensure the wines do not
ripe fruit consider pressing a small percentage of production into
barrels and allow wines to carry out their MLF in barrel for added
complexity and texture.
not blend wines too early. Keep separate to give more flexibility
Storage / Elevage
SO2 levels in tank and barrel frequently after MLF.
no lag between primary and secondary fermentation by inoculating
with appropriate culture. This will minimize the chance of rogue
yeast and bacteria activity and limit the production of off
flavours and Brettanomyces will be detected early.
consider oak use if the fruit is ripe enough both in sugars,
flavour and body.
filter wines a week before bottling. Put through a membrane filter
1 micron at bottling.