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Cabernet Franc: the well kept secret of the Loire 

The Cab Franc from the vineTraveling west out of Colfax, Washington recently, I was hit with the unmistakable aroma of Cabernet Franc. Not just any

click to enlarge The Cab Franc from the vine
  • The Cab Franc from the vine
The Cab Franc from the vineTraveling west out of Colfax, Washington recently, I was hit with the unmistakable aroma of Cabernet Franc. Not just any Cab Franc either, but something out of France's Loire Valley. It took a minute to realize it was the burnt grass stubble sticking out of the snow along the roadside ditch. "Of course!" you say, "burnt roadside ditch stubble." Since assuming the lofty position of the Source's newly established wine columnist, I've been working hard to fortify my wine vocabulary. "I like it!" and "Mmmm!" are clearly no longer adequate.

Hugh Johnson notes in his World Atlas of Wine that the understated and frequently under-priced Cab Franc wines of the Loire's Chinon and Bourgueil appellations are "unwarranted casualties of the modern wine drinker's obsession with sheer mass." I couldn't agree more, and I'm here to tell you that the characteristically light-weight notes of raspberry and violets framed by the distinctive earthy undertones of minerals, graphite, and fungi make for fantastic drinking. These can be great value wines and are surprisingly versatile with food. I was amazed at how well the Marc Bredif 2005 Chinon (recently for $15 here in town) paired with a mild dish of chicken vindaloo. A surprising pairing indeed, but it worked because of the wine's crisp acidity and brisk finish. This is a great wine for the price and a great introduction into the old-world reds of the Loire Valley. Other good value Loire Cab Francs can be found in town on occasion, including Domaine De La Cotelleraie and Domaine De La Chanteleuserie.

If you are willing to search farther afield, keep your eyes peeled for names like Joguet, Raffault, and Baudry. One of the neat things about many Loire producers is their affinity for an older, gentler approach to wine making. Many employ biodynamic viticulture, and some, most notably Didier Dageuneau, even use draft horses. 2005 was a great vintage in the Loire, and the good ones won't last on the shelves, so you'd better act fast. My recommendation: stick a few in the cupboard for morel season! - Thomas Rodhouse.

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