Monday, 9 February 2015

3 Chirpy Chinons: The Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley

To say that I’ve been feeling a little unconfident in my wine knowledge would be an understatement. I suppose I know the basics, and if someone tells me about a particular style/grape/region/bottle then I’ve got the ability to ingest that info, but the pressure of feeling like ‘I’m meant to know because I write for a drinks blog’ often gets the better of me.

Because of this, I’ve decided that I’d push myself to learn a little bit more, and although I already attend wine tasting events throughout the year, I thought I could start doing my own at home. Obviously, I’d never be able to afford to buy a number of bottles to open all at the same time on a regular basis – there are only two of us at home, I think it’d be verging on alcoholism – but I could do a few bottles over a weekend, say once a month. The aim is to pick a wine that I’m not too familiar with, then find three of the same from different shops, varying in price; ‘budget’, ‘better’ and ‘boastful’. 

So here we are, the first post of my home wine education, and it’s that fanciful French, Chinon!

The historic town of Chinon, set in the Loire Valley, is famed for producing red Cabernet Franc wines – yep, the Loire ain’t all about the whites. Interestingly, there are only a small percentage of white wines made in this area, Chinon Blanc, with rosés being a little more favoured, but ultimately it’s all about the vin rouge.

Chinons, and Cab Franc in general, are big foodie wines; they’re not the easy drinking, slip-down-before-you-know-it wines that you crack open at 5pm on a Friday and are somehow onto bottle number two by 8. They’re distinctive, with intriguing density, and flavours that vary from acidic red fruits to ripe dark fruits, earthiness to herbiness, violet perfume and, on occasion, an air of ‘farm’... A mixed bag then, *scratches head*.

It’s known that Chinons made from grapes grown on gravel produce light and delicate, very aromatic, red fruit focussed wines that are good drank young. Wines on limestone, clay and flint, however, are full bodied with complex black berries and spices. The common ground they seem to have is that there’s always a tartness hiding beneath the fruit flavours, and that’s why they’re so good with food. 

It’s the wine of choice for Parisians to slurp with their Bistro lunch, but over here, not so much. It’s that fear of the unknown that we all have from time to time; people don’t like to stray from their faves, and as a result Chinons are really reasonably priced. This didn’t really work out too well for my ‘budget’ to ‘boastful’ intentions – they were all practically the same, so I’ve scrapped it for this piece – but for the wine and food lovers amongst you, take note, Chinon equals a cheap date!

Grapes from vines grown on gravelly soils near a river have produced this very juicy and fruity wine. You get a mouth full of sharp raspberries and redcurrants, with black pepper heat and an earthiness creeping in from behind. The leafy bramble aromas lead to more of a savoury flavour on the palate, and light chalky tannins give it some structure to hold on to.

Grown in limestone, this Chinon is light with freshly picked blackberries. There’s a little sappiness in it, but it’s more woody than earthy – I get pencil shavings – and there are green peppers thrown in for good measure. It has a good tang on the finish. 
(You might have spotted this one on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen last month, expert Jane Parkinson picked it out to match Bryn Williams’ Pheasant, fried egg and chips dish – YES PLEASE.)

The first nose of this one was “complex” to say the least; damp leaves and raw meat – eek! But as the air hit it, it began to take shape, and more of a spring garden scent came forth. There are some lovely cherries and berries hiding in here, and it’s got a silky smooth, fruity palate with soft tannins. Food with this Chinon is essential.

Despite its almost off-putting aroma at the start, the Waitrose Les Graviers Chinon was my favourite (read Fiona Beckett’s excellent article on funky wines!). Given a bit of time, it really opened up into something quite beautiful; I’ll have a big glass with my Cassoulet next time, thanks.

Second best was actually the cheapest of the bunch; Domaine du Columbier’s Chinon from Sainsbury’s; its smoothness was addictive, and I found myself desperate for a juicy chargrilled steak to go with it, but it’d equally go with more delicate dishes such as fish and pasta.

Last, but certainly not least was the Truly Irresistible Chinon from The Co-Op; I found it almost too light and fresh for its own good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – pair it with game and salty foods like cheese and it’ll sing – but in comparison to the other two, it lacked the complexity I expected from Cabernet Franc.

Overall, it’s wine for winos – not the sort you’d give to someone who’d never had a glass of red wine in their life – but if you’ve not had Chinon before, and might be a fan of the unique, earthier styles of Pinot Noir, then I’d recommend you give it a go for something new to try because they have some similarities.

Rarely can you find such a stimulating and satisfying bottle of wine for such an inexpensive price, so go now!

What are your thoughts on Chinon? Have you tried any of these?

Lead Image: Steampunk Family under the CCL. Wine Close Up Image: Jing under the CCL. 

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