Customers frequently ask me, well, “what’s your favorite wine?”  I can’t honestly answer that question as it is always changing, my encounters with wine ever-evolving as new styles, regions and varietals are introduced into my young wine world.  One consistent go-to, something that I am not always in the mood for by any means yet always enjoy sipping is Cabernet Franc and namely, Cabernet France from the Loire River Valley.  I like its myriad of fall fruit flavors, its brightness, lean, natural and garden-like greenness.  It is a full-bodied wine but is not heavy and it has flavors that harmonize with surprisingly to me, a great variety of dishes.

I began “Reading Between the Wines” yesterday by Terry Theise and can barely put it down to write this right now.  I have read bits of his sales catalogs on Champagne, Austria and Germany – great pieces that give the reader a just a glimpse into his exuberant passion and impeccable taste for wine.  The writing in those is bold and loud, funny, no bull-shit and good.  The book takes a on a more quiet tone but the passion is a fire burning as brightly as ever.  What I have read so far has impacted me greatly; in fact, it was exactly what I needed to hear as a pup in the wine trade.  A few months ago in the midst of taking the final course through ISG and starting my new job at Soul Wine I found myself so effing overwhelmed.  I was enjoying wine, loving it, but feeling frustrated and spastic, grasping to know more facts, aching to understand the theory and history better.  I was scolding myself for not being able to remember every single wine I tasted more clearly and pissed that I wasn’t born with a natural capacity to be able to read everything French in perfect form.  But that was not fun.  I tried to make myself chill out, to slow down and look at the big picture, to be patient and proud of myself for being where I am now – for moving 2,000 miles by myself with no job and having dropped way more money than I had on these classes to go for it, not even sure of what it was yet.  I have since calmed the fuck down and realize among other things, that this takes time, but still find myself getting wound up and anxious sometimes, hungry to get it more.  Theise speaks to this situation almost as if he was talking to me directly.  His reflection on his own history in the trade grants wholly sound and practically pharmaceutical advice regarding my conundrum.

“Wine is like a shy dog.  Lunge for it and it backs away.  Just sit still and it draws nearer.  Wine is less about what you can grasp than about how you can receive.  You grasp it more firmly if you grab it less tightly.  It will resist you if you insist on subduing it.  You can accumulate only so much knowledge in quantifiable bits, but you accumulate understanding if you learn to relax.  Wine doesn’t like being dominated.  It prefers being loved and wondered about.  It will do anything for you if you’re curious and grateful.” P. 19

I wish I had an encyclopedic type of memory but yeah, I discovered while pursuing my degree in art history that I am not one of those fortunate souls who can easily memorize facts layered on dates layered on facts layered on life, bummer.  I need to get the sense of things before I can accumulate the relevant facts in my head, because if the facts are there and I don’t really know which cabinet they go in, they’re pointless facts for me.  When I do get a grasp on the frame, then the names, soil types, histories, producers and tastes, all fall into place, and they stay.  It takes time.

That has nothing to do with Cab Franc, you say!  Well no, not exactly.  I have yet to even finish the book but I must tell you, the love and excitement that Theise has for everything wine is infectious, the writing is beautiful, the meanings are deep, his experiences are funny, ok…I need to stop- just read it… The point: Theise’s book sums up how much we should all be enjoying this.  I am one of the lucky individuals who get to make a living in the trade and that’s pretty damn cool.  That being said, I felt bogged down to prepare a long thing on Cab Franc for tasting group this week, so I have compiled some information, but more importantly, I wanted to share the aforementioned stuff.

Back to Cab Franc.  I love this grape.  It’s been around for a looooong time.  It was already known for producing wines of good quality in St.-Emilion and Pomerol by the end of the 1800s.  Around the same time, it was planted by an abbot named Breton in the town of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley.  There, “Breton” is still used as a synonym for Cabernet Franc and a producer, Catherine et Pierre Breton, make wine.  We tasted the Breton 2009 “La Dilattante” which is beautiful, a great stylistic contrast to other selections.  It is a powerful yet not heavy, memorable, but not loud wine.  It is replete with green aromas, the tannins are rich.  I had the remainder of the bottle the next night and it was even better, one of my favorite wines that I have had in the last year, I will say.  Anyway, Cabernet Franc is happy in cool, inland climates, grows in a variety of soil types but thrives in tuffeau, sand, clay and limestone found in Chinon and Bourgueil.  (The Breton wine we had is from Bourgueil.)  It is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon but is generally lighter in both color and tannin.

The Loire Valley is a long expanse stretching from the Atlantic Ocean east along France’s longest river, vineyards stretching across nearly 600km.  It is also called “la Jardin de la France” and is famous for is magnificent chateaux.  With 63 AOPs and so much land under vine, there are a myriad of wine varietals and styles produced here from Gamay to Muscadet to Chardonnay and beyond.  There are four not exactly official areas across its length, from west to east they are: Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and Central Vineyards (referencing that they’re in the center of France, not the center of the Loire Valley).  We are visiting Anjou and Touraine for our Cab Franc focus.  The town of Saumur is famed for its miles of underground cellars, carved into the soft tuffeau soil.  A brooding contrast to the Breton wine we tasted was the Antoine Sanzay “Expression” 2008 from Saumur-Champigny.  This wine is big and muscular with a deep, dark purpley core, a thick mouthfeel, expressive pencil lead notes, and strong but fine tannin.  Very delicious, yet so different.

On the western edge of Touraine lie the three other appellations we are focusing on: Bourgueil, Chinon and St.-Nicolas de Bourgueil.  Chinon produces the more silky and tender Cab Francs from the sand and gravel based soils.  These wines are light (comparatively) and drink well young.  The softer, tuffeau soil adds more structure and some of this too, is found in Chinon.  Bourgueil is quite different – it has steep slopes and more limestone, these wines have muscle and can age for 10+ years, something that I surmise to be true of the Breton wine, even though this one is produced via carbonic maceration.

A touch more on the varietal itself: I had a magnificent birthday dinner recently.  One course consisted of collard greens alongside hanger steak over pickled seasonal vegetables.  We drank a Yannick Amirault (rapidly becoming a favorite Loire producer of mine) 2002 Bourgueil “Le Petite Cave”.  I took a bite of the dish and said, “This tastes like the wine.”  While tasting Cab Franc before, I hadn’t likened it to this before, but PICKLED VEGGIES is quite perfect.  It has the richness of the green produce, but the vinegar-y brightness of pickled-ness plus ripe, dark red fruits like Titan cherry, raspberry and blackberry combined.  I like this varietal because it possesses green leanness funkiness yet verbose ripeness of fruit at the same time.  I could give you a list longer than that of my descriptors of Gewürz, but I’ll refrain because you should find out for yourself, because it’s awesome.