How does cabernet franc age? On my recent trip to the Loire, I got an excellent chance to explore this issue at the cellars of none other than Domaine Bernard Baudry in Chinon, one of my favorite producers in the Loire.
Matthieu, the jovial, thirty-something son of Bernard who has been with the domaine since 2000, led us in a tasting of the more-or-less current releases and a few back vintages as well. The Domaine makes only wines from cabernet franc, with the exception of a white wine from chenin blanc at the Croix Boisée vineyard. The 2010 rosé is superb and not to be missed though, sadly, because of its relative scarcity, many people will miss it (so call your favorite wine retailer to see how to secure some for this summer).
Generally speaking, the wines under $20 retail offer great value and are ready to drink now or in the next few years. The single-vineyard wines from the higher vineyards, planted to limestone soil, offer more reward for aging. As to vintages, I found the 2008s to be drinking well now for the lower vineyards while the upper vineyards show great potential but still could benefit from a few years in the cellar to fully integrate the beautiful acidity and still youthful tannin. The 2009s are gorgeous but seem slightly rounder–a great vintage for introducing the Loire to people more accustomed to drinking wines from warmer climates.
I’ve often gotten confused with the various bottlings of the domaine. Although the vineyards are not contiguous, they are all farmed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, all the grapes are all hand-harvested, and fermentations occur only with natural yeasts. The least expensive bottling is Les Granges, which comes from twenty-year-old vines in sandy-gravelly soils low down by the River Vienne, a tributary of the Loire. The “Domaine” wine comes from both lower and higher vineyards and is also fermented in a concrete-lined tanks. While I like the Les Granges bottling, the sweet spot for me is the Domaine in both 08 and 09, which combine the gulpability of fun fruit with some tannic intrigue. Really, these wines in particular are tremendous values and are among the most rewarding wines in the US market for under $20.
Here’s a picture of the different soil types of each vineyard:
And here’s a map of the vineyards to help orient you:
The Grézeaux bottling comes from 50-year-old vines in soil of gravel and clay. The fermentation occurs in concrete vats and the aging happens in older, wood vats. The tannins are fine; the wine in 2009 exhibits fine tannins while the 2008 could benefit from more bottle age (or a good decant).
The Clos Guillot and the Croix Boisee harness the limestone magic soils; fermentation occurs in wooden vats while aging happens in barrel (slightly younger for the Croix Boisee). In both cases, the 2009s had a bit more accessibility in the tannins. With the 08s, Matthieu said that they thought it was the best cooler vintage of Croix Boisee they’d had and that the acid and tannin of cabernet franc need a while to meld. I’d tend to agree. I’d also venture that this wine would last a couple of decades and would like to buy a few bottles to tuck away for my son born in 2008.
Speaking of aging Chinon, we did try some older vintages. The 2002 Grezeaux still had plenty of freshness and a bit of that herbal–but good herbal–character of cab franc. The 2000 Grezeaux was more advanced and leathery, with drier tannins–more of the drink now category. The 1998 Croix Boisee came from what Matthieu described as “the worst vintage,” but the resulting wine was still in fine form. The wine was tasty and delicious with a great vibrancy suggesting many years ahead of it. The 2004 Croix Boisee was high-toned and the acid and the tannin that seemed on opposite sides of the glass in the 08s (fine as they are in their own corners) had started to integrate but it still was austere. Perhaps it needs food. One American in the tasting room said he had attended a dinner recently of every vintage of the last ten of Croix Boisee and the 2004 stole the show. While I don’t doubt his report, the delicious 2003 would certainly have outpaced it in my view. The heat wave vintage rendered few wines worth aging for a couple of decades, something on my mind since it is another birth year in our family. However the 2003 had good acidity and tannin, as well as a plummy mushroomy note. Since it is all sold out everywhere, and Matthieu also has a son born in 2003, he told me to send my son over to share a bottle from his son’s stash a decade or two hence. A lovely gesture from a charming guy.
Check out that limestone!
Matthieu Baudry in the barrel room
Matthieu behind a furry bottle