Chinon: From France to North America

by The Tasting Alliance Team  |  05.06.2022

For those of us who read wine labels in the same way we read the One of the lesser-known wine regions known to New World palates is Chinon, likely due to a lack of familiarity with the Cabernet Franc varietal. What many don’t realize is that Cab Franc isn’t just a blending grape; it’s robust enough that it can hold its own. Come across a red wine label marked “Chinon”, and you’ll find beautifully classic expressive styles of Cab Franc from the Loire Valley. Although this stand-alone red wine grape may not be as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Malbec, it is an historical grape used in winemaking; most famously, in some of the highest priced red Bordeaux, especially from the Right Bank.

The Loire Valley, lovingly referred to as “Jardin de La France” by some, is where the last wild river in Europe flows on a 629-mile path from the Massif Central to the Atlantic Coast. Winemaking here dates back to at least the first century, having been an important commodity throughout all of France. But due to phylloxera in the 1880s and Bordeaux’s rise in wine prominence, Loire Valley wines became overshadowed in popularity. However, today, more and more wine enthusiasts are rediscovering the wines from this valley to be food-friendly and typically lighter in style than their Bordeaux counterparts.

Although the Loire Valley is associated more with its large production of white wine (and second only to Champagne with sparkling varieties), the reds from this region tend to be high in acid and lighter-bodied. And Cab Franc, or Breton as it’s known locally, is the most important of the seven red varietals found here. Any red wine labeled “Chinon” must be a minimum of 90% Cab Franc; thus, it’s not uncommon to find wines that are 100% single varietal Cabernet Franc. The vineyards in the Loire tend to be cooler, which is where Cab Franc loves to grow. This cooler climate also helps to elevate the acidity, producing higher-acid wines that are medium- to full-bodied. Cab Francs are a great wine to help newbies broaden the Old World palate.

Vineyards of Loire Valley, France

Classic Chinon AOP reds are attractive and expressive with notes of raspberry and framed by silky tannins. They tend to have a slightly bitter, earthy, green component, which can initially be off-putting for those raised on New World reds who tend to seek out riper, fruitier flavors. A nice gateway to bridge this Old World-New World gap is to try a few New World Cab Francs before diving straight into the Old World French ones from Chinon. Here’s a few to look for the next time you’re out:

Inniskillin Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine 2019
Niagara Peninsula, Canada

A unique sparkling icewine with aromatics of cherries and strawberries. On the palate, lively flavors of raspberries and rhubarb, all balanced by a crisp acidity. Pair with chocolate flavors and fresh red fruits, rich, creamy cheeses and a strawberry rhubarb chutney, fresh greens with pomegranate, duck prosciutto or roasted chicken with a red berry glaze.

Poplar Grove Winery Cabernet Franc 2018 
Okanagan Valley, Canada

Deep ruby red with aromas of red berry fruit and cedar. The palate opens with flavors of blueberry and dark chocolate and finishes with hints of vanilla and dried herbs. This elegant wine is refined in its approach, offering fine integrated tannins and balanced acidity. This will develop for well over a decade; drink now through 2030.

Hester Creek Old Vine Cabernet Franc 2019
Golden Mile Bench, Canada

Quietly powerful. A beautifully structured wine that demonstrates the incredible intensity and finesse of old vine fruit. Shows aromas of blackberry, saskatoon berry, and white pepper. A concentrated and complex wine that drinks well now but will also cellar gracefully. Pair with barbecued turkey burgers or roasted beets with goat cheese.

Cameron Hughes Lot 846 Cabernet Franc 2018
Columbia Valley, WA

Long in the legs and showing pitch-perfect extraction with aromas of cherries, violets, cassis berries, and freshly ground coffee beans right out of the glass. Red fruits, new leather, grippy tannins and medium-plus acidity. A big brawny consummate New World expression of Cab Franc.