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// Resident Wine Expert


St. Emilion (Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc) use Cabernet Franc as a major part of their blend. When properly ripe, it gives a wonderful balance between plump fat blackberry fruit and slightly austere tobacco flavours.


Ripeness is the key when it comes to Cabernet Franc, which explains why it was a candidate for the northerly vineyards of the Loire, as it ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and yet can ripen late enough to take advantage of the Indian summer. In good years the growing season can extend into the autumn. As always in winemaking there are significant challenges; if unripe when harvested, the Cabernet Franc can be unforgivingly lean and 'thin' with aromas of asparagus, broccoli or green beans – not very attractive in a red wine!


Several years ago the Loire Valley wine promotion board began a campaign called 'Project Cabernet Franc'. The resulting wines have been impressive, with the new reds of the Loire finding a spot somewhere between the herbal, lean examples of old and the relatively richer, deeper wines of Bordeaux. Refreshing and aromatic, they can be drunk young or aged for quite a few years and the improvement is perhaps most striking in Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas, which in the past has had a lower profile than say Chinon or Saumur-Champigny (if you get the chance, try Clos Rougeard, one of the few cult red wine producers in the Loire with a beautiful château in the town of Saumur). Most of the Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas vineyards are west of the city of Tours.


There are three other red grapes that play an important part (though to a lesser degree) in Loire red wine production. Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais makes easy drinking and quaffable wines in and around Anjou. Burgundy's Pinot Noir is responsible for the wonderful and elegant red and rosé from Sancerre (Sancerre Rouge from Alphonse Mellot is particularly good) and Malbec is gaining ground in Touraine.


So, although the best of these Loire reds can benefit from ten years or more of ageing, one of their best virtues is that they are deliciously accessible when very young. If paired with almost any moderately robust dish, they give lots of fresh flavour and elegance that will flatter, rather than flatten your food.


Finally...those who know me need no reminding that I have always and will always champion the independent wine merchant. That aside, I have increasing respect for the team of wine buyers from Aldi; some of their wines are of incredible quality at ridiculously low prices. Some of their wines are bought in 'parcels', in that when they are gone, they are gone. I recently tried their Provence Rosé from the 'Exquisite Range' (the bottle shape is unique to Provence and shaped like a voluptuous woman). I'm a huge advocate of this style of rosé; truly dry with clean crisp strawberry fruit, but as with all things in life, quality never comes cheap. This is clearly the exception! If tasted blind I would have expected it to have twice the price tag....all the more reason to buy double the amount!!


Sante


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