Do not feel bad for Cabernet Franc. Humbly earning the majority of its notoriety in a supporting Bordeaux role, it lays tucked underneath Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant blends in the land of regal growths. Moving west in search of greater opportunity, Cabernet Franc is planted and bottled all by its lonesome self from Long Island to California; albeit without enough crowning fanfare to drive enthusiastic fawning. But just to the north of the blessed Bordelaise, tight to its Loire Valley origins, Cabernet Franc stands taller than anyone who cut their teeth on US domestic or blended representations might imagine.
If there are doubts, simply bribe any in-the-know wine seller for a piece of their Clos Rougeard allocation that Louis/Dressner brings in from Saumur Champigny. Or, as I had the chance to do this week, grab a couple of Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon cuvees (also Louis/Dressner import). While the ***1/2 $20 2011 Baudry Les Granges and the inspiring **** $23 2010 Baudry Domaine are two very different wines, both will surely eviscerate all levels of pity for “poor old” Cabernet Franc.
The serendipitous coincidence of finally retrieving my forgotten box of Baudry cuvees (languishing for six months, with my name on it, in The Wine Bottega’s cellar) and Cabernet Franc lover Lenn Thompson’s hosting of a Cab Franc #WineChat, encouraged the popping of Baudry corks. These wines, like a few other head turners still lingering on my palate and in my soul, rekindled a comforting French proverb that conditionally erupts in these moments:
“In water one sees one’s own face , but in wine one beholds the heart of another”
A lot of Cabernet Franc, good Cabernet Franc, is made around Chinon. Occasionally, the wines are capable of transporting you back to the vineyards they were grown and vinified in. The gravel, clay, sun, and breezes of Cab Franc’s most noble sites turn sensibly tangible. Dotting this Baudry pair are the tobacco, greenness, freshness, ripeness, earth, animal, and pepper that make Cabernet Franc as alluring as it yearns to be. Both of the wines’ edges construct graceful borders, their middles delivering a contradiction of gravity defying volume.
The Les Granges will appeal to palates leaning away from volume and ripeness and more towards acid rushes, charcoal shards, tobacco, stone, raspberry, and overall restraint. The wine worked its charm alongside raclette, cutting through the oily richness of the melted Gruyere I paired it with. Another #winechat soulmate simultaneously tasted the wine and noted its dried and dusty porcini mushroom nose. It is a wine to pair with fatty-rich foods, delicate enough to drink with rich seafood, and vibrant enough to taste with spicy Asian foods.
Styled differently, but even more impressively, is the Domaine. Made from older vines, immediate impressions are focused around richness of black cherry and raspberry fruit; deep, ripe, voluptuous fruit. Second powerful impressions include freshness and shrills of acidity that make the wine vibrant and structurally equal to its intense, fruity ripeness. Slowly, sneaking into the equation are herbs, pepper, smoke, char, earth, and grilled meat aromas. Silkiness wraps around all of it, like a molecularly crafted skin.
Fifteen minutes into the bottle, the funky side of its profile takes command, introducing horse and leather aromatics that fill in the third leg of the wine’s stool; fully balancing its fruit and acidity. Finally, salinity releases and spills into an intoxicating perfume. The Domaine has it all.
It’s a great wine for demonstrating the intrigue of Old World wines to New World palates. It honors sweetness of fruit while bringing in the old world earth, funk, and delicate herbal dance that makes these kinds of wines so intriguing. The analogy of a ‘fully perfumed tramp”, letting it all hang out, hiding nothing, and fully accessible comes to mind. The combo is intoxicating in such a forbidden way that makes exploring the wine feel inappropriate. The Baudry Domaine, like the tramp, can seem put together and constructed, in disguise, both totally pedestrian and perfect all at once.
If you head north from Bordeaux, there should never be the need to feel sorry for Cabernet Franc again. Both of these Baudry wines are fitting case studies.