On a crisp fall morning in the Before Time, Sue Hill and I set out from our Air BnB with views of the castle of Montreuil-Belay near the heart of the Loire in the Cabernet Franc growing region of Saumur. Prepared once again for rain showers, we had no idea what else the day might bring beyond meeting with Xavier Amirault at Les Quarterones and hopefully tasting his wines. With this being the end of harvest, we knew he might be needed and we had no idea what might happen with the weather.
Sue navigated using my iPhone while I drove the narrow roads in our rental car to make our appointment with Xavier Amirault at Les Quarterones. When we made the US Wine Tasting Team which meant we’d be competing in the World Blind wine Tasting Championships at Chateau Chambord in the Loire, we knew we wanted to visit Amirault as well as Chateau Yvonne because we had written about their biodynamic wines previously and loved them.
Clos des Quarterones is located in the small but important village of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil AOC right on the edge between Samour and Touraine.
Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil is important because Cardinal Richelieu transported Cabernet Franc cuttings there from the Libournais region in Bordeaux, southwest France, sometime in the 17th century. It has been growing there ever since. Cardinal Richelieu died on December 4, 1642 at the age of 57, and in 2015 Lori Budd decided that would be a good day to honor Cabernet Franc.
Wine is so important to the town that viticulture is prominently presented on the town’s coat of arms. The region Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil benefits from maritime climate as well as continental. In addition to the influence of the Loire River, the confluence of the Vienne river and the Loire forms a large enough body of water to produce an important lake effect which tempers the climate. Silt and gravel deposited over time as well as sand; a third of the area planted is on a form of limestone. The confluence of the rivers, the variety and complexity of the soils as well as the wealth of vegetation and the slope combine to make the Cabernet Franc of this small AOC special and worth seeking out.
Many Americans don’t know much about Cabernet Franc because in the US it is not common on grocery store shelves. Worldwide, Cabernet Franc is one of the 20 most planted varietals. As a blending grape, Cabernet Franc grounds the classic Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec by adding peppery earth, finesse, depth, and vegetal characteristics — from grass to leaves to bell pepper. Typically, Cabernet Franc offers a heady combination of aroma, spice, and fruit in a lightly, vibrantly colored container. Cabernet Franc pairs exceptionally well with beef and cuts through rich heavy foods without being a rich heavy wine while the more elegant and lighter, brighter versions from the Loire can pair well with less heavy foods, for example the flatbread we paired with Amirault.
As we drove into the village of St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil on that cloudy morning, I overshot our mark, and we circled back into the courtyard. Future visitors won’t be confused as the Amiraults are renovating the old Town Hall into a tasting room that will bring a sense of purpose and place to a tasting and purchase.
Not sure where to go and to park, we started to drive onto the crush pad but it was clear by the French words we didn’t understand and the gestures that we did that we were in the wrong place. I backed up apologetically and we parked under a large walnut tree near a happy dog on a rope. Being dog lovers, Sue and I greeted him then met with proprietor Xavier Amirault. Wild haired and with glasses a bit askew, he greeted us warmly and enthusiastically; we felt as welcome as if we had been friends for years.
As we began talking, rain started sprinkling, but instead of being concerned about the harvest, this too made Xavier happy, and we agreed we loved the gentle rain, how everything smelled so wonderful, and that it’s always better to be outside than inside.
I continued taking notes on my waterproof notepad but my fast writing gel pen started to run. As we were all getting quite wet, we ducked inside to the old tasting room, and we got a quick tour of the future tasting room.
The layers of history in France are everywhere– and in this old building, literally we could see the layers in the wallpaper; later we would see the layers of time in the limestone caves. The layers from the forest to the river are important also as they each offer different characteristics to the Cabernet Franc wines that Amirault produces.
Soon we jumped in the van and Xavier took us up into the vineyards to see the landscape and the caves.
So many stories!
Looking forward to sharing them another time with another wine!
We had a grand adventure followed by tasting the wines.
When we arrived back at the winery, Xavier’s wife Agnes was working in the tasting room.
The affection and devotion between them is very sweet and authentic.
Xavier testified to the importance of her partnership in the first article we wrote about them in March 2019.
At the end of the tasting. Xavier asked us which was our favorite.
The big surprise was that Sue selected the sparkling Cab Franc and I chose Le Vau Renou.
2016 Amirault Vignerons “Le Vau Renou” St Nicolas De Bourgueil
Demeter certified biodynamic Cabernet Franc grapes grown on Clays, Silex, Tufa Limestone.
Color: Garnet with a mauve rim
Nose: Smells so good! Briny green olives, river mosss, sage, cranberry.
Palate: Smooth tannins, light and bright, clean and dry, nice woodsy notes, Cyprus, juniper berries, can’t wait for food to enjoy and bring out the highlights in the wine. Green olive finish.
This wine is all about elegance, balance, and finesse. It is the Jackie O of Cabernet Franc.
Pairing: Absolutely loves the rosemary and lavender in the flatbread pizza, the fig jam, the cheeses, the procuittto, and the herbs in the dish were such a perfect pairing with the wine. Nice with a caprese salad, but not the best pairing ever. It loves the basil, and rich olive oil, but is just so so with the fresh tomato, and wants a much stronger or creamier cheese than mozzarella. We thought braised meat with fresh herbs. This wine can handle rich foods and strong savory flavors.
Because Sue loves Cabernet Franc, we tend to celebrate it on the annual Cabernet Franc Day by opening a bottle (or three or five…), pairing it with a decadent meal, and then I write it up.
For example, here’s
- 2016 Cab Franc paired with osso bucco with wines from Idaho, Paso Robles, and Lodi
- 2017 Cab Franc Day with four from France, Idaho and California
- 2018 where we featured Oregon’s Lady Hill Cab Franc from Washington which I visited
- 2019 where we featured two from biodynamic Manoir de la Tete Rouge: “Bagatelle” and “Fat Head”, a winery we visited when we were in the Loire that October for the US Wine Tasting Team.
This year, we are writing about Cabernet Franc in today’s post, and next week for Wine Pairing Weekend we have five from California to share with you, so subscribe! This December we also have lots of sparkling wine stories share and a gift guide too so stay tuned!
For more cabernet franc news and pairings check out:
- Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Honey-Lemon-Sesame Drizzled Plancha’d Veggies + Garzón 2018 Reserva Cabernet Franc
- A Day in the Life on the Farm : Hungarian Short Ribs Paired with Dracaena Cab Franc
- The Quirky Cork: Francly Turkish! Turkish Cab Franc & Lamb Chops
- Grape Experiences: “Crush On Cabernet Franc!”
- Crushed Grape Chronicles: “Cab Franc – Sailing the Loire with a Pirate Princess”
- Exploring the Wine Glass: Championing for Cabernet Franc; The True Underdog
- Cooking Chat: Easy Bibimbap Recipe with Cab Franc Wine Pairing
- The Swirling Dervish: Biodynamic Bourgueil from Laurent Herlin for #WinePW
- My Full Wine Glass: “Old World vs New World Cab Franc: Game On!”
- Always Ravenous: “Cabernet Franc Paired with Flavors of Persian Cuisine”
- Enofylz:“Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc Paired with Sausage and Potato Pan Roast”
- Wine Predator: Cab Franc Thrives in California: Examples from Santa Ynez, Sonoma, El Dorado, Paso Robles #WinePW and St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil’s Amirault “Le Vau Renou” 2016 Cabernet Franc
- Avvinare: Cab franc in Friuli Venezia Giulia
- Somm’s Table: “Old World/New World Cab Franc Explorations”