By: Andrew Bishop
Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley is probably the most under appreciated and least understood wines out there. I personally love and drink them weekly, but for a lot of people, elegant Cabernet Franc just isn’t cool. But, if you are already a fan, or if you want to be cool :), consider picking up a bottle of Château Yvonne Saumur Champigny- it’s Cabernet Franc at its best.
Less Internet. More Cabernet Franc
Nestled between Tours and Angers is the lovely town and appellation of Saumur in the Central Loire Valley. It’s a fairly large appellation that produces red, white, and considerable amounts of sparkling wine. The Saumur Champigny AOC within encompasses eight villages and produces only red wines. Although there is a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis under vine (which often goes un-noticed), Cabernet Franc is king. The vineyards are planted primarily on chalky soils (Tuffeau) with pockets of sand and clay on a large plateau just above the Loire river. These Tuffeau soils are ideal for Cabernet Franc because it not only gives Saumur Champigny reds it’s own distinct, mineral driven flavors, it also regulates the water supply to the vines by absorbing excess water and retains it for drier periods. Most Saumur Champigny wines are consumed young, and not taken too seriously. But, there are a few serious domains who are trying to change this mindset- Chȃteau Yvonne being one of them.
Mathieu Vallée comes from a winemaking family. His brother Gerald Vallée (Domaine de la Cotelleraie) in Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil is also quite a reputable producer. After a somewhat short engineering career, Mathieu decided to settle down close to his roots. In 2006 he purchased Chateau Yvonne and it’s 8 hectares of numerous small parcels. Today he farms a total of 11 hectares on 28 different parcels- 8 of which are in Saumur Champigny for his reds, and 3 in Saumur for his white wine. All farming since the beginning is certified organic, done all by hand, and his wines are made with only indigenous yeasts, with little to no fining/filtration and very little sulphur. We just paid a visit to Mathieu’s place last week, and the wines just keep getting better. He is recognized as one of the top producers in Saumur Champigny, and his wines are inspirational. So much so that he has to hunt people down who are trying to re-sell his wines to the local grocery stores who are so anxious to carry his wines!
“La Folie” Saumur Champigny: Your intro wine here to Cabernet Franc and Château Yvonne. This is a blend of many parcels from vines between 15-40 years, and is fermented and aged in old oak barrels for about 12 months. Non -filtered. Significant fruit here but it’s a wine to be enjoyed young!
Saumur Champigny: The flagship wine for Mathieu, also from a number of parcels, but older vines and longer fermentations/aging- non filtered. Super complex and ripe fruit, this wine needs time in the bottle before full enjoyment. You can also age this for many years for ultimate pleasure.
Saumur Blanc: Yeah, I know this is supposed to be about Cabernet Franc, but I had to throw in his white wine into the mix because Chenin Blanc is just as cool as Cabernet Franc. Aged on it’s lees for many months, this is rich, layered, complex Chenin Blanc worthy of aging. fantastic!
The entrance to the caves of Château Yvonne. Mathieu’s courtyard .