Blog » Cabernet Franc
Sub-$50 Margaux: 2016 Chateau Larruau
For years, our go-to value in Margaux has been Moulin de Tricot. Unfortunately, they were recently purchased by a conglomerate, and the upcoming 2019 will be the final release. With just one more vintage to enjoy these wines, we were lucky to find an exceptional replacement. Max stumbled upon Chateau Larruau at a Bordeaux tasting over a decade ago, and in that time, the wines have maintained their fair pricing.
Chateau Larruau is equally planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, most of which surround vineyards owned by the famous Chateau Margaux. New oak is limited to about 35%, a big reason this concentrated Bordeaux still conveys its sense of place, void of vanillin or monolithic oak tannin. The grapes are hand-harvested, fermented in temperature-controlled tanks, and aged for 18 months in a mix of new and neutral wood. Margaux is well known for having the highest concentration of gravel soils and, therefore, producing the most elegant wines of the Médoc.
Chateau Larruau’s 2016 bottling has those quintessential tobacco and graphite notes paired with the vintage’s vivid fruit profile. This is real deal Bordeaux and hands down the best pricing you’ll find in Margaux!
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Bewitching Bourgueil: Breton Clos Sénéchal
Pierre and Catherine Breton's Cabernet Francs from Bourgueil and Chinon represent everything our selection stands for: Organic and biodynamic viticulture, minimal winemaking, single expressions of place, and wines that beg to be opened with complete abandon. These are among the most gratifying wines in the Loire.
One cuvée speaks to me differently than the rest. Clos Sénéchal is 100% Cabernet Franc from a 1.3-hectare parcel of clay over white tuffeau—the prized and finely-grained chalky limestone found in the Loire. It's always the most seamless and elegant of the Breton's single-vineyard Cabernet Francs. Here, Cabernet Franc is suave, and site-specificity is high-definition, with notes of black cherry, fresh potting soil, iron, and lavender jumping out of the glass. There is a sense of composure and effortlessness with Clos Sénéchal that bridges a difficult gap that can sometimes exist between natural wines and the more classic, age-worthy bottlings.
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Worlds Collide: Kimmel's Lillied & Ungilded
It's a rare treat to be able to offer a new American wine project and be present at inception. Years ago, in Potter Valley, Mendocino, walking the Kimmel Vineyard with Sashi Moorman and Jason Kimmel, it became apparent a special combination of minds and terroir was ready to take form. Today, I'm happy to announce our exclusive release of the 2019 Kimmel Lilied and Ungilded!
Kimmel Wines was born to honor low interventionist winemaking, allowing the land and each vintage to be the guiding light. Lilied began as an idea from Sashi Moorman to produce a soulful blend of equal parts Syrah and Cabernet Franc similar in style to the wines by Provençal iconoclast Domaine Trevallon. The wines all go through élevage under the guiding hand of Sashi and his thoughtful team led by John Faulkner. Founded in 1969, Kimmel Ranch is in the far reaches of Mendocino in western Potter Valley. Located at 1,000 feet of elevation, at the entrance of the Mayacamas, the sprawling mountain range gives way to afternoon coastal breezes allowing for cool relief after warm summer days.
Lilied is 50% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard and 50% Syrah from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard's X Block. A long élevage (First in barrique and then puncheon) was crucial to resolve the firm tannins into silky fineness that dances on the mid-palate. The Cabernet Franc's nervy nature and dark fruit, married with the savage wildness of Syrah, makes for a striking wine you can confidently enjoy now. The cuvée name means "to adorn" and combines the names of Lilian and Edward Kimmel.
Ungilded is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard, inspired by the wines of Clos Rougeard. The fruit is destemmed and fermented without additives, and it starts in an open-top dairy tank to give a greater cap-to-juice ratio. The unadulterated fermentation gives a pure expression of Cabernet Franc (Hence the name, Ungilded). The nervy nature of the Cabernet Franc softens to a lacey texture with classic floral aromatics. These vines were planted in 1980 on Franciscan shale with Saint George rootstock in a California sprawl configuration. Edward and Lilian had the foresight to settle in the far reaches of the California wine region and plant where there were few vines at the time.
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Chinon Legacy: Bernard Baudry
The most significant domaine I visited in the Loire this spring was Bernard Baudry in Chinon. When Max decided to open a wine shop, in 2015, it was producers like Baudry that exemplified the soul of KWM’s selection: “Great people doing the hard work and expressing terroir as thoughtfully as possible,” Max explained to me. “And on top of that, the wines are pure, delicious, and have masterful structure and finesse.”
Coming from a long line of winegrowers, Bernard Baudry left his family’s domaine to set out on his own. In 1975, he started by purchasing Les Grézeaux and slowly expanded to what’s now 30 hectares spread across Chinon. They are deeply interested in “making wines according to the soil,” as Bernard’s son, Matthieu, put it. He joined his father in 2001 and now oversees the winemaking. Over nearly five decades, the Baudry’s have closely studied their landscape through vinification parcellaire, or parcel by parcel, with each cuvée capturing its soil and terroir.
Le Grezeaux, the vineyard where everything began, sits closest to the Vienne river, on gravel soils with rocks and clay, while the entry-level cuvée, Le Domaine is at the very top of the plateau, where there is a mix of sand and clay over limestone. Le Grezeaux’s gravel soils yield supple body and concentration with silky tannins, while the Le Domaine has chalky minerality and freshness due to the limestone.
Clos Guillot is unto itself, in the middle of the slope, where Chinon’s limestone is most prominent. “Limestone is what I call the white gold,” Matthieu declared. Well, in this case, the limestone is actually yellow. Clos Guillot combines rich red fruit and striking minerality, power and elegance, making it the most ageable of the three rouge cuvées here today. We rarely compare Chinon to Burgundy, but Clos Guillot's uniquely similar soil type has transparency and finesse in line with the Côte d'Or.
In my earlier offer for Domaine de la Chevalerie, I mentioned Bourgueil and Chinon are more alike than different. Matthieu admitted to this, explaining that his wines can be more reminiscent of certain Bourgueil producers than Chinon neighbors who farm with pesticides. Still, the latter is considered the Loire’s top appellation for Cabernet Franc. Importer Kermit Lynch has much to do with Chinon’s star power, according to Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay's The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste (2018). It was the 1989 vintage that Kermit Lynch first began importing Baudry to the U.S. market.
If there is any Chinon producer to add to your cellar, we would argue that it is Baudry. Our operations director, Marc, blinded us on a bottle of 2012 Le Domaine. Its peppery notes gave away that it was Cabernet Franc, but I was astounded to find it was Chinon. Looking back, these wines have the grandeur of Bordeaux but elegance and freshness undoubtedly tied to the Loire. In a decade, this entry-level wine had preserved its youthfulness with incredible grace. The fact that these wines are so reasonably priced rank them among the best-valued Cabernet Francs in the world.
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Bourgueil Brilliance: Domaine de la Chevalerie
Earlier this year, as I planned out my trip to the Central Loire, Max had one request—that I visit Domaine de la Chevalerie in Bourgueil. He had read about this winery in Rajat Parr and Jordan McKay’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste (2018), which says “this little-known domaine makes some of the best Cabernet Francs in the world,” and insisted that I add it to my list. Following the visit with Thierry Germain in Saumur, I enjoyed the most delicious, picturesque lunch at Le Terrier du Château, overlooking the centuries-old Château de Saumur, then drove 30 kilometers to the right bank of the Loire, heading toward Bourgueil.
The Caslot family, owners of Domaine de la Chevalerie, has been making wine in Bourgueil since 1640. Siblings Emmanuel, Stéphanie, and Laurie were the 14th generation to oversee the domaine, starting in the early aughts. Their father’s last request upon retiring was that the vineyards be converted to organic farming, and now, the estate is certified, as well as in biodynamics. Sadly, Stéphanie and their father have since passed away, but the Caslot family continues to make traditional Cabernet Francs for an incredibly affordable price, considering the amount of care that goes into bottle.
Bourgueil is one of few appellations in the Loire to focus almost entirely on Cabernet Franc. Though the terroir is similar to Chinon and Saumur, Bourgueil’s south-facing exposure to the Loire River makes for the most maritime climate. Here, Cabernet Franc reveals raspberry and blackberry fruit, earthy and herbaceous notes, and immense structure. Sharing the same name as the domaine, the Caslots’ “Chevalerie” cuvée comes from a parcel first planted in 1893, with vine age averaging 70 years old. It’s situated mid-slope, at the heart of the estate, on clay overlying the estate’s largest outcropping of tuffeau limestone.
“A lot of people think Cabernet Franc from Bourgeil is just interesting to drink young, but we think [that] is wrong and like to show the potential of aging,” said Laurie, my tour guide for the afternoon. All of the wineries that I visited had ancient underground cellars, but Domaine de la Chevalerie’s was hands down the most massive. Having this much space allows them to hold onto their wines for extended amounts of time, and they only release bottles deemed ready to drink. 2014 is believed to be the last “classic” vintage to yield perfectly balanced wines. Today, Chevalerie’s namesake cuvée is a pure delight, though it's sure to evolve in the years to come. At $35 per bottle, the value is simply unbeatable!
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