“A forest after a rainstorm” – Cabernet Franc from Chinon
Cabernet Franc is traditionally associated with the Loire Valley and red Bordeaux blends, but in recent years the grape has found a distant new home in the wild deserts of Patagonia. For this month’s Loire Valley #Winophiles challenge, I set out to investigate how this upstart, untamed Cabernet Franc compares with its refined French cousins from Chinon and Bourgueil in Touraine.
First off, Patagonia and the Loire are both cool climate regions. In Touraine, Franc is often used for refreshing, young wines which can be served chilled in a similar fashion to a Beaujolais. There are also heavier, age-worthy wines which can develop great complexity in the bottle. Raspberries and red cherries are typical, especially for the younger style, while fine aged examples can be reminiscent of “a forest after a rainstorm” (a fancy way of saying herbaceous!). Most Patagonian Francs are more like the fuller Chinon style, boasting similar aromas like roasted red pepper, oregano, and a smoky earthiness.
Accompanying me on my quest to explore Patagonian Cabernet Franc was a trusty bottle of Bodega del Desierto‘s Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc. While not one of the most stunning Patagonian Francs out there, it is a solid, good value and extremely quaffable wine. On the palate tart red cherries and redcurrants mingle with cedar, oregano, and eucalyptus, while restrained tannins and lifting acidity make it an easy drinker. Serving it slightly chilled could work, but I wasn’t about to try it with the cold weather we’re currently experiencing!
Talking of cold weather,they don’t call Patagonia the ends of the earth for nothing. These are some of the most barren, remote and isolated lands in the world. So how does winemaking here actually work? Well, wine has been grown down here since the 19th century, but the wineries operating there nowadays tend to have a much shorter history; Bodega del Desierto made its first wine in 2004. The winery is based in the province of La Pampa, in the Alto Valle del Rio Colorado (or the High Valley of the Colorado River). This is northern Patagonia so conditions are mild enough to successfully grow wine grapes.
A key benefit of the climate is that summers tend to be cool, with temperatures dropping significantly overnight. This helps the grapes to develop good acidity levels as well as phenolic ripeness, and to produce thicker skins which translates into intense aromas. The nearby river provides Andean meltwater for drip irrigation and it also means that the wines benefit from alluvial soils which add a distinctive minerality.
Another remarkable feature of Patagonian vineyards is the absence of phylloxera thanks to the desert conditions. This means that unlike most European and American vines, the vines planted here are ungrafted. Ungrafted vines tend to produce wines with a greater flavour intensity, although there’s plenty of controversy (and a very thoughtful assessment of the whole debate) over this point!
While you’re picking your side, you’ll probably need some sustenance. Cabernet Franc from Patagonia or Chinon makes a fantastic food wine thanks to its high acidity, soft tannins, and that intense aromatic character. Tomato-based dishes are a real winner, meeting the acidity of the wine head-on, while dishes flavoured with fresh oregano, thyme or rosemary herbs complement Franc’s typical herbaceous aromas. It can also work beautifully with rich game or lamb dishes, again thanks to that great acidity and herby aromas.
To harmonise with my wild desert Franc I decided to invent a dish (I’m not really one for recipes!) inspired by local tastes and terroir. My starting place was a delicious recent discovery – a delicate smoked cheese from Patagonia. Since my husband is vegetarian, the “meat” of the dish had to be rich, smoky, earthy veggies which would really open up the savoury character of the Franc. I went with grilled aubergine, topped with sundried tomato and smoked olive oil pesto and the aforementioned cheese, accompanied by velvety lentils and sweet potato seasoned with rosemary and oregano. What a perfect pairing, if I may say so myself. The dish harmonised superbly with the herby wine and elevated its delicate smoky character. Without a doubt one of the best meals we’ve had in a while, and certainly one to be repeated very, very soon…
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If you’ve liked this post, why not check out what my fellow #Winophiles have been cooking up for this month’s Touraine leg of our Loire Valley tour:
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla tempts us with “Cod in a Mushroom Cream Sauce with Dom Pichot Vouvray”
Jeff from foodwineclick brings us “Easy Spring Dinner with Pommes Gratin and Chinon”
Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Taste of Montlouis Pétillant Originel”
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog shares “Diving into Loire Valley Wines with Winophiles: Chinon”