Let it be known that at one point in my wine drinking life, the word “Chinon” sent shivers down my spine and right through my palate. I loathed the place. Couldn’t bear to be around anything in liquid form from it. So what did the unassuming Cabernet Franc grape ever do to me..? It stunk. Literally. There was an array of aromas wafting out of the glass that made me think that someone had let their pet defecate in it. It was that bad.
But as I stopped worrying about what was in my glass and learned to not love oak and sugar so much, I began to revisit the unsung hero of Bordeaux blends and king of funk, Cabernet Franc. Sure, it’s one of the five main grape varietals permitted in the great Bordeaux blends, and rarely ever gets past 25% there, but in a few parts of the world this funky bunch of grapes is let loose and given the run of the bottle in all it’s awkward beauty.
Which brings me to the 2002 Olga Raffault Chinon “Les Picasses” This comes from one of the most legendary producers in the the entire Chinon appellation and the family has had a long standing history of producing great wines in the Loire Valley. On a recent visit to the Chelsea Wine Vault, someone steered me in the direction of Ms. Raffault’s wines when I mentioned I had grown an appreciation for the unique earthy qualities of Cabernet Franc when left alone. What I found was a wine that is incredibly indicative of the terrior of the region given the amount of limestone, clay and chalk that is in the soil. You can almost smell the rocks in this wine (and no, I’m not talking about a Bartles and James wine cooler over ice).
In the glass, it has a somewhat translucent color (not unlike a wine from Burgundy) but there is a noticeable hue of brick that made me think that this wine had seen some age and/or had oxidized a bit. On the nose, there is an overwhelming aroma of dust, earth, minerals, and even dried leather followed by a hint of ripe cherries and currant. This made me think I was in for a big brooding wine that was going to taste like it had aged in a barnyard and had been lovingly cared for by a huge cow. I mean no disrespect, Ms. Raffault.
What I got on the palate was a very lively wine (only 12 1/2 % alcohol) that had a decent amount of acidity to it and showed more of the cherry flavor on the mid palate. It then dissipated quickly, leaving the acid behind on a short finish. The oak here seems like it was used for simply mellowing out the tannins and there is almost no hint of it anywhere. Unfortunately, the tannins were a bit too firm for my liking, but even after being in the glass for only an hour they stated to soften a bit, leading me to think this wine will get better with a bit more age.
Bottom line with this wine is that it’s not something I would just sit down to drink by itself since it just lacked a little depth to it that I like when getting to know a wine mano a mano. It needs some food (which is common for most 100% Cab Franc), and eating while you drink wine is not such a bad thing, am I right? So like any stinky friend, it just needs someone (or some cheese) who will appreciate it for what’s on the inside and not just how she smells.