France’s Loire Valley is known, justifiably, for its broad range of excellent white wines, such as Sancerre, Vouvray, and Muscadet. It is France’s second-largest producer of bubbly wine, after champagne. But it also produces red wines. Since they are less well known, the reds can be excellent value.
The middle of the Loire River valley, between Angers and Tours, is where the cabernet franc grape thrives and produces stylish red wines, which take their names from the towns of Bourgueil, Chinon, or Saumur-Champigny. Many wines from Bourgueil and Chinon need time to resolve their tannins before their glory shines. Wines from Saumur-Champigny, on the other hand, are more forward and user-friendly in their youth. Cabernet franc is well suited to this northern clime.
Producers aid ripening by limiting yields, so that the sun’s energy is focused on fewer grapes. The company Langlois-Chateau, founded in 1855 by Edouard Langlois and his wife, Jeanne Chateau, may confuse us who are more familiar with chateau as a building, not a surname. Although best known for its excellent, well-priced Loire Valley sparkling wine (about $15), Langlois-Chateau also produces a few impressive red still wines.
The 1999 Chateau de Varrains, devoid of harsh tannins, is polished and conveys pure fruit flavors and a nice mineral quality. It is not overbearing, and would be a good choice for take-out roasted chicken or pizza after work.
Langlois-Chateau, Chateau de Varrains, Saumur-Champigny, 1999. About $18. (Distributed by Commonwealth Wine & Spirits, 508-262-9300)
March 4, 2004.