But we’re going to keep at it, because these bright, fragrant, stylish Cabernet Francs are just too delicious and too undervalued to ignore. Many of you have likely heard of Clos Rougeard, the cult producer of Saumur-Champigny wines recently purchased by the billionaire owners of Bordeaux’s Château Montrose. Well, Antoine Sanzay is not merely a Rougeard neighbor (both have pieces of the same vineyard, “Les Poyeux,” in the village of Chacé), but one of an acclaimed new crop of producers bringing polish and prestige to the Central Loire—a place still (inexplicably) overlooked by “serious” collectors. Loire Cabernet Franc has been surprising and delighting us all year long, and if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, today’s the day. Don’t miss this exquisite red!
The Loire’s key Cabernet Franc-driven appellations are all within fairly close proximity to one another, as France’s Anjou-Saumur province gives way to Touraine. Saumur-Champigny and Chinon are neighbors separated by this traditional provincial boundary, and the latter AOC, while much larger and more widely known is essentially an easterly extension of the former. The Saumur-Champigny zone is characterized by its limestone-rich tuffeau
mixed with clay and sand, a porous rock that allows for excellent drainage and root penetration. In a lengthy article earlier this year in the online publication PUNCH,
author Jon Bonné sang the praises
of this area (and of many producers we’ve spotlighted here at SommSelect, including Sanzay, Château de Brézé, Domaine Guiberteau, and La Petit Saint-Vincent), with the following passage about Saumur and Saumur-Champigny reds having particular resonance for me:
“But now they’re increasingly seen as something more: soulfully complex and savory wines, expressive of their individual terroir in a manner reminiscent of red Burgundy…And, aside from a brief flirtation with Bordeaux-like levels of oak and extraction about a decade ago, Saumur wines have achieved their success with relative grace, avoiding the difficulties that seem to entangle nearly every promising French region as it finds fame.”
The Burgundy comparison was definitely the one we were making when we tasted this buoyant 2015 from Antoine Sanzay, who is headquarted in Varrains, one of the nine villages that comprise the Saumur-Champigny appellation. He originally took over his family’s 11 hectares of vineyards in 1999, and while he started his own label in 2002 he continued to sell half of his harvest to a local cooperative to help with cash flow. He eventually cut ties with the co-op and has had access to his entire production since the 2013 vintage. Farming is carried out organically (certified by Ecocert) and the average age of Sanzay’s vines exceeds 35 years; his piece of the “Les Poyeux” vineyard (larger than that of Clos Rougeard) boasts 50-year-old vines and is the source of his top wine, which critics have ranked right alongside Rougeard’s famed “Clos du Bourg.”
Today’s 2015 is known as Sanzay’s “Cuvée Domaine,” sourced from 35-year-old vines and both vinified and aged in concrete vats. In the glass it’s a deep ruby with magenta highlights at the rim, with aromas of black cherry, cranberry, black raspberry, damp violets, tobacco, and a hint of black pepper. The medium-bodied palate is fresh and full of acid-driven energy, while the tannins have a wooly-soft quality I find in many wines fermented/aged in concrete. I could see someone mistaking this for top cru Beaujolais, as the overall effect is similar, but the hints of sage and mint intermingling with the lush, juicy fruit are a key indicator of Cabernet Franc. This is another one of those wines that would disappear first if plopped down on a table of sommeliers—it’s a refreshing and pure evocation of place, perfectly balanced, and just delicious on every level. I envision it continuing to improve over the next 3-5 years, not that I will refrain from opening a bottle now; decant it about 30 minutes before serving in Burgundy stems at 60 degrees, with something bistro-inspired to eat with it. I like the mix of herbs and earth in the attached recipe; if this combo doesn’t turn you into a Franc fanatic, nothing will. Enjoy!