The Chinon sub-region in the Loire Valley of France produces mainly red wines made from cabernet franc. They are typically dry and light- to medium-bodied, and pair well with food. Cabernet franc is one of the two parents of cabernet sauvignon, along with sauvignon blanc. How two lighter-bodied parents can produce such a tannic and heavyweight offspring has always amazed me.
Wines made from cabernet franc are much lighter in style than those from cabernet sauvignon – pale and bright reds that tend to be consumed young but can be cellared for at least a decade. As a recent tasting discovered, in good vintages reds from cabernet franc can last much longer and evolve into something quite marvellous and different from their younger siblings.
A colleague and I tasted three cabernet francs from Domaine des Pallus, near Cravant in the Chinon area. The Sourdais family has owned Pallus since 1891. Bertrand Sourdais is the fifth generation winemaker, taking over when his parents retired in 2005.
Domaine de Pallus tends 18 hectares of cabernet franc. About 12 hectares surround the family property in the town of Cravant and the rest are on sandy-gravel hills near the hamlet of Briancon. The vineyards are in the process of being converted to organic farming methods.
The estate’s flagship is the Pallus. Only about 3,000 bottles are made from vines planted between 1952 and 1974. Yields are kept low and grapes come from vines around the property. This wine is aged for 18 months in 70 percent new French oak and bottled without fining or filtration. It is easy to spot on the shelf because of its pink cap and heavy bottle.
The 2010 vintage experienced a cold and relatively dry winter, followed by a relatively hot summer. A dry and cool start to autumn allowed the vines to ripen slowly. On his website Sourdais said he needed to go back to the famous 1947 vintage to find similar concentrations of fruit from the harvest. Sugar levels got quite high, which explains the 13 percent alcohol.
The 2010 Domaine de Pallus is dark cherry in color with fine acidity and soft tannins. This is a rich and opulent wine made from high quality grapes from those old vines. The acid and tannic balance is exceptional. The oak takes the edge off the acidity and the two dance beautifully together.
Flavors of rhubarb and tayberry dominate an elegant palate. A tayberry is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry and is named after the River Tay in Scotland.
While the 2010 is fine and elegant, it should be consumed soon after opening – something we found easy to do. We say this because the wine lost many of its flavors about two hours after opening. Overall this is a delightful red.
The estate’s other main wine is the Les Pensées de Pallus, which translates as the “thoughts” of Pallus. It is a miniature version of the flagship Pallus and receives less new oak. About 60,000 bottles are made a year. The wine also comes from established vines, with an average age of 40 years.
Spring and summer were very hot and dry during the 2011 vintage, followed by a humid and warm late summer and autumn. The family decided to harvest only in the morning to pick fresh grapes and avoid over ripeness. The aim was to ensure the alcohol content remained between 12 and 13 degrees to avoid “distorting the authenticity of cabernet franc Domaine de Pallus,” the website says.
The 2011 Les Pensées de Pallus smelled of damson plums, and was all lightness and subtlety in the glass. It feels elegant, with soft and dusty talcum tannins that balance the lively acidity.
As a treat, the estate supplied a bottle of the 1969 vintage Domaine de Pallus, to show how cabernet franc evolves. The first revelation was the intense black cherry aromas of the cork, contrasting with the aromas of mushrooms and dried roses in the glass.
The wine still had good acidity and the fruit had evolved into tertiary flavors of dried thyme and marjoram mingled with rhubarb, sour cherry and a range of spices. The wine had an ephemeral feel and was quite majestic in the mouth, the flavors mingling and changing over the hour we spent with it.
Treat yourself to the delights of aged cabernet franc, and if you cannot find the older varieties then savour the delights of the younger versions.