As the days shorten and nigths get long, the mornings foggy, with cold humidity penetrating deep into our joints, winter doldrums begin to set in. Here in Northern California we are blessed with no snow, no blizzards, no hurricanes. Instead it rains, and it has rained a lot this year. This is the time when all my patients flock into my office with worsening back pains and we all look forward to sunshine which will hopefully arrive in late February. As the excitement of the holidays wane, the remaining bleakness of winter invariably turns my thoughts to Chinon, a suitable salve for the melancholy of the season.
The crown jewel of France’s Loire Valley, Chinon is a surprisingly versatile wine. The word refers to an actual town in the mid Loire River, around which the main reds of the Valley are grown. The wine is exclusively cabarnet franc, and it is, in my opinion the quintessential expression of this otherwise ubiquitous grape.
For reasons unclear to me, the Loire Valley and its diverse varieties of wines remain somewhat undiscovered by the general public, although well known to aficionados on both sides of the Ocean. Therefore they remain good bargains both at the wine shop and in restaurant wine lists.
A good Chinon is somewhere between cabarnet and pinot noir in its extraction, features a pleasant earthy nose with a distinct touch of burned pepper, is packed with smoky upfront fruit and finishes with fruit friendly soft tannins and acidity. As a sipping wine it is an acquired taste. As a food wine however, it can pair with a remarkable array of dishes, including fish, poultry, pasta and some lighter red meats.
A nearby appellation, Bourgeuil (don’t attempt to pronounce this unless you speak French) also makes pure cabarnet franc reds, and provides an even cheaper alternative to its neighbor. There are countless winemakers in this area. The ones I enjoy are those whom Kermit Lynch, the famous Berkeley wine importer has introduced to us such as Joguet, Baudry and Barral in Chinon, and Domaine de la Chantelereusrie in Bourgeuil, the latter difficult to distinguish from its higher class counterparts.
Earlier this year I pointed out that Chinon and like wines make good accompaniments to lunch, if you care to drink wine at that time. This was a surprise to me, since, as I explained then, my favorite lunch wines are whites that go with seafood, and include several Loire products (Sancerre, Muscadet, Jasnieres) among others. As I investigated the subject however, I discovered that if you have have a red for lunch, Chinon is right up there in the list of possibilities.
For me Chinon remains a steady accompaniment to poultry dishes at Wine Wizard’s, and a recurring remedy to my winter doldrums. I was inspired to write this blog as I awaited a stuffed cornish game hen in the oven. I couldn’t help but take a few sips of the above shown bottle, a Joguet Cuvee Terroir (one of his lesser labels), circa 2007, a good vintage. Outside it is perfect Chinon weather. Now, I bid you adieu, and myself bon apetit.