Chinon: Word to the wise

Cellar door, Domaine de la Roche Honneur, Chinon
Cellar door, Domaine de la Roche Honneur, Chinon

Chinon straddles the Vienne, a small tributary to the south of the Loire between Saumur and Tours. It’s pretty in parts; rolling wooded hills, sunflowers, birdsong. The unassuming landscape doesn’t declare its potential like the more dramatic wine regions of France. However to notice a bottle of Chinon in a friend’s wine rack is to spot some Miles Davis in their CD collection. It suggests a path travelled, perseverance rewarded. It’s not a charismatic entertainer that wows the audience; it is discreet, contemplative, and all the more satisfying for it.

Though some white can be found, the grape that defines Chinon is Cabernet Franc. It is a parent of the handsome Cabernet Sauvignon, and the family resemblance is evident. Drier, stricter, more challenging than its offspring, Cabernet Franc gives medium-bodied, bonier red wines. They also age well, but the wines glide on their acidity and tannin rather than relying on sheer heft of flavour. Like a weathered older marathon runner, it relies on sinew and character over muscle.

It is a wine lover’s wine because it instructs as it refreshes. The lighter wines will have been grown on sand near the river; the fuller ones on the limestone slopes and plateaux. The aroma is as unmistakable as the gait of an old friend; bright blackcurrants and pencil shavings to start with, then gradually cigar tobacco and leather-bound books. It also demonstrates the challenges and rewards of making red wines in cool climates; the risk of green, unripe flavours in cooler years but profound complexity and longevity in top vintages.

This is not a famous wine; supply and demand are easy bedfellows, so the prices remain sensible. Those in the know buy from top producers in a warmer year like 2009 and leave it for ten years or so. The impatient can pay a little extra for wines ready matured. Either way, having some Chinon in your wine rack is a wise move.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Chinon 2012 (Co-op, £9.99)

A good value Chinon made by up-and-coming producer Domaine de la Noblaie. Earthy aromas alongside ripe blackberry fruit and a dry, savoury finish.

Domaine Olga Raffault ‘Les Barnabés’ 2012 (Wine Utopia, £13.95)

The entry-level Chinon from a top domaine, this has plenty of lively, bright berry fruits and no lack of intensity. Refreshing and highly drinkable.

Domaine Charles Joguet ‘Clos du Chêne Vert’ 2008 (Justerini & Brooks, £23.46)

A top single-vineyard wine from a leading producer with six years in bottle – and still under £25. Seriously refined and beautifully balanced. Flows like a red silk scarf.



First published in Living France magazine.