We never miss the annual Loire Valley wine festival in Angers. There's a winemaking renaissance taking place in the Loire and it's spearheaded by dozens of passionate young vignerons who seem to be playing a friendly game of "Can you top this?" with their winemaking neighbors. With the exception of the fairly difficult 2004 vintage, the Loire has been blessed with a series of superb harvests. Couple these warm growing seasons with the indefatigable work ethic, risk taking in the vineyards, and signature work in the cellar, and you have a recipe for delicious food friendly wines.
One young producer, Fabrice Gasnier, stole the show for red wine with a 2006 Chinon -- a dark, rich, beautifully balanced and refined Cabernet Franc. It doesn't take long for word to spread at these fairs, so it took us a while to push through the crowd at Gasnier's booth and to engage the young winemaker in conversation. Once we did, we discovered an incredibly high energy, quietly confident young producer who described a decade of careful vineyard and cellar experimentation that led to the creation of this brilliant wine. Wanting to learn more, we set a date to visit Fabrice at his family's winery a few days after the fair.
Crevant-le-Coteau is a small, sleepy hamlet, but there's nothing sleepy about the work being done Chez Gasnier. The 2006 Chinon Cuvee Fabrice wasn't an accident. Over the preceding 10 years, Fabrice transformed a modest family estate into one of the red wine jewels of the Loire. Prior to his arrival, all wines were fermented in cement tanks, then transferred to used barrels for aging. Fabrice recognized that the cement offered insufficient air exchange during malolactic fermentation and that the tannins imparted by the old barrels were sometimes astringent, stripping the sweet fruit character from the wine. In the Cuvee Fabrice, malolactic fermentation takes place in large new or one-year-old wooden barrels, partially accounting for the suave texture and bright flavors of the finished wine.
But, it's really in the vineyards where Fabrice rolled the dice. In 2002, he began planning a multi-step conversion to organic farming. By 2004, the conversion was complete, but like many of the most passionate grape growers in France, he began studying and seeking advice on bio-dynamic farming. And starting in 2006, this vintage was the first to have been farmed bio-dynamically. The rigor in the vineyards coupled with the continued experimentation and care in the winery is paying huge dividends. The entire lineup of 2006 Chinons was superb -- with the Cuvee Fabrice 2006 stealing hearts and palates in Angers.
This is one of the most enticing Cabernet-based wines we've had in quite a while. Deep ruby in color with beautiful, deep red fruit flavors, it's really the wonderful light, vibrant finish that makes this a wine you just can't put down. Don't be put off by a faint herbal aroma when you pop the bottle. Just give the wine plenty of air in a large glass. This is an incredibly versatile wine, a great accompaniment to beef, poultry or meaty fish, like salmon or tuna. Drink now or cellar up to 2012.