Cabernet franc: the parent you wished you had. Not to be confused with its bombastic child, cabernet sauvignon (born from pollen swapping with sauvignon blanc). The cabs do share similarities: strong tannins, notes of cassis, berry, pepper and herbs. Yet franc can be lighter and subdued, due to thinner skins, and in cold vintages gains bell pepper.
Papa franc also ripens a week before cab sauv. That means colder places can pick it before early frosts. Bordeaux grows it as insurance for when cab and merlot don’t ripen and blends it for tannic and acidic structure. Northern climes love this supportive parent, since it is one of the few reds worth bottling alone.
Raffault’s Les Galuches is exemplary of this.
The Raffaults have made wine in the Loire Valley of northwestern France since 1693. Today, Rodolph Raffault blends bright, structured rosés and reds with cab franc grapes from multiple sites in the region of Chinon (below). These cost rarely more than $15.
But Les Galuches is something special. Its grapes come from one vineyard, named for its gravel soil. It’s their only vineyard along the Loire River (the others sit beside the Vienne tributary). No chemical fertilizers or herbicides are used. The gravel provides drainage and retains heat, warming the grapes into the cool evenings. This means harvest starts here. That warmth, especially in balmy 2009, shows through in the wines lush texture and up front fruit.
But site is only the start.
Instead of dressing up cab franc with spices from new oak barrels, Raffault follows tradition with neutral, ten year old casks. Wine ages in them for eighteen months, tucked away in dark, cool, humid caves in nearby limestone cliffs. This softens acidities. Solids are then siphoned off from barrel to barrel. Egg whites fine out remaining compounds but no filtration occurs.
All this adds up to an honest wine from a great site and a great vintage for under $20. Its rich red color betrays 2009’s warmth and Raffault’s handling. Ripe dark fruits, florals, minerals and pepper are present but comfortable, like your favorite armchair. Acid, tannin and body sync up with a straightforward balance.
I want to sit down with this wine, as if it’s a parent, and hear about its day at work. Nothing sensational happened, it just dealt with one problem at a time. It brings order back to the table, reminds your siblings to put away their cellphones, chew with their mouths closed and talk in turns. Most meals won’t perturb its steady presence. Age will only improve it.