The Loire Valley of France has seen a surge in popularity over the past 10 years, and Chinon is a big reason why. Known for its reds made from cabernet franc, Chinon has had a following for decades. You can easily argue that there is no better place to grow cab franc, which has hints of cinnamon, mushroom, tobacco, peppers, plum and blackberry.
However, there was a time when Chinon was considered not much more than a mere bistro wine. That is not to say it was unappreciated, but the expectation was that it would be inexpensive and not complex, but drinkable. Over the years, Chinon has become a more respected drink, with numerous examples to be found of multifaceted, age-worthy wines. At the same time, you can still find plenty of wines that fit the “bistro” definition, many that are really quite good and have a place in fine restaurants as well.
Also, as wine bars and restaurants have ventured beyond serving wines by the glass in the lowest price points, Chinon’s better producers and wines have become more readily available. Here are three that might have been considered bistro Chinon, but also give those who are not familiar with this region a good preview of its flavors.
M. Plouzeau Chinon, 2012 (Loire Valley, France): M. Plouzeau is run by Pierre Plouzeau, who bought the property in 1976, and his son Marc, who converted it to organic viticulture in 1999. Light and bright, this is a pretty quintessential bistro wine. Contained in a 5-liter bag in a box, equivalent to a full case of wine, it is also a pretty outstanding deal. Dusty and chalky with black fruit and light tannins, it is an easygoing, enjoyable wine, especially for the price.
Suggested retail: $67 for 5-liter box
Bernard Baudry Chinon, Les Granges, 2011 (Loire Valley, France): Bernard Baudry has risen to the top of the heap in Chinon, organically making superb wines from Les Grézeaux. They range from 65-year-old vines to this one, Les Granges, an early drinking, tasty treat. There is a little barnyard funk at first, but it blows off pretty quickly, giving way to a firm minerality, cinnamon-tinged chocolate and soft fruit tannins.
Suggested retail : $20
Charles Joguet Chinon, Cuvee Terroir, 2011 (Loire Valley, France): Many would say Joguet is the definitive producer of Chinon. Certainly one of the most famous, Joguet’s wines have inspired many young vignerons to try their own luck in the appellation. Charles Joguet himself is no longer involved in the running of the domain, but the wines continue to impress, and the Cuvée Terroir made from press and free-run juice is a great introduction. Medium-bodied with cinnamon, chocolate, a hint of sesame oil and floral tones, this Chinon is meant for youthful drinking, but it is far from simple.
Suggested retail: $21
Some of these wines can be found at Adronico’s, Arlequin Wine Merchant, Bi-Rite Grocery, Paul Marcus Wines and Whole Foods.
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com.