Wine 101: French Wine Regions: Loire Valley: Chinon

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On this episode of “Wine 101,” host Keith Beavers dives a bit deeper into Chinon with a look at soil specificity to help you find the style you’re looking for. Tune in for more.

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Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers. I just found out that baseball umpires used to sit on rocking chairs. Now, when I was a kid, I wasn’t really into sports, couldn’t really do it, but if that had been a thing, I would’ve gotten into baseball real quick.

What’s going on, wine lovers? From the VinePair Podcasting Network, this is the “Wine 101” podcast. My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tastings director of VinePair. Yes. Now, I know we talked about Chinon before, recently, but I felt like I wanted to drill down just a little bit more on geography and give you guys a little more information on how to find good Chinon or the Chinon you’re looking for on our market.

A couple of episodes ago, we were talking about the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc, Cab Franc. I went into the Chinon/Bourges area. I washed over it a little bit just because I wanted to get it all in, but I wanted to drill down a little bit more on Chinon and its geography because there are differences in Chinon. When you’re out there — and I know I mentioned this in the last episode, but I’m going to get a little more soil-y, if you will. There are two different styles. There’s actually more than that. The thing about it is there’s a spectrum, we should say, of Chinon when it comes to Cab Franc. Small amounts of Chenin Blanc are made as well.

The thing about Chinon is its fame and its legacy are really tied to the ideas of refreshment and just drinking with food. I know a lot of wines are good with food, but there’s something about Chinon that over the years, food writers of Paris — and even there’s a poet. I’m not really sure. His name was François Rabelais. He was a son of Chinon. He was this wild dude. He was a monk, but then he left the monastery, he became a poet, a satirist, he’s a humorist. He’s this very contradictory, very intense humorist from back in the 15th century, to the point that there’s a style of humor and writing named after him.

Then around post-World War II in the Parisian bistros and restaurants, there’s a really cool history of Parisian food writers. Around the 1950s/1960s, this is when we started hearing a lot of Parisian food writers talking a lot about the wines of Chinon. Eventually, we would be talking also about the wines of Beaujolais, but when you go to a Parisian bistro, Chinon and Beaujolais are prominently displayed.

The thing is, we talked last time about how aromatic and perfumed these wines are. I also talked about how different styles come from different areas. What I thought I would do is talk about these geographical areas, and this might help you when you’re in wine shops.

Chinon is so prominent on our market. You’re going to see a lot of it. If you want to really drill down on the serious terroir-driven wines from Chinon, there are these certain areas of the vineyard land that you can ask about in wine shops and on wine lists of sommeliers so you can get the kind of style that you’re looking for based on what we’ve talked about.

We talked about how the Loire River and the Vienne split off. Between those two rivers is a bunch of lands, and this is where we have Chinon, and then north of that is Bourges. This is really the ancient flood lands of this area, but the thing is, in this area are these plateaus that rise above. These plateaus rise above and are filled with that tuffeau we talked about — that limestone, chalky soil. It’s a type of limestone. I’ve mentioned this a lot. Again, we’re going to have a soil episode, but limestone is very vine-friendly, and this is mixed with clay.

You’ll remember how we talked about in the Bordeaux episode, how Merlot likes clay. Cab franc likes clay and limestone and gravel and sand in different mixtures. This is where the difference between the Cab Franc and Chinon happens. You have these plateaus that are a mixture of limestone and clay, but as you get down towards the Vienne River, you start to get into more of these gravel mounds with sand.

It’s those limestone, clay-rich soils that give us the heartier, fuller-bodied Chinon. It’s those vines that are in the gravel, sandy soils that give us the more elegant Chinon. The town of Chinon — if you were to look at a map, you see the town of Chinon that’s on the River Vienne. To the west of the town of Chinon, there’s a swath of limestone-clay land, and there’s a town or a commune called Beaumont. That is an indication of that area and how those vines will produce fuller-bodied wines based on their soils. Then you go east past Chinon, and you’re still in this plateau, and you come around this commune called Cravant-les-Côteaux. These two towns with Chinon in the middle define this more fuller-bodied area.

When you’re in a wine shop, you can say, “I’d like to have a Chinon that comes mostly from the limestone-rich clay soils of the plateaus.” You can even name those two communes. A somm will love that because it’ll really hone in on what kind of style of Chinon you’re looking for. Now, when we talk about full-bodied, or fuller, Chinon wines, they’re just going to be more structured. They’re not going to be big and heavy. They’re going to be just a little bit fuller — a little more depth of fruit. All those peppery, aromatic qualities will be more interwoven into the meaty, chewy fruit. It’s pretty amazing.

When we talk about the lighter style of wines, those are going to be the wines that are just towards the river, down off the plateau into the gravelly, sandy soils. There are a lot of this area, and a lot of Chinon is made here, but to really hone in on the more focused, elegant style of Chinon, because Chinon can be very light and it has that perfume — that pepperiness. If the fruit is just a little bit less than it would be from the limestone soils, the acidity gets a little bit higher. When people talk about Chinon being refreshing, this is what we’re talking about. If we’re looking at that map again, we’re looking at the town of Chinon. Just east of that town, I was talking about the limestone plateau. If you go down off that plateau, towards the river, there is a commune there called Panzoult. It’s hard to pronounce. It’s hard to say, but it’s P-A-N-Z-O-U-L-T.

This area and the surrounding vineyards are known for high-quality vines that produce the more focused — not austere, but high-toned, elegant styles of Chinon or Cab Franc. Now, there are great wines made from Cab Franc and Chenin Blanc all over the Chinon AOC. There are so many wines from Chinon on our market that it’s nice to have a little more focus on where you want your wines to come from.

Now, of course, some wineries have vineyard spots in other places, and they blend, but if they are going to be making wine from one of these places, you’re pretty much guaranteed that they’re going to go for a certain style. I’ve got to say, I’ve been to this area. I’ve been to the Loire Valley. I think it is absolutely out of this world, not only just to visit because of the castles. Forget about it. Chinon is an absolutely amazing town.

You have both styles. I must confess that I did have wine with breakfast, but breakfast in Chinon is very unique. They give you goat cheese, they give you honey, and they give you walnuts, and you drizzle the goat cheese with honey. You crack open the walnuts, you press them with your hand and you crush them on top of that. Then they give you some cracked black pepper on top of that. I know this all sounds crazy because of how we do breakfast in America, but you eat this with a sip of chilled, high-toned, elegant-style Chinon, and I’m telling you, it’s an experience — the endorphin rush and all the amazing things.

You look at it like, “Oh my gosh, I’m an American, I don’t understand this,” but you have it, and it’s incredible. This is also a testament to the laid-back nature of Chinon. I know this is a short one this week, but I just wanted to give a supplemental episode to the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc, Cab Franc episode because I didn’t feel I gave Chinon that kind of focus it needed. OK, guys next week. Oh, boy. Jura. That’s all I’m going to say.

@VinePairKeith is my Insta. Rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. It really helps get the word out there.

And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big old shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darby Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.

E. & J. Gallo Winery is excited to sponsor this episode of VinePair’s “Wine 101.” Gallo always welcomes new friends to wine with an amazingly wide spectrum of favorites, ranging from everyday to luxury and sparkling wine. (Gallo also makes award-winning spirits, but this is a wine podcast.) Whether you are new to wine or an aficionado, Gallo welcomes you to wine. Visit today to find your next favorite, where shipping is available.