France’s Loire Valley is Cabernet country — not Cabernet Sauvignon, but the less familiar Cabernet Franc, which thrives in the Loire’s relatively cool climate and its limestone, sand, and gravel soils.

Although Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Malbec are also grown in the Loire — and can be exceptionally good — it’s the Cab Francs that take center stage, especially in the Touraine sub-region in the heart of the Loire. The Chinon, Bourgueil, and St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil appellations are found there, and great Cab Franc is also grown to the west in Saumur and Anjou.

Depending on the soil, the wines can either be lighter expressions meant for early drinking, especially in the summer with a chill, or deeper, fuller wines that can age for some years. Either way, Cabernet Franc should be on your radar.

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To quote Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson in “The World Atlas of Wine,” “for its quality it is absurdly undervalued.” Indeed, there are excellent examples for $20 or so; spend a bit more and they get even better.

And here’s another great thing about Loire Valley Cab Francs: With their zippy acidity and moderate alcohol levels, they come into their own with food and can pair with just about anything, from red and white meats to fish and vegetarian dishes. Since many of them are aged without oak, they’re even more refreshing when served cool, after perhaps 30 minutes or so in the fridge.

The wines below are all relatively young, so I would open them for an hour or two before you taste them.

Here are seven Loire Valley Cabernet Francs worth trying:

Clau de Nell Anjou Cabernet Franc 2020

Clau de Nell Anjou Cabernet Franc 2020 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

Lovely bright red fruit dominates this superb Cab Franc, with pomegranate and raspberry as the main flavors and a hint of blackberry that emerges as it opens up. There’s just the right touch of Cab Franc “leafiness” that adds a nice background note. With bright acidity and a modest 13 percent ABV, it’s a refreshing food wine and paired perfectly with sliced duck breasts drizzled with a reduction of pan juices. Made from biodynamically grown grapes.

Price: $44
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Cave Bruneau-Dupuy ‘L’Eclosion’ St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil 2020

Cave Bruneau-Dupuy 'L'Eclosion' St.-Nicholas-de-Bourgueil 2020 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

Aromas of perfumed red fruit and meat carry over to the palate. The wine opens up nicely with some time, revealing redcurrant, raspberry, and blackcurrant notes with hints of braised meat and graphite, all supported by elegant tannins and lively acidity. From organically grown grapes, the wine is aged in concrete and is a superb value.

Price: $30
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Clotilde Legrand Saumur-Champigny ‘Les Terrages’ 2019

Clotilde Legrand Saumur-Champigny 'Les Terrages' 2019 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

There’s nice complexity in this easy-drinking, well-priced wine from grapes grown organically in limestone and chalk soils in the Saumur-Champigny appellation. It’s nicely balanced with dark fruit, mainly blackberry and blueberry, touches of green olive and tobacco, and minerals on the finish. Aged in stainless steel tanks. The family has been making wine since the 17th century, and Clotilde Legrand took over the domaine from her father René-Noel in 2014.

Price: $20
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Domaine Gouron Chinon 2020

Domaine Gouron Chinon 2020 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

There’s a lot going on in this earthy wine, which has a core of raspberry and blackberry flavors with plenty of interesting accents, including mushroom and baking spices. The grapes are grown in gravely and sandy soil and the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. It’s also one of the best values in Chinon wines.

Price: $19
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Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Rouge 2020

Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Rouge 2020 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

This wine is full of complex aromas, including braised meat, which follow onto the palate. There are also robust fruit notes of overripe strawberry and blackberry, with a stony minerality. The vines are more than 65 years old, which is evident in the concentrated fruit. Guiberteau grows its grapes organically and the wine is aged for six months in stainless steel tanks. (Also worth looking for is Guiberteau’s excellent Saumur “Les Moulins,” with intense raspberry and strawberry, graphite and menthol notes.)

Price: $32
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Domaine Grosbois Chinon ‘Gabare’ 2020

Domaine Grosbois Chinon 'Gabare' 2020 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

Firm tannins in this well-structured wine frame a nice combination of spicy red and dark fruit flavors, along with roasted meat, menthol, and eucalyptus notes, all supported by refreshing acidity. There’s a bit of that Cab Franc leafiness that is typical of younger Chinon, but it’s more of an accent than an intrusion. Gabare is Grosbois’ signature wine, with grapes grown biodynamically on 12 vineyard blocks in limestone and gravel soils.

Price: $42
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Bernard Baudry Chinon ‘Les Grézeaux’ 2021

Bernard Baudry Chinon 'Les Grézeaux' 2021 is one of the best Cabernet Francs from the Loire Valley.

The 2021 vintage was a challenging one in the Loire, with serious weather issues, and this wine needs time. Still, it’s worth trying for a taste of Baudry’s singular style. From 50-year-old vines, the oldest on the property, the wine is enclosed at first but opens up nicely over the course of a day or two. Alcohol is a lean 12 percent and the wine is light, with dark fruit and raspberry flavors, minerals, and a hint of pencil shavings on the nose and palate. Made from organically grown grapes.

Price: $31
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Next up: Vouvrays from the Loire Valley