Chinon: a mandatory stop for any wine route in France
We dived into the history of this medieval town of the Loire valley through a vertical tasting of more than 100 years
Little known compared to other French cities, Chinon is a beautiful medieval town nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley. Besides being an important designation of origin for French wines, it is an extremely charming city located in a region that is a UNESCO world heritage site and that combines history, gastronomy and enology.
We were recently invited to a red wine tasting in Chinon. This tasting was a great opportunity to get to know the region better, which for its beauty, history, wines and gastronomy should be part of your next trip to France!
UNESCO World Heritage
The region where Chinon is located has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 30 November 2000. The river, its banks, the historic center of the towns, the villages and the remarkable places offer an exceptional density of natural and cultural heritage. Along the river we find an architectural heritage rich in history. Ancient towns, castles and abbeys blend harmoniously with a preserved natural landscape. A region of unique beauty less than 3 hours from Paris.
Location and history
The geographical location of Chinon is exceptional and is the main factor that led to the choice of this site for the creation of the city. In addition to the proximity to Orleans and Paris, the city is situated on the edge of a large river, the Vienne, which connects the region to the Atlantic coast. Beside the river lies a limestone hill with steep slopes where it was easy to implant a naturally fortified castle. On this specific site was built the fortress of Chinon. The earliest reports of occupation date from before AD 200 when Romans and Gauls were already occupying the beautiful region. But Chinon knew its heyday in the Middle Ages, more exactly in century XV, when the French court exiled of Paris took refuge in the city. At that time, in 1429, Joan of Arc met with the future Charles VII in Chinon and agreed to work together to recover the territory occupied by the English invaders.
Legacy of this rich medieval past, the fortress of Chinon and the old church of Saint-Mexme are the most important elements of the historical heritage of the city. But the city also knew how to preserve the medieval urban fabric, with its narrow winding streets, wooden-walled houses and their stone mansions.
Wine and Gastronomy
Chinon is a designation of origin for French wines since 1937. It is also the first designation for Loire’s red wine in volume, with a production of 15 million bottles per year on average. The three varieties of grapes accepted by the designation are: Cabernet Franc (minimum 90%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (maximum 10%) for red and rosé wines and Chenin (100%) for white wines.
Reds represent 85% of the production of Chinon. The range of styles is quite broad: we find both light wines to be consumed young, as well as structured and powerful wines, good for aging. All have in common the fruit, freshness, and relatively smooth tannins. In the nose: it is a festival of red and black fruits (strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blackcurrant, black currant), gradually evolving into crystallized fruits (plums for example), sweet spices (cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom) and even tertiary aromas of leather and mushrooms for older wines. In the mouth: they can be both soft or full-bodied, but always generating sensations of great pleasure, whether simple or sophisticated.
The local gastronomy is very varied and vast. Lamb steaks stand out as well as pork products such as greaves and pates. Many fish are also eaten thanks to the proximity to the Vienne river. Lamprey and eel are very typical and appreciated fish. Saffron is a typical spice and vastly grown near Chinon. The most famous cheese is probably the Selles-sur-cher, a goat’s milk cheese covered by a thin layer of ash. And among the most typical sweets is the Nougat de Tours, which is a kind of tart with apricot jelly and almond filling.
The vertical tasting of peace
We were invited to a unique experience: a vertical tasting of red wines from Chinon. A vertical tasting is when we taste wines from different years of the same producer or region, and we can compare the different results obtained over time, the evolution of these wines in the bottle and appreciate the different facets that a wine can present depending on the different weather conditions of each year.
The tasting had as its main theme the years of peace: years in the history of humanity that were marked by events that somehow symbolized peace. This theme allowed the selection of 23 wines from Chinon, all red wines made from Cabernet Franc. The tasting took place in the Le Carroi Museum, in the room where Charles VII began the construction of his army in 1428, which was later led by Joan of Arc in the war of liberation of Orleans in 1429.
In this magical place, loaded with enormous symbolism and history, we had the opportunity to taste several red wines from Chinon: 1911, 1928, 1934, 1953, 1959, 1989 … ending with a young wine of 2016. Many of these surprised us during this incredible tasting. The 1911 Domaine Dozon, represented the period of peace before World War One. A wine of over 100 years! It was obviously tired after 107 years in a bottle, but with still marked notes of tertiary aromas such as leather and mushrooms, and a medium acidity that gave it balance and some liveliness for a wine that had already left its apogee a long time ago.
The absolute highlight was undoubtedly the 1959 Domaine Philippe Richard that surprised everyone by its freshness (after almost 60 years in the bottle), its tannins still very present, with a high concentration of fruit and an intensity and persistence in the mouth that has impressed all of us by its exceptional quality. All producers present in this tasting agreed that 1959 would probably have been the best year of the 20th century for the Chinon wines. Under the theme of peace, 1959 represented the Treaty of Antarctica, with which the international community pledged to suspend its claims on parts of that territory for an indefinite period, allowing the continent’s freedom of scientific exploration under international cooperation.
Another highlight was the 1989 Domaine Bernard Baudry, a year marked in world history by the fall of the Berlin Wall. This wine enchanted us by the high concentration of red and black fruits that created a complex texture in the mouth followed by a wonderful breadth. And near the end we still had the chance to be enchanted by the 2015 of the Domaine de la Noblaie, which with strong tannins and intense fruit proved to be a wine with excellent potential for aging and to continue evolving in the bottle. 2015, by the way, represented the peace agreement signed in Mali.
This exceptional tasting was without a doubt a unique and fabulous experience that left us even more enchanted by the already charming Chinon.
Navigating the Vienne River and discovering the local gastronomy
And as if the vertical tasting was not enough to fall in love with Chinon and its wines, we ended our visit to Chinon aboard a gabare, a boat typical of the Loire Valley. Inside the boat we were surprised by a wonderful table full of the most delicious local delicacies as well as some bottles of white wine, 10%% Chenin, a 1990 from Domaine de la Noblaie.
We sampled the region’s main products such as local saffron, goat’s cheese, the famous rillons, a kind of morsels, and the traditional pie Nougat de Tours. The wine already presented important signs of fatigue with its more than 28 years, but nevertheless it accompanied us pleasantly during that magical meal on the waters of the river Vienne.
It was time to return to Paris and say goodbye to Chinon, reluctantly, but with the absolute certainty of coming back soon.
On your next trip to France, be sure to visit the beautiful Loire region and include Chinon in your itinerary. Or better yet, let us create this itinerary for you! Learn more here: Tailor made itinerary for a wine route in the Loire Valley
Office de tourisme Azay-Chinon Val de Loire
Bureau d’accueil de Chinon
1 rue Rabelais
Téléphone: 02 47 93 17 85
Fax: 02 47 93 93 05