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Wine of the Week: 2011 Domaine La Grange Tiphaine, “Ad Libitum” Red, Touraine- Amboise

So often when we consider Loire Valley wines, immediately full- bodied, oak- laden whites pop into mind. Sancerre. Sweet Vouvrays. Just the name of the region constitutes an important benchmark for white wines worldwide. But, what about the red wines, in particular the blends?

I once worked at a California winery that made a rare to find excellent 100 % Cabernet Franc. In reality, Cabernet Franc is a professional blending grape, whether with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux blends, or used with Gamay in Loire or Burgundy combinations.

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One of the stalwart wineries of France’s Loire, Domaine La Grande Tiphaine, mixes 20% Cabernet Franc with 45% Gamay and 35% Côt (known as Malbec elsewhere) in its scrumptious “Ad Libitum” blend.

The grapes hail from vines ranging from younger 15 year old vines to veteran 45 year old ones, all strong and virtuous from the local limestone and red clay soil. Then a five month aging period in a fiberglass tank allows for the necessary maturation, without veering too far off its invigorating, agile track. This is not an elegant wine, nor is it a wine that requests aging. Have it now. It’s vibrant and exciting, almost alive. You can feel the pulse.The opening is a carbonated, slightly bitter affair, balancing beautiful soft plum and sweet cherry, with fully built tannins and tense purpose from cracked black pepper and sage. This is a forceful opening that soon relaxes, easing into a more traditional, softer conclusion. Ripe stone fruits round out the finish, releasing plenty of apricot flesh and some sweet honey nectar as well.

La Grange Tiphaine is one of France’s venerable wine estates, founded in the 19th century by Alfonse Delecheneau. The third generation, Damien, has taken over operations, with his wife Coralie. Being in the Touraine appellation to the far east of the Loire Valley, sharing a similar climate with Tours and Vouvray, the grapes don’t receive the same Atlantic moisture and breezes as the terroir to the west.

That allows for more sunshine and more rugged grapes, expressing layers of character that burst with energy.

“Ad Libitum” certainly has no shortage of personality, without being overbearing in one direction. At 12.5%, the tannins certainly don’t coat the palate, only adding a dainty body to the otherwise light wine.

You’re not far from the regal Château Amboise at La Grange Tiphaine, once home to Leonardo da Vinci at the end of his magnificent Renaissance Man life. This is a bit of a Renaissance Man wine, balancing a spectrum of elements, without being too commanding in one direction.

Perhaps it’s mysterious like the “Mona Lisa?” It’s also a riveting wine that achieves a pitch- perfect texture tying together beautiful notes of ripe summer fruit and provocative spice. Perfect with your summer BBQ ribs or flanksteak, here is a Loire red to trump your misconceptions about Loire’s red prowess. At the same time, nothing here channels the ritzy ballroom. This isn’t a hefty château of a wine, it’s the party at the château.

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