Why Chinon Tops Tourists Must-Visit Lists

The whole of Chinon, its medieval town, its fortified castle and its 2350 hectares of vineyards sit neatly in a wedge at the very point that two mighty French rivers meet; The Vienne and The Loire.
In this article we discuss why Chinon is a firm favourite with discerning globetrotters. We explain why, if you are considering visiting France, this extraordinary town is an absolute must-visit.

That first full day spent in Chinon is always going to be a memory that outlives even this towns most structured red wine. From the cobbled streets and original timber dwellings on sleepy town centre streets, to the fortress ruins backed by neat row after row of Breton vines; every step taken in Chinon is steeped in rich folklore and noble French culture.

On the banks of the Vienne river lies this incredible Renaissance town known as The Garden of France. Chinon is not only a world heritage site; the region is also one of the world’s greatest and most prolific producers of red wine made exclusively from Cabernet Franc.

It is for good reason that Cabernet Franc and Chinon are becoming ever explicably linked. Due to the terroir and the microclimate here, the style of wine produced in Chinon is often cited as the most impressive of its kind in any wine growing region in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, Chinon is not a one grape town.
Cabernet Sauvignon is still grown here to a small extent. Being poorly suited to the climate here, the more universally recognised Cabernet grape has largely been uprooted in favour of its genetic father; the earlier ripening, less tannic, better suited Cabernet Franc.
Chinon AOC regulations stipulate that a maximum of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon can be used in Chinon Rouge; although it rarely ever is anymore.

It is widely thought that Chinon wine can only be red; but this is false too. The other grape variety grown here, to many enthusiasts surprise and delight, is Chenin Blanc.
Many years ago Chinon winemakers quietly mastered making dry white wine using Chenin Blanc, and have also been utilising the Cabernet Franc juice considered too light for Chinon rouge for some very satisfying rosé.
The only styles you won’t find in Chinon are sparkling and sweet desert wines; still red, white and rosé will all contend admirably for your attention.

Chinon Vienne river

Chinon Today

Amble along the D8 with the Vienne river banks to one side and a wealth of unspoilt dwellings (now home to a diverse array of first-rate bars and restaurants) to the other and you may confuse your surroundings with some kind of heaven.

Whilst France is globally renowned for its gastronomic delights, that specific field of cuisine does not particularly interest the French locals; not on a day to day basis, anyway.
What does do it for them is the daily menu.
Those on wine tour excursions, or keen to absorb and experience the numerous historical points of interests, ought to opt confidently for an establishment’s menu du jour.
This translates to ‘menu of the day’ and will offer a limited selection of home-cooked food for extremely good value.

This concept may first appear to visitors of France to be a ‘second best’ choice; but dont be fooled by the prices. This might not be expensive food but it is exactly what French cuisine is really all about; affordable meals consisting of truly excellent ingredients.
Fresh, inviting, satisfying, moreish.
What strikes one most about these menu du jour or plat du jour offerings is how effortlessly everything holds together.
The focus is on the plate as a whole. Each and every single component is as natural yet deliberate as the main feature.
Nowhere does it better.
A minimum of three courses are standard, sometimes even four or five including a cheese course or dessert and coffee. Unlimited bread is always available; although the French tend to consume bread with the starter and main course and NOT with cheese.

One thing Chinon is not is flash. Though there are three Michelin starred restaurants here, any seemingly random watering hole you happen to stumble into has the possibility of harbouring supremely skilled, highly trained French chefs in its kitchen.
Even basic food here is likely to be divine. The base standard of quality and overall attention to detail is generally absurd, and the fairness of price the absolute icing on the cake.

Make no mistake; in a town where Royalty has left an everlasting mark, Chinon is now a place where the common man shall live and eat like a King.


chinon castle chateau

Brief History of Chinon

With copious landmarks and historical points of reference, it is probably wise to spend a whole day discovering Chinon itself and dedicating a further day, or days, to discovering its wine.

  • Prehistoric – 11th Century
    One of France’s oldest towns, original settlements in Chinon date back to prehistoric times.
    A monastery was built and the monks fortified the town by building a castle in the 5th century. Though the ruins that remain in Chinon to this day were built on the existing site, very little of the original buildings from that era remain.
    The Cabernet Franc grape variety, known locally as Breton due to its journey through Brittany to England, is first thought to have been planted by Monks in the monastery in Chinon during the 11th century with vineyards being mentioned in a manuscript concerning the Grandmont Abbey.
  • Henry II & Richard Lionheart
    In the twelfth century, as a key part of establishing his Angevin Empire, French born King of England Henry II began cultivating Chinon into the magnificent town we know and love today.
    Unlike his many predecessors, Henry II was able to take the throne without plunging England into a protracted and costly civil war. This guaranteed him the collateral and time to maintain and build some incredibly impressive fortresses.
    Incidentally, the taxes and export levies on wine and salt he applied were in large part what funded the maintenance, renovation and construction of his castles in both Anjou and Touraine. These included Chinon, which became a favourite of his and where he spent more time during his reign than anywhere else.

    As was popular during the middle ages, The Kings sons were unhappy with their positions and rebelled against their father, launching simultaneous crusades intended to overthrow the Angevin Empire. All were unsuccessful.
    Ultimately it was Henry’s second son, Richard Lionheart whom took Anjou from a dying Henry II with the help of the newly crowned King of France, Augustus in 1189.
    King Henry II subsequently died at The Fortress Royale de Chinon, now more commonly known as Chateau Chinon, of which its ruins still stand today and form a major tourist attraction.

  • Joan of Arc
    In 1429 the Visionary Jeanne D’Arc convinced Charles VII to defend Tours and Orleans from The English and claim his coronation, effectively putting an end to the hundred years war and crowning Chinon as the birth town of France’s independance.
    As a complete unknown entity at the time Jeanne did so inspite of having to cross through enemy lines on a gruelling eleven-day mission to Chinon.
    It was here that Jeanne D’Arc met with and emboldened Charles VII, which in turn proceeded to transform what had been accepted as a lost cause into a courageous religious pursuit. With that Jeanne D’Arc transformed the hearts and minds of the French people and its army.
    This is widely accepted as a turning point in what became one of France’s most important acts throughout its history. France was subsequently able to successfully defend its territory and although Jeanne D’Arc was later burnt at the stake, she would be forever immortalised by being made a Saint.
    Her statue on Place Jeanne D’Arc, Chinon 37500 proves as popular today as ever.


  • Francois Rabelais
    So the Middle Ages were savage, unforgiving times throughout developing Europe.
    How then, with such a violent past, did Chinon go on to become the convivial, richly hospitable commune it is famed for today?
    The answer to this lies in no small part to one man..
    Sometime around 1490 Francois Rabelais was born in Chinon.
    Considered by literary critics to be one of the greatest writers of all time, Rabelais spearheaded a non-violent cultural revolution that was to adorn Chinon forever.
    Doctor; scholar; monk – in equal measure.
    During the early, budding Renaissance period Rabelais’ mastery of parody and his ingenious application of satire sparked a return to intelligence in the face of the life sapping turmultuous sagas of the previous age.
    His philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry” was a welcome shift in paradigm, and his works quickly became immensely popular.
    He was heralded as a inexhaustibly generous and charitable soul, whose love of laughter was second only to his love of wine.
    He once wrote “I never drink without a thirst, either present or future” and so it is the numerous contradictory literal meanderings like this for which he is assiduously cherished.
    Chinon became, and remained, a better place for having birthed him.
    His spirit lives on here many hundreds of years later. The proof? The reception and hospitality the humble stranger receives at any given door.
Chinon vienne river bank

Chinon Rouge and all of its various styles

The Cabernet Franc grape is a low yielding, early budding, quickly maturing variety.
Consider Chinon’s microclimate: Mild Atlantic influenced conditions; an abundance of sunlight radiating the hillsides during summer; forests surrounding the vineyards offering protection from colder, windier elements. What exists is the absolute perfect marriage between grape and ground.
Cabernet Franc is vulnerable to mildew and is particularly sensitive to botrytis, meaning it cannot survive in any cooler climate, more northenly than The Loire.
Conversely, Cabernet Franc grown in hotter climates is almost always flabbier and displays few, if any, of the mineral qualities associated heavily with Chinon, nearby Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil.
The one place it thrives most, where it consistently achieves ripeness but retains all of its nuanced character is here; The Loire Valley.

No typical bottle of Chinon exists.
Cabernet Franc is grown here on so many completely different soil types, in varying terroir. Trying to create a clear interpretation of an emblematic Chinon, whilst quite possibly thoroughly enjoyable, is sure to be a futile pursuit.
Each soil and the conditions of the vineyard itself in terms of its proximity within Chinon lend to almost infinite possibilities when it comes to the wine’s flavour profile.

The main soil types where Cabernet Franc are grown in Chinon are as follows:
1) Gravel and sandy terraces
2) Silicious clay and sand plateaus
3) Clay limestone
4) Sloping vineyards and vineyards upon hilltops grown on yellow tuffeau

  • Gravel & Sandy Terraces
    The quintessential “eat, drink and be merry” wine.
    Relatively young vines grown on gravel and sand on terraces are likely to give the closest interpretation of Chinon to those that Henry II and Francois Rabelais might have enjoyed.
    The gravel soil can be alluvium, and when imparted with sandy soil produces classic light, refreshing, fruity Cab Franc that can be most powerful when young. Where possible this soil is generally machine harvested, offering arguably the most vivid expression of Chinon available. They are most enjoyable within 2-5 years of bottling and tend to show little to no expression of their terroir once the fruit has been lost; so it is thought best to consume early.

  • Silicious Clay & Sand Plateaus
    Wines made from vineyards grown on silicious and sandy plateaus are sometimes oaked and sometimes not. Flint is often, but not always also present within the soil.
    These wines are generally harvested manually but can also be machine harvested. Depending on the vintage, the total juice from these plots may be halved and vinified seperately; half in oak and half in stainless steel, then blended back together. This produces a wine that is just as refreshingly fruity when young as the wines from the gravel and sandy terraces, but that has a more delicate nature and greater structure. Expect the more nuanced of these wines to keep for a minimum of 5-6 years, developing soundly over time as the acids round out.

  • Clay Limestone
    Chinon vineyards grown on clay limestone produce wine more supple than wine made from gravel or clay sand vineyards, and with a fuller body. Generally harvested manually. Older vines grown on this soil can lend themselves to wines that, when oaked for 12 months or more, are fleshy and wild with provocative tannins. This style of Chinon could be thought of as the outlier; it has little in common with the aforementioned styles. Many purists are not fans, however this type of Chinon has developed somewhat of a cult following with aficionados whom rebuff wine grown from all other soil types. Expect this style to keep for around 5 years. Over this time period the fruit fades and what can only be described as the animal, gamey qualities acquire further grip. Due to this, its drinking window largely relies on personal preference.

  • Yellow Tuffeau
    Yellow tuffeau vineyards produce wines that are robust and heavier bodied than that of gravel, sandy terraces or clay and sandy plateaus. The large chunks of tuffeau aerate and warm the vines by storing sunlight during the daytime and gently releasing it by night. This ensures the vines remain warm throughout a 24-hour period. These finely structured wines should always be harvested and sorted manually, and are the most ageworthy wines of all in Chinon.
    Pigeage followed by maceration for up to one whole month is not uncommon for oaked Chinon grown on yellow tuffeau vineyards. This is a wine that, when oaked for more than one year, can behave rather unpredictably in its youth, and is best having been laid down for a minimum of 5-6 years depending on the vintage. Cellaring for 20 years or more is possible in great, exceptional and legendary vintages.
 Vine Age (Vielles Vines)
A further element that heavily shapes the profile of Chinon rouge is the age of the vines.

Aromatically superior; older Chinon vines (often over 100 years old) give the wine further complexity, depth, nobility and structure. Older vines give Chinon rouge bigger, fimer tannins which generally attracts hardcore Cabernet Franc fans.
Younger Chinon vines can still be vegetal,  but are somewhat fruitier. These offer more vigor and a fresh vibrancy, especially when unoaked. This can give wines a youthful, fruit driven power which is preferable to many and as such are generally more popular on the whole, particularly in their youth.
In any case, understanding the age of the vines the wine you are sampling is made from is crucial. Regardless of the soil type, the age of the vines can have the biggest bearing on what, ultimately, becomes your preferred flavour.
Also try to remember that old vines dont automatically equate to better vines. A good vine in the right hands is going to produce good wine, regardless of whether it is 5 or 105 years old.
Some Chinon winemakers blend between parcels that contain vines between 10-100 years old. What happens is that in a vineyard full of old vines, when some of them die or are no longer producing fruit, rather than uproot the entire stock, the dead vines are uprooted and replaced with new vines. These new vines are grafted from existing old vines next to them and can begin producing fruit within a few years. This guarantees the preservation of that particular vine’s genetics. The resulting wine is not always the most focused, but can often be an incredibly veritable, harmonious red that can fulfill an array of roles in terms of food pairing. 

Brief Summary
Between the various soil types; the numerous vinification methods; the age of the vines; the vintage; whether the wine is a blend of plots or the expression of a single vineyard; there are incalculable possibilities as to what key qualities a bottle of Chinon rouge may encompass.
All of these factors contribute to the overall expression, and none are to be overlooked.
So when trying a single bottle of Chinon just keep in mind that it is more likely than not that no other cuvee will share the same character, or in some instances even taste particularly similar.
Exploring and sampling a number of different producer’s cuvees is the only way to rapidly develop a true understanding of Chinon wines.

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And what about Chinon Blanc?

Focusing solely on Cabernet Franc on a wine tasting session in Chinon would be missing a trick. The white wine made here is exclusively made from Chenin Blanc. This dry white may not be particularly well-known, but is every bit as formidable as both Chinon rouge, and the Chenin Blanc produced in nearby Vouvray.

The best Chinon blanc is undoubtedly made from vineyards grown on clay limestone.
Wine from these plots is generally oaked, giving a wonderfully waxy quality, with the barrels effectively loosening the tension and rounding out the acidity.
There are unoaked examples of Chinon blanc too. These may not keep as long and develop as elegantly, but they present fresher, heightened citrus tones in their youth. The choice is not always present at every winemaker however, with many focusing on one style or the other. As always personal preference shall dictate which Chinon blanc appeals most.
Make no mistake though, when it comes to Chinon blanc, a good example of any style is worth your time.

wine tour july 2829 015 1


Appellation status since: 1937
Region size (vineyard total): 2350 hectares
Soil: Clay, Tuffeau, Flint, Sandy Gravel
Connecting river: Vienne (both banks) & Loire (left bank)
Wine styles: RED, WHITE, ROSÈ (red makes up approx 85%, rosé approx 10-12%, white 2-3%)
Permitted grapes: Cabernet Franc (max 10% Cabernet Sauvignon), Chenin Blanc
Food pairing: Veal & Vegetable Stew (Chinon rouge)

Chinon’s wine doesnt attempt to hog the limelight. This wine, in both red and white guises, does the perfect job of complementing a dish; which is possibly the highest compliment you can pay any wine of any kind.
A glass of Chinon isnt going to overwhelm the palette; which means it can pair with an array of different dishes. The list of suitable pairings is practically endless; just try it with virtually anything, and if it doesnt work then try again with the opposing colour – Chinon is basically food’s best friend!
Even the fuller bodied Chinon wine is incapable of overshadowing a well cooked homemade meal; which makes it an obvious choice when uncorking for dinner or when bringing over to a friends that has invited you for an evening meal.

Both red and whites can also often be recorked and refrigerated for days on end, where the better producer’s bottles will even evolve and improve, as opposed to degrade. These are the qualities of good Chinon.
It all comes back to the concept of The Garden of France. This wine is not trying too hard, and whilst the vineyards here certainly dominate the local agricultural spaces to an extent, they do still happily and harmoniously share plenty of land with fresh vegetables and various other produce.

Rarely does such high quality in any walk of life emanate without any of the negative connotations of competition. Yet here there is no feeling nor vibe or competitiveness. Not only do the people here want their neighbour to thrive, they feel obliged to share any successes back and forth.
Chinon is a place where (partly thanks to Francois Rabelais) sharing doesnt only come naturally, but rather it is a requirement naturally ingrained into the people’s psyche.
Be it their history, food or wine; people from Chinon feel better for sharing, and as such we look forward to sharing Chinon with you.



size in hectares


grape varieties

cab franc chenin blanc

main wine style


attached river

Vienne & Loire

number of winemakers


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