I’ve wanted to write about Chinon for a long time. The Loire Valley appellation best known for tantalizingly soft-toned, floral red wines from Cabernet Franc is a current darling of sommeliers and other tastemakers. The wines’ spicy notes and intriguing textures are a terrific match for a wide variety of foods, and especially well-suited to the menus so popular now, with exotic flavors in small-plate formats that encourage sharing of many dishes at once.

I love many of the wines. I also love how it’s not a bombproof category: The area’s climate is unreliable, and Cabernet Franc allowed to grow too profusely or picked too soon produces unsteady, green-tasting wines. So you’ve got to drink a wide array, get to know the good producers, figure out the vintages and so on. It’s a little geeky, sometimes disappointing amid the exciting discoveries, and all of that can be fun.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Chinon: I took a detour to Bourgueil and haven’t left. Bourgueil is directly north of Chinon, on the other side of the Loire River. It doesn’t get the attention that Chinon enjoys, in part because generally the wines take longer to come around. Good Bourgueil vineyards are on relatively steep, limestone-covered slopes, whereas Chinon’s vineyards are mostly closer to the river, in sand and gravel. The former situation is helpful for more structure and complexity in the Cabernet Franc, integrating over several years.

So I get why sommeliers love the more “feminine,” delicate Chinon: In general, the current-vintage wines are readier to drink. But the firmer, more muscle-bound, “masculine” Bourgueil wines have for me been more rewarding over time. A very rough analogy would be Burgundy (Chinon) to Bordeaux (Bourgueil). Both develop magnificently, but Bordeaux is built for the longer haul.

And they do it so relatively cheaply. One of my most memorable restaurant wine experiences was a meal three years ago at Fore Street in Portland, when I chose what I believe was literally the cheapest bottle on the entire list: a 2003 Bourgueil from Domaine du Bel Air for $30. I’ve had more expansive, interesting wines. But this remarkable wine – upon release to the market a taut, peppery firebrand – had developed into a beautifully perfumed, fluid little ballerina, draping itself over a meal that stretched among my companions from delicate white fish to tomato tarts to chicken livers to wood-roasted pork. A serious 9-year-old wine, for 30 bucks in a prestigious restaurant.

Someone interested in exploring how red wines age, and wondering whether aging is worthwhile, could not find a more efficient teaching tool than Bourgueil. Find one you like, and buy three bottles. Open one every couple of years. You don’t need to scour auctions, raid your children’s college fund, deal drugs or be a Russian oligarch to enjoy the profound rewards of well-aged wine. You just need a spare $20 bill every few months.

You should start with Domaine de Chevalerie. Had I written this article a month ago, I would have stated that the 100-acre estate had been farmed by a single family for 13 generations. However, last week the patriarch and chief winemaker, Pierre Caslot, died of cancer. Now that Pierre’s children, Emmanuel and Stephanie, farm the land, Chevalerie has passed on to the 14th generation.

Not all the grapes harvested from those 100 acres, grown organically, go into the domaine’s wines; the majority are sold to others. But the grapes from several of the best sites become single-vineyard Chevalerie wines and express a tremendous diversity of micro-terroirs. A blended-site cuvée, the fresh-tasting Diptyque, gives a great sense of the overall behavior of Cabernet Franc in this region.

I recently had the great privilege to taste a “vertical” (multi-vintage) selection of the Chevalerie wines, led by the domaine’s soft-spoken, indefatigable agent and U.S. importer, Laurent Bonnois. I emerged newly inspired to help spread the word about these wines’ subtleties, diversity and potential. Some of the older vintages are available locally, though in short supply. (I specify restaurant and retail locations below.)

But whether you’re able to lay hands on a well-made Bourgueil with several years aging in the bottle is less important than whether you will seize the opportunity now to buy current vintages and store them a few years.

Let’s start up front. The Chevalerie Diptyque 2011 is current vintage of the blended-site wine, and retails for $16. It starts out assertively dry, all branches, dried leaves and flowers, but finishes with beautiful hinting black and red fruit notes. Raspy and angular, it’s totally pleasant but will be much more haunting in two years.

How can I predict that? Because I also tasted the Chevalerie Cassiopee 2010 ($18). That’s the name of the domaine’s other cuvée, and it’s astonishingly different from the Diptyque, though just one year older. This is where the farmyard aromas come in, and an aged-cheese aspect and more integrated crushed-leaves notes. It tastes like an old wine that could still outrun you and outwork you with ease. I was captivated by it, though there is agonizingly little available; you’re going to have to work to find the Cassiopee, but I may just beat you to it and take all there is for myself.

The main single-vineyard wine from Domaine Chevalerie available in Maine is the Galichets. We tasted the current-vintage 2011 ($22) and the 2009 ($23). In the 2011, the fruit is so pure, so raw and sincere, it kind of breaks you. It’s still somewhat held back, with the variety of fruits and mineral, earthy aspects all firing though not yet in harmony. The 2009 goes all purple and round, intensely aromatic. The year was relatively warm, and the fruit got ripe and deep. It’s just about perfectly on point (another one to three years will bring it to its apex). Bow Street Market (Freeport), Flock and Vine (Cape Elizabeth), Rosemont Market and RSVP got some, as well as the East Ender, Hugo’s and Fore Street restaurants.

I shouldn’t pin the apex at “one to three years.” We also tasted the single-vineyard Chevalerie 2001 and 1996, and a 1996 Chevalerie Breteche. These are where it gets very, very real; where the melding of secondary layers into a tertiary, almost non-taste zone comes to the fore and brings you up the mountain. The 2001 Chevalerie, especially, suggested old Bordeaux: leather and tobacco flavor notes, incredibly smooth and settled, on a time scale slower than we’re used to.

The Breteche was more brittle and salty, though no less suggestive of alternative modes of being.

Several cases of these older wines are available (apparently Domaine Chevalerie’s cellars are filled with crates of a dizzying array of vintages), and on order for delivery to Maine soon.

Their destinations (and prices) are not yet specified, though the restaurants and shops mentioned above will be good places to look. So will Aurora Provisions, Browne Trading, Now You’re Cooking (in Bath) and Street & Co. restaurant, since they all stock the current-vintage Galichets 2011.

I usually try to write about wines that are available locally for any restaurant or retailer to stock. But I’ll break that rule for these older Bourgueils of Domaine Chevalerie. Chances like this don’t come along all the time. However, if you look to your own future with distinctive, rewarding wines, you can buy the regularly available current-vintage wines and set the stage for many years of fascinating drinking to come.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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