Bourgueil is the appellation for red wines from Bourgueil (and six surrounding communes) in the central Loire Valley wine region of France. Although technically a part of the Touraine district (which is defined by the political boundaries of the city of Tours), Bourgueil is markedly different from its neighbors and is often grouped together as a separate unit with Chinon, just the other side of the Loire river.
Bourgueil produces mostly red wines (one of only very few Loire appellations to do so) and a small quantity of rose, both characterized by their crisp, refreshing acidity and prominent spiced-fruit flavors. Tasting notes for Bourgueil reds often cite raspberries and pencil shavings. The reds are made almost entirely from Cabernet Franc (although up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is permitted under appellation law). Cabernet Franc responds particularly well to the mild, maritime-influenced climate and free-draining soils here. The reds vary from light-bodied, fruit-driven styles that are not dissimilar to good Beaujolais, to silky, mid-bodied wines with complex notes of undergrowth, spice and ripe berry fruit.
In line with the quintessentially French notion of terroir, Bourgueil reds strongly reflect the soil in which the vines are grown. The area around Chinon and Bourgueil is blessed with two soil key types, both of which are well suited to producing quality Cabernet Franc wines. The gravelly alluvial soils close to the banks of the Loire generate lighter, fresher styles with aromas of red berries and licorice, while those rich in the local 'tuffeau jaune' stone type produce richer, spicier wines with 'animal' aromas such as leather and fur.
Tuffeau is a yellowish, fragile, sedimentary rock characteristic of the Loire region, where it was formed during the Turonian era (named after Touraine) roughly 90 million years ago. A combination of sand and marine fossils, the rock is extremely porous, absorbing water rapidly and disseminating it slowly. These qualities are ideal for viticulture as they draw excess water away from vine roots and hold reserves that stop the vines from shutting down entirely during drier periods.
Just as Chenin Blanc has its own name (Pineau) in the Loire region, so the local name for Cabernet Franc is Breton. This is not a reference to Bretagne, the region just to the north-west, but rather the monk given credit for bringing the variety to popularity in the 17th century. Abbot Breton, of Bourgueil Abbey, planted and tended his Cabernet Franc vines with such care that local vine-growers followed his lead and began producing what became the Loire Valley's signature style of red wine.