le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Romorantin - a unique Loire valley grape variety

Are you familiar with Romorantin? Legend has it that it was first planted in the Loire by King Francis I (1494-1547). He came from the region and allegedly brought 80,000 vines from Burgundy in 1519 ( the origin of the grape, thought to be a relative of Meunier and Gouais Blanc) and had them planted around the chateau of Romorantin. It's thought this is how the grape gained its name. Over time, plantings of the grape dwindled and today only one tiny appellation bearing the name Cour Cheverny uses this variety. It's a rarity, an oddball, a one off.

Cour Cheverny only gained appellation status relatively recently in 1993 and applies to a tiny surface area of 48 hectares. Whites from the neighbouring appellation Cheverny are normally a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. So, what are the wines like? Well, they have a bit of a reputation of being exceedingly acidic and with real minerality. We tried several this week at the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers and we were surprised to find very different styles on show.

Domaine des Huards is situated in the commune of Cour-Cheverny betwen the Loire and the Sologne, 4 kh from the chateau of Cheverny and 15km from Chambord. It's a family domaine established in 1846 and in 1950, 4 hectares of vines were cultivated, the majority of which was Romorantin. Today, the estate comprises 35 hectares farmed biodynamically.

Cuvée Francois Ier is made from 100% Romorantin. The vines are between 50 and 88 years old. Two thirds of the grapes are whole bunch pressed and the remaining third undergoes a maceration on the skins for 15 hours before going in the press. It's aged for 6 months on its fine lees and is normally bottled in the April or May following harvest.

The 2005 Cuvée Francois Ier is very tight on the nose, clean and fresh, citrussy. On the palate it has a big minerality, powerful, steely and with aromas of rum, spice and nuts. The finish is long and intense. We loved it and I think it would appeal to those who like aged Savennières. It would be a great food wine, scallops, chicken, pork would all partner it well.

The 2006 Cour-Cheverny Romorantin is again tight on the nose although has moved away from primary fruit expression and moved towards more complex aromas that are hard to identify. Stewed apples notes come through and a touch of honey and citrus. According to Michel Gendier, ageing is essential for Romorantin to be at its best.

The 2007 Cour Cheverney Romorantin has a long floral nose with much more fruit and higher acidity then the others. A clean streak of freshness runs through it. It seems very young and will probably benefit from a few more years ageing.

For us the 2005 vieilles vignes wins hands down although I would say that it's not necessarily a wine with mass appeal.

We tasted a very different style of Romorantin with Benoit Daridan of Domaine de la Marigonnerie again based in Cour-Cheverny. Benoit is a 7th generation winemaker who has spent time in Spain and New Zealand. His approach with Romorantin is different. Always seeking a style of wine that is more accessible young, he leaves the grapes on the vine until they reach optimum maturity (13-14 potential), sometimes even harvesting in several tries through the vineyard.

His 2009 Vieilles Vignes (50 years old) Cour-Cheverny is made using natural yeast, fermented in cuve and then aged on the lees with malo going through naturally. Around 20% of the wine spent a short time in barrique. It's very floral on the nose, exotic and fragrant with more than a hint of violets. On the palate it's surprisingly soft and not at all what we expected. The acidity is less marked, the finish full and long. It's delicious and interesting and I guess a more modern style of Romorantin.

We also tasted 2 Cour-Chevernys from Philippe Loquineau. Fleur de Lys 2005 is a lovely golden colour with a stewed appled nose. Quite soft on the palate due to its age and real apple fruit leading to an extremely dry finish. It would be lovely with white asparagus, a fish terrine or summer salad.

Cuvée Salamandre 2006 Cour-Cheverny is more complex. Benefitting from a further 9 months ageing in cuve and a short spell in barrique (not new) it has a similar apple crumble note on the nose but with white flowers as well. The acidity seems more marked than the Fleur de Lys and it's fuller and fatter on the palate. An interesting wine that would be good with chicken or fish cooked with a creamy sauce.

Henry Marionnet in Touraine has a plot of Romorantin that predates the phylloxera crisis in the Loire valley. His wine Provignage takes its name from the old method of propogating new vines using existing ones - a system that was used to replace dead or diseased vines before grafting became essential. It's expensive at around 45 Euros a bottle but what a history. We tried a bottle of the vintage last year and the acidity was searingly high - classy and with a huge minerality it certainly needs a lot more time to soften and fatten. I note from their website that you can buy a magnum of the 2005 for 92 Euros.

So, who's got it right? The classic producers who are making steely, mineral, pear and apple fruit wines that evolve into complex, nutty, rummy, honeyed wines full of character - or, is the more modern approach the answer. After all, on the whole consumers are not good at the waiting game - they buy to drink now and these wines can need time.

I like both styles - perhaps the more modern one for early drinking - a good introduction to an unusual and eccentric grape variety, a little easier on the palate, and I like the classic style too, the honey and nuts, the white flowers, the slightly oxidate quality - potentially great food partners. The jury is out and there is certainly a sense of disagreement amongst producers.

We're certainly looking foward to introducing these unusual wines to our Loire wine tour customers this year.


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