When you think of the wines from the Loire Valley, you probably think of Sauvignon Blanc. Well-established and highly prestigious appellations such as Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Quincy, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon may well come to mind.
Next, you’d probably think of crisp Muscadet wines, made along the Atlantic coast from the Melon de Bourgogne variety.
The third major white grape variety that you find in the Loire Valley is Chenin Blanc. Wines labelled “Anjou” or Vouvray tend to have a wonderful floral and honeyed character. I was down in this area just last week, visiting Savennières, the Coulée de Serrant, catching up with René Mosse (click here to read about last summer’s visit chez René) and attending a sequence of professional wine tastings.
Anyway, to go back to the point of this blog post, we have to head east. To Cheverny, to be precise. The name refers to the village, and the surrounding area, just south of Blois, within the area known as Touraine. It’s Sauvignon Blanc territory.
We actually go to Cour-Cheverny, an even smaller area situated within Cheverny. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Cour-Cheverny before… there are only 58 hectares of vines within this AOC. Here, they grow the very rare grape Romorantin.
The story goes that King François 1er (1515-1547) introduced the Romorantin grape variety to the region in 1519. It was his royal decision to move vine stocks from Burgundy to his mother’s castle in the town of Romorantin. After being planted in several different wine-growing areas, the Romorantin grape thrived most notably around the village of Cour-Cheverny. It was actually so successful that now it is completely extinct in Burgundy but has become the exclusive grape variety for this appellation.
As you can imagine, it’s very hard to find the Romorantin grape outside France. Especially nowadays. In the past, it was more widely planted. Now it’s only in this handful of hectares that you find it. Romorantin shows some of the mineral elegance of Sauvignon Blanc, but without any of the elderflower or tropical fruit notes.
In my glass this evening, I have a wine from the Domaine des Huards. The estate was founded in the mid-1800s and nowadays, the 35 ha of vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic practices. They are part of Renaissance des Appellations and I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandre Gendrier, the 8th generation of the family, at the Greniers Saint Jean tasting in Angers.
DOMAINE DES HUARDS (Cour-Cheverny, Loire Valley) “Francois 1er Vielles Vignes” 2010 Romorantin (12.5%)
The aromas are not overly exuberant but it’s very pleasantly fresh, grassy and a little citrusy.
(Sidenote: I understand why winemakers make the most of the the winter and thus the downtime from the vineyards to do tastings but my very congested nose would be far more effective if we could just wait until spring…)
It’s on the palate that this wine wins me over. It is simply fantastic! I detect notes of peaches in syrup, apricots and stewed apple. It boasts a wonderful creamy texture and a length that defies belief… It is totally idiosyncratic. En plus, it is absolutely bone dry and there is an acidity which pierces the sides of my tongue and has me salivating as if I’ve just bitten into a lemon. I love that balance.
It’s a very powerful wine and surprisingly fresh for a 2010. These 75 year old vines, clearly make a wine with wonderful potential for ageing. I’d think about pairing a scallop carpaccio or some other fresh shellfish with this wine. Romorantin is definitely an under-appreciated grape variety… try and get your hands on some!