If it seems I've been dwelling on rare and obscure wine grape varieties more often than usual lately, there's a reason: I'm getting in training for my visit to New York City next month, where I'll be guest speaker at the first gathering of the Wine Century Club, a new organization for wine lovers who enjoy trying offbeat varieties as much as I do. More about that below.
Of course, I don't need much prompting to pull the cork from something off the beaten path. And judging from the E-mail that I get from many of you, the quest for the new motivates a lot of us in our wine enthusiasm.
So without further delay, let's move right into a quick look at today's featured grape and wine, the Romorantin of France's Loire valley.
According to legend, the Romorantin grape was introduced to the Loire by the 15th century French King François I, who hailed from the region. Its vineyard plantings have diminished over the years, giving way to the more commercially sought-after Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc; but it remains dominant in Cour-Cheverny, a tiny sub-appellation of Cheverny in the Touraine region, on the south side of the Loire east of the city of Tours.
The greater Cheverny appellation is approved for a variety of grapes, adding the red grapes Gamay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc and the white Chardonnay to the Sauvignon and Chenin; Cheverny whites by regulation can't be 100 percent varietal wines but must be blends.
But in Cour-Cheverny, Romorantin remains king, and I hope it lives long and prospers. While some of the world's more obscure grapes may fairly earn their lowly status through lackluster quality or viticultural or commercial faults, Romorantin-based Cour-Cheverny - virtually all of it grown and made by a single producer, François Cazin - deserves all the respect we can give it. It makes a vibrantly acidic white wine of intense minerality and fruit, and in its late-harvested, off-dry rendition - which Cazin labels "Cuvee Renaissance" - it remarkably combines richness and steel, a vivid real-world example of the old analogy about the iron fist in the velvet glove.
I had the great good fortune to enjoy a sample of the 1997 vintage recently, a hoarded gift from a friend. Although I'm breaking with my usual custom of reporting on wines that remain in retail channels, I hope my report on this delicious wine will inspire you to try, and perhaps cellar, currently available vintages.
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François Cazin 1997 Cour-Cheverny "Le Petit Chambord" Cuvee Renaissance
Transparent and light, the appearance of this straw-color gives no hint of its age. An amazing pack of aromas jostle for attention: Lemon and chalk, then mixed white fruits, honey, almonds and clean, minerally scents reminiscent of wool. It's complex on the palate, too, full-bodied and almost unctuous, lemons and honey. Gentle demi-sec sweetness quickly gives way to tart, steely acidity that sings like a taut violin string, providing balance and structure for the full, luscious fruit. Lovely chalky mineral notes become apparent in a shimmering finish that lasts for minutes. Amazing wine. U.S. importer: LDM Wines Inc., NYC; Louis/Dressner Selections. (Feb. 18, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: A natural match with richer seafood dishes, it went beautifully with scallops and shrimp over pasta in a delicately sweet Venetian-style tomato-saffron sauce.
VALUE: A gift from a wine-loving friend, it should retail for less than $20 in recent vintages, at which level it's an amazingly good value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although I have no frame of reference for aging Romorantin, the conventional wisdom holds that it rewards careful cellaring. This demi-sec version should hold up well under good conditions for at least five more years.
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Wine Century Club: Join me for dinner March 16 in NYC
A hard core of dare-I-call-them obsessive enthusiasts who've tasted wines made from more than 100 grape varieties have qualified for full membership in the recently organized Wine Century Club mentioned above. But there's still enough space left at the table for the first annual Century Club dinner in New York City next month that we've decided to open the doors to everyone who's interested in unusual and offbeat grapes, whether you've personally reached the 100-varieties level or not.
I'll be the guest speaker at the dinner, which will also feature the induction (and award of a commemorative tastevin) for club charter members. And I'd love to meet you there, if you're in the NYC area or might be traveling thereabouts around March 16.
The Wine Century Club was founded by my pals Deborah and Steve De Long, authors of the Wine Grape Varietal Table, in the interest of celebrating diversity in wine and getting to know others who share our passion for offbeat grapes and wines.
The dinner will be Wednesday, March 16, in the wine cellar of the new but already acclaimed restaurant Lo Scalco in Manhattan, with delicious and unusual chosen to pair with each course provided by the Manhattan wine purveyors, Chambers Street Wines.
Full price for the charter meeting, dinner and wine is $95 a person, and all adventurous wine lovers are welcome. For more information, contact Steve De Long directly at email@example.com.
If you haven't yet discovered the Wine Grape Varietal Table, an innovative and attractive wall chart that organizes the world of wine grapes in a format reminiscent of the familiar Periodic Table of the Elements, you can learn all about it at
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Greatest wine disaster?
Few wine lovers have experienced a wine-related disaster to match the experience of the New York wine merchant William Sokolin, who in 1989 - depending on which version of the story you believe - either broke or watched in horror as a waiter at the Four Seasons broke a historic bottle of 1787 Chateau Margaux with Thomas Jefferson's name inscribed in the glass, a treasure that Mr. Sokolin had hoped to sell for $500,000.
The merchant's disappointment was surely ameliorated by the insurance company's $225,000 payout, which was likely a more accurate guide than the asking price to the Jefferson bottle's real value to a collector of American history memorabilia; the wine, in any case, would have been undrinkable with age.
But surely, any of us who've suffered smaller wine-related disasters will feel a pang of recognition when we recall this sad but instructive story. For this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, we'd like to hear the stories of your most awkward wine moments as we ask, "what was your greatest wine disaster?"
To cast your ballot, click to
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Sideways, drunks and alcoholism
Words About Port: A trip to Portugal
Schaefer on Wine: Gainey - One foot in the new
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Pure Chardonnay (Feb. 18, 2004)
More wine charity (Feb. 16, 2004)
A charitable Valentine (Feb. 14, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Simplicity, Italian style (Feb. 17, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Feb. 21, 2005