As a certified grape geek, I'm seldom loath to try a wine made from a rare or little-known grape just for the sake of the experience, and to build my "life list" of varieties into the 300s, a rarified level that should qualify me for the Wine Century Club three times over.
With thanks to the late Karl Hass for the pun, one grape that's famously "rare but well done" is Romorantin, an obscure but excellent variety from France's Loire valley.
As I reported in my last Romorantin tasting (Feb. 21, 2005 Wine Advisor), legend has it that the 15th century French King François I, a native of the Loire Valley, introduced Romorantin to the region. Once widely planted, it has given way over the centuries to the more commercially viable Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. But it remains dominant in the tiny appellation of Cour-Cheverny in the Touraine, where a handful of producers continue to make it.
Some Cour-Cheverny, including the 1997 Le Petit Chambord Cuvee Renaissance from François Cazin that I reported in the previous article, is made rich and slightly sweet. Others, like today's tasting of a 2002 from Jocelyne and Michel Gendrier's Domaine des Huards, are dry. Whichever way the wine maker goes, however, Romorantin makes a tart, steely wine that's unusually high in acid even by the notably acidic standard of the Loire. Acid and richness together yield food-friendly wines that are unusually well suited with fish, and it's not hard to imagine Touraine locals pulling the cork from a Cour-Cheverny after dipping a line in the rippling waters of the Loire.
Domaine des Huards 2002 Cour-Cheverny ($13.99)
This clear, light-gold wine shows lemon and slatey mineral aroma and flavor notes plus a bit of grassiness that's more in the mouth than the nose. Crisp, mouth-watering acidity impart food-friendly structure that hangs on with a pleasant hint of bitter lemon in a very long finish. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C., Jon-David Headrick Selections. (Sept. 19, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Its complexity and acidic "cut" make it a natural with fish. The addition of lemon, butter and lots of garlic made a pan-roasted halibut steak just about as fine as a wine match can be.
VALUE: It's certainly worth the modest toll simply to add an intriguing and unusual grape variety to your life list, but this complex and interesting wine fully justifies a price in the mid-teens on its own merits.
WHEN TO DRINK: Romarantin from Cour-Cheverny appears to be an exceptionally ageworthy white, although it's so rare that I can't claim much personal experience in cellaring it. The 1997 Demi-sec that I reported last year was still going strong, and I have no reason to doubt that this one wouldn't gain complexity over another five years or more under good cellar conditions. Note also that there are several vintages through 2004 in the marketplace, and the younger bottles might benefit from a little time.
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Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006