Monday, January 07, 2008

Grape Variety #86: Romorantin

Romorantin is a grape of kings. King Francis I loved wines made with the grape. He brought vines with him to his favorite residences in the Loire (Chambord, Blois) so that he could have an ample supply of the wine on hand. Many plantings were pulled out to make room for more popular varieties like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but in a tiny Loire appellation called Cour-Cheverny a small clutch of romorantin vines have been preserved.

One of my New Year's wine resolutions was to finish drinking the last 15 grape varieties that will qualify me as a member of the Wine Century Club. Dedicated to wine lovers who have tasted their way through at least 100 different grape varieties, Romorantin is grape variety #86 for me. As a dedicated history buff it seemed like the perfect wine to start off my countdown, given its sixteenth-century origins.

Wine tastes change over the centuries. What was popular in the 16th century may not go down so well with 21st-century palates. The 2004 Domaine Phillippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny Domaine Blanc is a testament to this fact. (K & L Wines, $12.99). Made with 100% romorantin grapes, its aromas and flavors of damp canvas, grapefruit pith, and soil will not be to everyone's taste--but I'm here to tell you that they are correct, varietally speaking. This bottle of wine was not corked; that's what romorantin tastes like, unless it's been made in a sweeter style. There are demi-sec and botrytized versions of romorantin wines, and my guess is that's what Francis I drank. They had quite a sweet tooth back in 1519, and old wine recipes and instructions often advocate dumping honey, cinnamon, and other additives into white wine (usually from Gascogny) to make them more palatable and taste like "German wine" which was considerably more expensive.

With these rarer grape varieties, it's difficult to sort out QPR. How many examples of romorantin is anyone likely to drink over the years? So I consulted the archives of some wine blogs that I just knew would include reviews of romorantin wines. Sure enough, Spittoon's Andrew Barrow served romorantin wines to a lunch group and discovered that romorantin's "complex oil, nut, carpet flavours, oddball aromas and high acidity didn't find many friends." Bertrand Calce of Wine Terroirs mentioned the wine's "peculiar aromas" but also noted that the wines typically needed some age on them to really show at their best. Closer to home, Brooklynguy had a demi-sec romorantin last year and liked it a lot, noting its citrus oil qualities. Ultimately, I decided this wine represented very good QPR judged by the romorantin varietal yardstick.

I'm not sure romorantin is going to be a frequent visitor to my table--at least not in this dry style. I'd like to try a demi-sec, and see whether that's how this grape really shines. But that will be some months down the road. Have you ever had a romorantin? I'd be interested to hear your experiences with it.


Orion Slayer said...

What a cool way to continue your countdown to 100. Good luck! I've never even heard of
Romorantin, but I found that Robin Garr featured a Romorantin in her February 21, 2005 entry of the 30 Second Wine Advisor.

She had a 1997 demi-sec version and seemed to like it. She said that aging seems to be the key to a good Romorantin. I'll keep a look out for a bottle.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Deb for the info on this varietal and wine. It is a new grape to me and I was happy to learn more about it.

Brooklynguy said...

i like that you just knew that i would have something on romorantin. i am indeed a fan. a big fan when it comes to the late harvest version Cazin offers. have fun with the next 15-

Anonymous said...

"carpet flavors"! yum. that goes right up there with "wet dog."

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome back from vacation, Orion Slayer. Thanks for the tip on the additional source. I think the demi-sec really is the way to go or late harvest (see Neil below). Richard, if you try it go for a demi-sec. And yes, Neil, I KNEW you would have had some, given its source. Carpet. Yummy, Fred, and unmistakable.

Andrew said...

I'll tell you why I dont like the variety - high, high, high acidity.

I do wonder what it would be like from Australia/South Africa/Chile... somewhere warmer

Dr. Debs said...

Andrew, I wondered that, too. What would Romorantin be like if it were grown in Napa? The number of late harvest fans suggests that ripeness might make a real difference.