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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Noble Writ: Romo-ance and a Romo-rant

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 2:37 PM

This week we're going to delve into yet another virtually extinct grape variety that, in the right hands, makes absolutely delicious wine: romorantin. First, though, a bit of a rant. There are more worthy grapes out there than just cab, merlot, pinot noir and chardonnay. And, for the really adventurous drinkers out there, more than zinfandel, syrah, sauvignon blanc and riesling too!

Limiting your wine experience to these superstars is like having the Crayola 64 pack, using the red, blue, green and yellow crayons and pitching the rest in the trash.

There is a great, wonderful diverse world of grape varieties out in the world! For now. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of grapes, made into wine. For now. In previous posts, I've tried to highlight "alternative" grape varieties and hint that stepping out beyond the usual suspects is a worthy pursuit. Well, I'm saying it expressly now: If we don't buy these wines and support these producers, growers and importers, they will disappear, and we will be worse off as wine lovers for it.

Too many people take the easy route with wine, sticking with the well-known, safe, and "prestigious." And I'm not referring to the casual wine drinker here. As my choices of wardrobe and car attest, I well understand that we can't all geek out on everything, though I certainly encourage you to broaden your scope as well. I'm primarily talking to those who claim that wine is their passion -- yet they have cellars full of nothing but Bordeaux or cabernet sauvignon from California or something else equally limited in scope.

To them I ask, why?

click to enlarge Taste the rainbow. - JORGE BARRIOS, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Jorge Barrios, Wikimedia Commons
  • Taste the rainbow.
If wine and food is your thing, there are so many unique and wonderful combinations to be explored. So many of these under-appreciated, unloved varieties provide food-friendly acidity as well as uncommon flavors and aromas in the mineral, herbal and nut ranges that positively shine with food. There is a goldmine out there just waiting for those willing to make the effort.

If it's fear of not liking the wines, rest assured that the prices commanded by most of these wines are modest. Even if you end up disliking the wine, you'll at least know that you've given that passionate winemaker or importer a fair shot. If you ignore these wines because you "know what you like," get over yourself. People who have convinced themselves that their tastes are absolute need a reality check: People change, palates change, preferences change.

The simple truth is that if these wines are not consumed, they will eventually disappear. What will be lost is not simply some obscure grape variety, but also the passion of a producer who believes that the grape is worth fighting for -- that it adds a distinct and beautiful voice to the choir that is the world of wine. The least we can do is give them a try.

Rant over.

Today we meet an extreme example of a grape pushed to the edge of extinction. During its 500-plus-year history in the region, romorantin went from being a common sight in the Loire valley, to being replaced so thoroughly by sauvignon blanc and chardonnay that it now exists in a single tiny appellation (only officially approved in 1993), Cour-Cheverny, where it covers a mere 120 acres or so. By contrast, chardonnay covers over 94,000 acres in California alone.

click to enlarge DAVE NELSON
  • Dave Nelson
Thanks largely to the efforts of one producer, Francois Cazin, and one importer, Louis Dressner, who has a true gift for discovering high-quality wines from uncommon places, the distinctive wine of the romorantin grape has an opportunity to be saved.

Cazin does not screw around. Hand harvesting, natural yeast fermentations, gravity bottling: Production is aimed squarely at providing pure examples of what romorantin can do. The wines are beautiful, complex, unique and make a strong statement that romorantin deserves more recognition.

2002 Francois Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance ($17, Chambers St. Wines): Medium gold. Incredibly complex nose of raw and toasted nuts, beeswax, flowers and lemon zest. Powerful in the mouth, where honey and waxy notes lead the attack, followed rapidly by a big blast of acidic citrus. The finish just keeps reverberating, with the citric acidity dominating, but the honey and nutty flavors popping up from time to time. This bottling is 100% romorantin, harvested late and made only in exceptional years. I purchased this on release, and it has been cellared for approximately five years, though it will easily last another five or more.

I recently purchased the 2006 Francois Cazin Cour-Cheverny from Bon Vivant Wines for $16, and proprietor Andrew Traughber will surely continue to get subsequent vintages and bottlings when they are available.

Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.

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