Les Cailloux du Paradis Romorantin 2007
It's not that long ago that I featured Claude Courtois' delightful Racines, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and this week it is time for another of his wines, the 2007 Romorantin. It should be no surprise that he has such a wine in his portfolio; located near Soings-sur-Sologne not too far from Blois, Claude is located on the very edge of the Cour-Cheverny appellation which also features this variety, and indeed just a few miles to the east is the town of Romorantin-Lanthenay. Of course, anyone who knows the wines of Claude and his son Etienne, who is increasingly involved in running the domaine, will already be aware that Les Cailloux du Paradis is a complex hotbed of experimentation. They have a huge mix of varieties in the vineyard, some planted on their own roots and in some cases the exact identity of the variety is uncertain, whereas in others - Gascon (and perhaps Romorantin?) for example - they are merely unfamiliar. In the cellar they have novel approaches to vinification, and a broad and multifaceted range of cuvées is the result - close to twenty in some recent vintages.
Romorantin certainly deserves our attention; a variety unique to the Loire Valley and the offspring of Pinot Teinturier and Gouais Blanc, it was supposedly introduced to the region in 1519 by François I. Henri Marionnet alleges that the monarch brought the vines from Burgundy, although if this is the case it perhaps seems a little unusual that it is totally absent from that region today. It is plausible though, as in the intervening five centuries Burgundian legislation has favoured Chardonnay and Pinot Noir over other varieties, which would force Romorantin out; but then again, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Aligoté and even Sauvignon Blanc have all survived in one enclave or another, so where is Romorantin? Other then Cour-Cheverny in the Loire, nowhere it seems, so I do wonder about this account of a Burgundian origin (although I admit a parallel tale for Melon de Bourgogne of Muscadet, similarly disappeared in Burgundy, seems long-accepted).
The cultivation of the vine at Les Cailloux du Paradis is very much organic, with some biodynamic practices too, although Claude has not rigorously sought out full certification. Where he has he ascribes to Nature & Progrès, one of the longest-established bodies overseeing and certifying organic agriculture in France. Before Claude arrived the vineyards had been untended for seven years, and were returning to the wild; before that, they had been farmed using chemicals for several decades. Many of his vines are relatively young, especially his experimental plantings of Gascon, Chardonnay and other perhaps not-quite-authorised varieties, although the Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay, the two varieties that once formed the backbone of the domaine, are older.
As for the wine itself, Claude raises his Romorantin in old oak that has already seen out many vintages, which is why the wine is not heavily marked by the wood despite a lengthy élevage. The norm is up to 30 months, and that is the case with the vintage tasted here, a commercial forces may occasionally lead to some wines being bottled earlier (such as the more recent 2009 vintage, which saw only 18 months in oak, and is already available at retail). Like Racines, which was also from the 2007 vintage, this is not disclosed on the label but again this is Lot 07-3, and if there were any doubt the vintage is printed on both ends of the cork! In the glass a rich and deeply coloured hue is immediately apparent, showing a really quite dense, solid, straw-gold hue. There is certainly nothing 'orange' though, in case that is what you think I am getting at. And the nose follows on from this first impression of intensity, with very evolved and expressive aromas, bold and punchy. This is no straightforward example of Romorantin, but one that shows interesting and really quite intriguing aromas of almonds, apricots and a touch of citrus zest. It is not these fruit elements that dominate, however, but other more visceral, more autumnal, organic aromas that come to the fore, with suggestions of teaky wood, green tea and bergamot. At other times it gives little hints of apple juice, swirled with vanilla ice cream, but always with a challenging lift to it. As for the palate, the wine broadens out as soon as it hits the mouth, showing a deep, lightly grippy but very firm, spicy and substantial texture. It gives me the suggestion of skin contact, although I'm not at all sure if that is involved here. The substance persists through the middle of the wine, narrowing down in the endpalate to reveal a very sour, crab apple core, with the substance slowly fading away around this. Indeed, although it has some length, it is this sour finish that dominates, injecting the palate here with a paradoxical mix of pleasure and pain. Overall though, I rather like it, although it is the complex array of aromas and pithy weight that I find most appealing. 16/20 (12/9/11)