François Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance 2010
Which is the Loire Valley's most interesting grape variety? Well, I suppose it depends on how you define 'interesting'. If you are interested in world-class wines, be they sec, demi-sec or moelleux, with a proven track record of aging superbly, then surely it is Chenin Blanc - in one of its many guises - that you should be looking for? Alternatively, if you are about to sit down with a platter of oysters, or perhaps a salad based around a jewel-like Crottin de Chavignol, then maybe Melon de Bourgogne or Sauvignon Blanc is where you should be focusing your attention? If you're tired of over-extracted, overly expensive Bordeaux, then Cabernet Franc is the grape for you (not forgetting that a handful of growers in Anjou also turn out exceptionally good wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon).
Ultimately, the question is really rather pointless; all these varieties can make 'interesting' wines. The Loire gives us variety, and we can tap into this variety according to our mood and our evening's menu. This is one of the joys, not just of the Loire, but of wine. If the entire Loire Valley were planted with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, would that not be extremely dull? Of course it would. Happily this is a nightmare that will never be realised, thanks to growers who recognise the value of diversity, and who believe in preserving the Loire's vinous heritage. Nowhere is this more evident than in Sologne, a large cake-slice of land that lies between the Loire to the north, and the Cher to the south. It is perhaps best known for its châteaux, especially the grandiose hunting lodge that is Chambord, the forests here having once been rich in deer and boar that provided good sport for François I and his hunting in the 16th century. Much forest remains today, but there is agriculture too, including vineyards. And these vineyards are populated by some interesting (there's that word again) varieties including, among others, Menu Pineau and Romorantin.
Menu Pineau crops up in other parts of France, of course, such as the Jura (where it is known as Arbois) but Romorantin is a very local specialty. It has the Cour-Cheverny appellation, which is centred around the village of the same name, but the variety itself appears to be named for the town of Romorantin-Lanthenay, a few kilometres to the south-east. DNA studies have shown that it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and one of the Pinot varieties, most probably Pinot Teinturier; Gouais and Pinot are both rather fecund, it seems, and other varieties with similar parentage (although probably quite diverse genetics - I'm not suggesting these varieties are the same or even similar, just that they are vaguely related) include Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay and Melon de Bourgogne, among many others.
Describing the style of wines made using Romorantin is a tall order, as even though there are only a handful of domaines working with this variety, and a few dozen hectares planted up, there is still diversity in the finished wines. Some are pure, restrained, lightly floral at first, evolving subtle notes of blanched almonds as they mature. Others are more expressive, with richer notes of apricot fruit and roasted nuts, and all of them have a good backbone of minerality and acidity. This latter component certainly helps in one of the most idiosyncratic styles of Cour-Cheverny, the moelleux version made by François Cazin, which he calls Cuvée Renaissance. Although labelled as moelleux, the residual sugar is usually more like 20-30 g/l, and the style on of vibrant demi-sec rather than luscious sweetness. The 2010 vintage is the latest to have come my way, and it is just as good as previous vintages, if not better. The wine may be made with the help of passerillage or botrytis, and has a wonderful succulence. In the glass the 2010 has a shimmering, very pale white-gold hue. There are some very evocative aromas on the nose, showing sweet fruit yet with some very tense citrus zest frame, as well as white flowers and a soft minerality. But most impressive of all it has a fine confidence and expression. On the palate it is very cool, with beautiful orange pith and zest, fine fruit vibrancy and fresh acids defining the flesh from the wine's residual sugar. This is broad, pithy but fine, long in the finish, and in essence superb. This is surely one of the finest of all the Loire's Romorantins. Thanks heavens for diversity! 17.5/20 (24/2/14)