Thierry Puzelat Romorantin 2008
This is the third wine made from this unique Loire variety I have featured as my Weekend Wine this year, having already looked at two from François Cazin, the 2011 Cour-Cheverny followed by the late-harvest, botrytis-influenced 2010 Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance. François is perhaps the leading grower (certainly one of the top three, anyway) in the Cour-Cheverny appellation, which is 100% dependent on Romorantin, while other contenders include Michel Gendrier of Domaine des Huards and Laura Semeria of Domaine de Montcy, both profiled for the first time this year. Perhaps this has been Romorantin’s year on Winedoctor?
In previous write-ups I have skirted around the details of the variety so now it is time, especially as I look forward to a huge expansion of my Loire Valley wine guide next year, for a Romorantin masterclass. The one fact everyone (perhaps when I write ‘everyone’ I really mean ‘every Loire geek’) knows is that Romorantin was introduced to the region by François I, as I described when this famous French monarch was treated to a brief profile (yes, seriously) in the introduction to my Domaine des Huards report. In truth, however, there is no historical evidence to support this tale, which appears to be little more than a fable. We know that the thirsty king ordered 80,000 vines from Burgundy for planting in the region in 1519, but it seems to me that it is only in more recent times we have assumed these vines may have been Romorantin. Having said that, the parentage of Romorantin certainly hints at (although far from proves) a Burgundian origin, being a natural cross between one of the Pinot family, perhaps either Pinot Noir or possibly even Pinot Teinturier, and the ever-fecund Gouais Blanc, seemingly a parent to almost every French variety of even the remotest interest. This genetic heritage means the variety is a sibling of numerous other varieties which share the same parents, including Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, Gamay Noir and many others.
Locals around the towns of Romorantin-Lanthenay (for which the variety appears to be named), Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny in the Sologne are just as likely to tell you that the variety was introduced in the early 19th century by a grower in nearby Villefranche-sur-Cher. Also supporting a later introduction to the region than 1519 is the first historical reference to the variety, which does not occur until 1868, as described by Pierre Rézeau in Le Dictionnaire des Noms de Cépages de France (CNRS Editions, 1997), the variety listed alongside Chenin Blanc, Arbois and others in a list of local varieties. The oldest surviving vineyard of Romorantin dates to around the same time, 1850, and is a parcel of ungrafted Romorantin vines which seem to have escaped the phylloxera epidemic. Today they are in the possession of the Marionnet family, of Domaine de la Charmoise.
The variety tends to bud early but then develops at a relaxed pace, so in terms of ripening it lags behind Sauvignon Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne and is more comparable to Chenin Blanc. In more difficult vintages, or if picked early, it can possess searingly high acidity levels making the wines something of a challenge. The approach to vinification varies, with some growers such as Laura Semeria (writing specifically of her top cuvée, Plénitude) rounding off the wine with time in oak, yielding a wine more approachable in youth, while others such as Michel Gendrier prefer to bottle the wine early and these wines need time in the cellar to soften into a spicy, honeyed, nutty softness. The challenge of ripening the variety explains why, despite the fact it was once widely planted in the Loire, today its only stronghold is the Cour-Cheverny appellation. A few parcels survive here and there elsewhere, however, and those rescued by Thierry Puzelat are the basis for this Vin de Table Romorantin.
The 2008 Romorantin from Thierry Puzelat has a straw-yellow hue in the glass, with just a faint, cloudy haze to it. It has a simply beautiful nose, convincingly vibrant and alive, with a desiccated fruit concentration, with a streak of blanched almond and a bright white-pebble purity. The overall effect is enticing, indeed almost haunting. I came back to the wine again and again in order to savour the confident, precise aromatics as much as possible. In the mouth there is a lovely crisp purity to it at first, then it unfolds to reveal a gentle substance with the seamless polish of dried fruits, but matching the precision of the nose there is an underpinning here, a delightful energy to it, which keeps it tightly defined and very linear. This is an impressive feat with this variety, and I think as a consequence this is a stunning Romorantin, one by which all other dry Romorantins shall be judged. 17.5/20 (8/12/14)
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