Celebrate any hours of daylight we may still enjoy at this time of the year with a real rarity – a crisp wine from an exclusive ancient vine variety grown in northern France; and then warm the cockles of the heart as winter approaches with a classic Argentinian red from some of the world’s highest vineyards.
The Loire Valley is rightly hailed as one of the glories of France, a sylvan and gently undulating landscape flanking the lazy river, dotted around here and there by fairytale châteaux evoking the country’s rich mediaeval past. The region’s history as the rural seat of former French royalty aside, the wide valley’s gentle rolling slopes are home to some particularly distinctive wines. The Loire style features a variety of grapes, predominantly white, ranging from dry and crisp to unctuously sweet – the long-lived late harvest dessert wines from the versatile Chenin Blanc being considered world-beaters.
This month’s recommendation of a white wine roused my curiosity. I love celebrating individuality in wine, but I don’t recall having tasted this one before, even on my visits to the region. It is a distinctly obscure local Loire grape variety called Romorantin, originally thought (minus any hard evidence) to have been introduced in the XV century by King Francis I to provide wine for his estates. Good historical wine ‘PR’ perhaps, and that’s what the back label of Cour-Cheverny AoP ‘Le Petit Chambord’ 2011 confidently promotes!
The vine’s actual origins are somewhat clouded, however. Modern DNA profiling suggests it may be related to a member of the wider Pinot family – Pinot Teinturier. No matter…. very little is produced nowadays principally because Romorantin is confined exclusively to a small appellation nestling within a wider appellation – Cour-Cheverny AoP, within Cheverny AoP , the vineyards occupying a closely defined area just west of Blois and within hailing distance of Francis I’s magnificent ‘hunting lodge’ the château of Chambord.
Whatever Romorantin’s parentage the vine must be counted as something of a survivor, particularly as it is somewhat of a challenge to grow. Cooler vintages tend to produce wines with an extra degree of tartness, but equally the wine can provide a certain roundness and richness, even in the ‘curate’s egg’ – good in parts – Loire vintage of 2011 – hence the first of my November choices.
My own findings?
A clear, light appearance in the glass with some green reflections. A delicate nose of fresh green grapes, and a surprisingly mouth-filling texture on the palate underpinned (against expectations) by only moderate fresh acidity. While there is some grapey richness on the palate the follow-on seems almost to change gear and show the wine as quite dry, equally quite lengthy on the finish with an aftertaste almost redolent of sultana grapes – though without their semi-dried sweetness. A brilliant foil, perhaps, for the gentle sourness of goats’ cheese, and certainly for trout or perhaps freshwater crayfish. Individual? Certainly. My own reckoning? A surprisingly worthwhile discovery.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: France (Loire)
NAME OF WINE: Cour-Cheverny AoP ‘Le Petit Chambord’ 2011
PRODUCER: François Cazin
STYLE: Dry white
ALCOHOL: 12.5% abv.
RETAILER: The Wine Society
PRICE: £ 9.95
It is hard to imagine a sharper contrast between the manicured vineyards of the Loire, ‘the Garden of France’, and those perched at 2,300 metres asl. in sight of the mighty snow-capped peaks of the Andes, yet each can offer their own vinous delights. My red choice for November comes from the Calchaquí Valley, Argentina and, unsurprisingly perhaps, is a winter-warming Malbec.
Mention Malbec to a wine enthusiast these days, and ‘Argentina’ seems automatically to come to mind, the popularity of that country’s Malbec style seeming to have eclipsed that of the original native from southwestern France. Traditionally Malbec has been grown for centuries around the town of Cahors where the locals know the grape as ‘Cot’ and have long enjoyed its sturdy ‘black wine’. The flavour-packed Malbec grape is still officially permitted in the cépage of the major red Bordeaux appellations.
Argentina may not have the lion’s share of the world’s plantings of Malbec, but the country has some significant advantages when it comes to wine production – vines planted on their own roots (no phylloxera); a dry climate preventing rot in the vineyards and therefore increasing yields, copious sunshine and the clarity of altitude to aid photosynthesis; irrigation from the snowmelts of the Andes….plus an increasing market demand for the inherited grape variety that the Argentinians seem to have made their own. These are advantages celebrated by winemaker Thibaut Delmotte, a Burgundian who has charge of the biodynamically grown vineyards and wines of the newly restored Hess Family Estate in the Calchaquí Valley, Salta which includes vines up to 160 years old. The result here? Colomé Estate Malbec 2011.
I am looking at the wine now: dense, dark and solidly impenetrable in the glass – the deepest plum colour imaginable, yes, almost ‘black’, with clear glycerine tears streaking rapidly upwards from the rim indicating the wine’s handsome 14.5 deg. alcohol content. The deep fruit cake nose is richly complex, with fleeting hints of tobacco, wood smoke – even licorice –and the silky smooth-textured ripely savoury palate finishes with the gentlest grip of ripe tannins. Carefully managed winemaking by any standard, partly because the wine fights shy of being a total ‘blockbuster’, occupying a fine balance between power and restraint. I was surprised to find the finish a little shorter that I’d initially anticipated.
Positioning Colomé with food I’d suggest game, perhaps partridge, or venison. Alternatively pork dishes cooked with a sauté of potatoes spiked with a little juniper and with some wild mushrooms alongside. Hard cheeses would be excellent too.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Argentina (Salta)
NAME OF WINE: Colomé Estate Malbec 2011
STYLE: Rich classic Argentina Malbec
ALCOHOL: 14.5% abv
PRODUCER: Hess Family Estates
RETAILER: Waitrose Ltd
PRICE: £ 17.49