I like to think that my wine buying decisions are based on things like grape varieties, regions, and producers, but every now and again a bottle comes along and I buy it for some other reason. While ultimately I purchased this wine because of the unusual nature of the variety, it was in fact the label that initially drew me to this Julien Courtois Autochtone 2010.
If you look at the label, it is devoid of text. While there are a few details on the back, I found a label with no words intriguing enough to ask about it and was told that it’s a wine of the Loire (the label only indicates France) made from Romorantin, a grape that was completely new to me. That’s all I needed to hear and I happily bought it immediately.
Romorantin is a classic grape of Burgundy that’s been relocated to the Loire Valley. Unlike Melon de Bourgogne which can still be found in its homeland, Romarantin is found almost exclusively in the appellation of Cour-Cheverny and is thought to be extinct in Burgundy. Like so many (at least 20) varieties, it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and a Pinot, in this case Pinot Teinturier. It was once relatively common in the Loire Valley, though plantings now cover less than 200 acres. It buds early and its small berries ripen in the middle of vintage. While prized for its minerality, it can have extreme acidity if it is unable to ripen fully, but under the right conditions can be used to produce Botrytized, late harvest wines.
Cheverny is an appellation in the Loire Valley to the north and east of Touraine. The region is slightly cooler than its southern neighbours, with a continental climate of cold winters and warm summers. Soils are sandy, though there are areas with limestone and clay close to the surface. Given AOC status in 1993, it covers white, red and rosé wines. White wines are largely Sauvignon Blanc with components of Arbois, Chardonnay and Pineau Blanc de la Loire permitted. Red wines have a base of Gamay and portions of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Côt (Malbec) make up the remainder. Pineau d’Aunis is also permitted in rosé wines. Cour-Cheverny is the name of the same appellation when white wine is produced from Romorantin.
The appellation information, however, is for reference only as this wine is a Vin de France. My guess is that the generic classification is intentional on the part of the producer, but I can only speculate as to the reason, since the grapes almost certainly originate within Cheverny. (Perhaps AOC rules require information on the front label?)
The producer is Julien Courtois, who along with his wife, Heidi Kuka, founded their estate in 1998 with plantings of Menu Pineau, Gamay, Gascon, Côt, Chardonnay, Romorantin and more recently Chenin Blanc. Courtois is the son of Claude Courtois, an artisanal winemaker based in the same region, while Kuka is originally from New Zealand and her Maori background is evident in the labels she designs for the bottles.
Grapes are grown organically and wine is made with as little intervention as possible. That includes wild yeasts, undisturbed time on lees in barrel, and gravity fed, hand bottling . In addition, SO2 is rarely if ever used.
In the glass, this wine is slightly cloudy and bright, with a medium minus lemon green colour, and lots of slow legs. Fine bubbles form in the bottom of the glass if you leave it still for a while. On the nose it smells somewhat oxidized, with medium plus intensity and notes of bruised apple, a hint of nuttiness, some pastry and custard. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length. There are notes of apple peel, a bit of cider, some lime, and a chalky texture.
I’m not really sure what to make of this, honestly. There are indications on the nose and palate that this wine has oxidative qualities, and to properly assess quality it would be useful to know if they are intentional or not. I believe that Julien Courtois does produces some wines in an oxidative style, including surface yeast inside barrels, so that could be the reason. However, I don’t know if this is one of those wines. If it is, then it’s a good quality wine with bruised apple, cider and nutty notes being what one would expect.
However, if the wine is not intentionally made in an oxidative style, then I can only really say there is a fault. It could be the absence of SO2 left the wine vulnerable to oxidation, or there could be a fault with the cork which allowed oxygen into the bottle, or it could be something else entirely. Unfortunately, I don’t have the insight into the intention behind this wine required to judge, but if a wine were faulty I would give no assessment of quality beyond that.
The one thing I will say about this wine though is that if left me somewhat disappointed. While I’ll happily add Romorantin to my list of varietal wines tasted, I still have no idea how it would be expected to taste, and so I’ll have to find another one.