insolite adj unusual, strange
One hundred percent inscrutable it's not—even if last Sunday's edition of Name That Wine left everyone thinking so—but neither the charms nor the full (hi)story of Sophie and Thierry Chardon's "L'Insolite" are readily revealed. More on the charms later; for now, let's step into the gray area between cold fact and cool conjecture and take a peek at the story.
"L'Insolite" was advertised for sale by, and in turn purchased by me from, a fairly well known wine e-tailer. In one of said merchant's typical e-mail blasts, it was stated to be the produce of Domaine de l'Aumonier. Sophie and Thierry Chardon, who are credited as the producers and estate-bottlers of "L'Insolite" on its label, are indeed the proprietors of Domaine de l'Aumonier. Yet there's no mention of the Domaine on the bottle (other than on the cork), and likewise no mention of the wine on the Domaine's website.
Maybe I'm making too much of this—it's hardly without precedent—but, ever curious about labeling quirks and legalities, I couldn't help but wonder what gives. Is it a semi-private label, produced exclusively for Free Run? Perhaps it's the first vintage release of the wine and the Chardon's wanted to test the market before putting their full stamp on the label? I'm sure there are other viable explanations, as well. I hate to delve into the realm of guess work, but I've reached out to both the producers and their importer with no response from either.
Maybe... again with the maybes.... Maybe it doesn't matter. If the wine is good, will anyone really care (aside from me, that is)?
$14. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Free Run, Seattle, WA.
Sophie and Thierry Chardon's Touraine "L'Insolite" is a varietal expression of Côt (aka, Malbec), grown in parcels of clay and silex dominated soil amidst the family's 47-hectare estate. Currently in process of organic conversion, their property is located in the communes of Couffy and Mareuil sur Cher, roughly 75km ESE of Tours in the sprawling AOC area know as the Touraine. Taking a leap of faith that it is handled along the same lines as the "official" reds from Domaine de l'Aumonier, the Côt is machine harvested, destemmed, crushed using a horizontal press, fermented in fiberglass tanks with about a ten-day maceration, then aged in underground tanks (presumably of lined cement).
The end result? A vibrant, translucent violet color in the glass. Immediate aromas of plum pudding and a horse-y, animale character, followed up by smoky scents of black pepper and clove. With coaxing, a distinct blood orange aroma emerges, something I've noticed in several other '08 reds, both Côt and Gamay-based wines, produced in the Chardon's general vicinity of the Touraine. There's a slightly saccharine high-note that I find off-putting but it's subtle enough that it doesn't rob the imbibing experience of pleasure. In terms of feel, the medium weight of "L'Insolite" is driven largely by cool fruited sensations, quite delicate but gravelly tannins, and firm acidity. While it held up reasonably well over the course of three days, I enjoyed it most on day one, when its aromatic character was in full bloom; days two and three brought a textural softening and fleshing out, along with somewhat muted, less expressive aromas and flavors.
Though it doesn't deliver on the same level of character, structure and complexity as the Côt-based cuvées from producers such as Clos Roche Blanche, Vincent Ricard or Thierry Puzelat, it's still fairly solid juice, especially given the sub$15 tariff. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to have it shipped clear across the country again but I wouldn't turn my back on it if I found it locally and at a comparable price point.
Now if only someone would answer my questions....