Monday, January 07, 2008

Clos Rougeard...if I Ever Go Back

BrooklynLady and I went to France together for the first time in October of 2005. We went to the Loire Valley and our plan was to see the various villages, and Tours, of course, but also to feast on the wonderful food and wines of the region. And I am happy to report that we were successful on all fronts.

That said, if I could do it all over I would go about visiting wine estates differently. And since another trip doesn't seem so likely in the near future, as our daughter is too little and so is our currency, I make do with imagining places I would visit if I ever go back to the Loire Valley.

One such estate, without any question, no matter what mood I am in, whether I can choose three estates to visit or 20, is Clos Rougeard in Saumur-Champigny. Sadly, I learned about Clos Rougeard after our trip, while bored at work one day and surreptitiously reading Jack and Joanne's piece on Fork and Bottle. And I learned a bit more from reading the Dressner Selections tidbits.

Here are the basics: Clos Rougeard is two brothers, Nadi and Charles Foucault. The Saumur-Champigny estate has been in their family for a few generations. They farm organically (but not biodynamically), keep yields quite low, allow long and slow ferments in oak barrels, and do not fine (use an agent such as egg whites to attract and remove small particles from the wine, thereby clarifying it) or filter (further straining of wine to remove particles) the wines. I am totally guessing here, but I am willing to wager that naturally occurring yeasts on the grapes initiate fermentation. In other words, these guys tend their vineyards with great skill and love, and vinify their grapes using a minimal interventionist, natural wine making philosophy.

There are four Clos Rougeard wines, three reds and a white. The white is called Breze and is 100% Chenin Blanc. I have never tasted this wine - it retails at over $70 and I just haven't gone there yet on a Chenin. If I were ever to spend that kind of dough on a Chenin, it would be either this wine or a Joly Coulée de Serrant. The "entry level" red is called simply Saumur-Champigny, and is raised in neutral barrels. This retails for approximately $35. Then there is Les Poyeux which is raised in a small percentage of new barrels and the rest in once used barrels. This goes for about $55. The top wine is called Le Bourg, and sees all new barrels, and will run you at least $75. This is assuming you can find the wine - it is quite rare. From what I understand, though, it is actually easier to buy these wines here in America than in France, where they have achieved cult status and are virtually impossible to find. You can buy the 2003 Le Bourg right this second, if you wish, from Chambers Street Wines.

Here's another thing about Clos Rougeard wines - although they are enjoyable when young, the esteemed David Lillie, one of the owners of Chambers Street, says that they improve tremendously with age. As he put it, "they really get interesting after about 10 years." So this is an investment, not just in the Burgundy type of cash, but also in cellar space. Well worth it, in my book. Clos Rougeard represents an opportunity to own probably the finest example of a certain type of wine, in this case Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. If you spend $55 on a Burgundy, are you definitely getting the finest example? Bordeaux? Don't be ridiculous. Of course not.

Had I used this kind of thinking a few years ago I would have purchased and cellared some of the 2002 Le Bourg. 2003 is out now but I hear it might not be worth the $ - just too tough of a vintage with th intense heat and all. I'll wait for 04. But I do have a little vertical of Les Poyeux going, which I am really psyched about.

One thing I have noticed about the wines is that they all seem pretty reductive upon opening - they smell like sulfur or other such things as a result of being kept airtight and not exposed to oxygen at all, allowing bad smelling compounds like hydrogen sulfide to form. These smells blow off with exposure to oxygen, but it can be disconcerting when opening the bottle, if you're not expecting it. Weather the storm, folks, because the purity of the fruit, the clean, freshness of it, the voluptuousness...I've not found its equal in Cabernet Franc.

I know I'm supposed to wait, but in 2007 I sampled two of the wines and one of them was pretty mind blowing, the other just plain old excellent. Here are notes I've saved from each of the four Clos Rougeard wines I have had, all over dinner:

2000 Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux (tasted in August, 2007). Lots of smoke on the nose when first open, then some animal fur. After a little while open the aromas are beautiful and complex with animal fur, dried roses, and fresh berries. The palate is nowhere near as complex, but it is pure and clean with fresh red fruit. A delicious wine.

2001 Saumur-Champigny (tasted in September, 2007). Seriously funky barnyard upon opening. After 20 minutes this blew off to reveal pretty floral and berry aromas, and some smoky minerals too. Great purity of flavors, very fresh and clean. Sweet berry fruit mixed with fresh herbs and just a bit of meatiness. Light to medium body, but very powerful. Had this with braised short ribs and celeriac purée, and it stayed with me for days.

2001 Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux (tasted in September, 2006). A revelation! This wine is perfectly clear ruby right to the rims. 20-30 minutes after opening the pretty strong funky smell blew off to reveal light and pretty aromas of berries and herbs, with a little bit of vanilla. Well delineated and incredibly pure flavors, starting with fresh cherries and raspberries with great acidity, then a mid palate of earthy forest floor, and then a long finish bringing back the fruit, some spice, and some pleasant vegetal flavors. Just beautiful, and I can sense the beginnings of some cassis and tobacco Bordeaux-like aromas.

2001 Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux (enjoyed on new year's eve 2007). Decanted for 90 minutes, and still the wine evolved tremendously in the glass. Reductive when I first opened it. Lots of earthy animal stuff in the background, but the outstanding thing about this wine is the incredibly pure and perfumed fresh ripe fruit. It became a beautiful thing after 2 hours plus of air time. Absolutely mind blowing purity!

I have not had the cohones to open one of my two bottles of 2002 Les Poyeux, which is a good thing, as this should be an incredible wine. I will practice patience with them and my remaining bottle of 2001, I swear to you. And if I ever go back to the Loire Valley...


Anonymous said...

Someday, you need to see Ed's write-up of Clos Rougeard in The Art of Eating.

You know, if a wine is showing Realllly Well, it's time to drink it then, not give it more aging. I forget this/made this mistake a bunch of times, too, but am vowing to not make this mistake again.

Btw, Beaune Imports has the US West Coast for this producer, rather than Louis/Dressner. Oh, and I finally scored two bottles of 02 Bourg about a month ago - at a store I've bought half of my Clos Rougeards - they've never had it, though I've asked. Just lying there.

Congrats on being a card carrying member of the Cult of Clos Rougeard. :)

Brooklynguy said...

hey jack - sounds like you're saying that i should drink the other bottle of 2001, as opposed to aging it. my wife got me the art of eating wine back issue compilation for the holidays, so any day now i will be able to read the article. you found 02 bourg recently on retail?!? how does it differ from the poyeux to your taste?

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between the three Cab.Franc besides the level of new vs. old oak barrel aging? It would be interesting to know. Each of the 3 is $20 apart in price and that can't certainly be all justified by the amount of new oak.


Brooklynguy said...

hi marco - i really am not sure, but i do not think it is different vineyards. it may be certain plots within the clos. i will try to find out more info and let you know. if anyone else has some knowledge here it would be most welcome. thanks for asking marco-

Lyle Fass said...

'96 Bourg is like drinking Musigny. Used to be on the list at Daniel for like 90$. Ah . . .those were the days.

Brooklynguy said...

hey lyle - when were the days that you were eating at daniel and spending $90 on a bottle of wine?!? i want to be in those days. were you a spendthrift lush in your younger days? what about marco's question above your comment - do you have any insight? i was hoping you'd see this...

Jeff said...

Right before you referenced getting a top Burgundy or Bordeaux for the price of a top Loire Valley wine I was thinking that this is one of the main reasons I like wine from this region so much. Sounds like you had a couple fantastic bottles.

Anonymous said...

Le Bourg and Les Poyeux are separate vineyards, the former having the estate's oldest vines. The regular AOC wine comes from other, presumably unnamed, vineyards.

Lyle Fass said...

Brooklyn Guy,

I believe it is neccesary to splurge every once in a while. That was a splurge back then.

Brooklynguy said...

hey jeff - i hear you, me too. and yes, good stuff. i urge you to find some and see what you think.

thanks for this info Steve l, very much appreciated. i wonder how they decided to use all new oak in le bourg and only a tiny bit in poyeux. anyway, thanks again for turning on the light.

lyle - i couldn't agree with you any more. i feel like my wine splurges in 2007 were just misguided. i need some advice on how to spend $500 and get 3 or 4 bottles of wine. what is your splurge now?

Anonymous said...

Accepting nominations for splurge wines? I can't go there any more but I bet you'd like a bottle or two of 2005 Raveneau Chablis 'Montee de Tonnerre.' I saw it was recently released and at a store around here it'd set you back a little over $100. I have some 1999, 2000, 2001 (though a bottle I opened Saturday night was corked!), and 2002, and it should beat the pants off of many wines costing far more.

For a red, how about one of the 2005 Cornas from Thierry Allemand? I seem to recall you're not a Northern Rhone fan, but if anything would change your mind I bet it'd be that. I haven't tasted the 2005s, of course, but a 1994 and 1999 were ethereal.

Louis/Dressner Selections said...

This is a great blog! I love wine blogs!

Anyhow, Beaune Imports sells the Clos Rougeard in California and Oregon. We do sell to the State of Washington, Idaho, Tennesse, Ohio, Montana and all spots in between.

Brooklynguy said...

hey steve - nominations are indeed requested. and your comment made me realize that i have to do a post on this exact topic. what is there out there that's really worth the splurge? and what should the strategy be, anyway? i like your ideas so far. the chablis makes sense cause i would be able to appreciate it in the contect of other chablis, and other white burgs. the other wine makes a different kind of sense, but sense nonetheless.

hi joe - thank you so much for the kind words. they mean a whole lot to me coming from you. if you ever have time to poke around on this blog you will notice that between 3 and 4 out of every 5 wines i drink are your imports. i love your wines, and i still haven't tasted many of them - much more to love in the future.

since you're here, i have a question for you: what happened to les caillardieres from closel - why can't i find the 05 anywhere? did they stop making it? i love that wine.

thanks again for your comments, and for your commitment to making beautiful and natural wines available to us in the US. stop by again sometime-

Anonymous said...

Nice blog entry. Coincidentally enough at this exact moment I am decanting a bottle of the Le Bourg 2001. I've had it in my cellar for a couple of years and I can't wait to taste it. I also have 3 more bottles of the 2004 vintage of Le Bourg. Those will have to wait a while longer. The Le Bourg vines are over 80 years old and have extremely low yields, I imagine this is one of the reasons the wine maker treats it with new oak. Anyway, looking forward to tasting this wine. Again nice blog!

Colin Thorne said...

Hi Brooklynguy,
I've just started up a Facebook fan page for Clos Rougeard and included a link to this article. My hope is the page might become a locus for all available Clos Rougeard related material. If you're a Facebooker I'd be greatly flattered if you'd put a +1 fan click my way!
Best regards,