Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny 2007
There are few wines that truly embody the soul of where they are grown, that give physicality to the concept of terroir. There are plenty of wines that are properly influenced by the site and soil where the grapes that make them are grown – but I’m talking here of something that goes beyond this basic base-line for quality wine with character. The wines I speak of are unlike any others, and not because of what they are in themselves. Rather, these are singular wines that gain their singularity through transparency, through being the most authentic conduit of place possible.
It’s hard to say why wines like this exist. That they do is significant beyond the world of wine. This is a profound biological phenomenon, a confluence of old genetic material with a unique environment, replete with the manifestations of biological diversity. The result is a meeting of human intellect with deeply complex biological history, mediated through sensuous pleasure: the ultimate aesthetic experience.
The Aesthetics of Clos Rougeard
The Loire Valley has some of the most challenging viticulture conditions in the world. Bordering the northerly limit for quality grape growing (notwithstanding some of the English sparkling wines), the Loire is a challenge both for coolness and wetness. The whites of the Loire manage these challenges very well, and the sweet wines make some of the most intriguing age-worthy whites in the world.
The true challenge of the Loire, however, manifests in its red wines. These are wines that can challenge the palates of even ardent geeks. For the uninitiated they feel terse, awkward and even sour. Many have difficulties with the extreme vegetal aromas and flavours in these wines, the grapes for which struggle to ripen in most years. Perhaps it is this combination of grape genetics and climate that gives Loire red wine the potential for such extreme specificity.
I’ll be honest, most Loire red wines fail. They are rarely exciting, often underripe, and all too often out of acid balance. I am being somewhat harsh here and this is unfair to those few producers who do make outstanding wines here (e.g. Bernard Baudry and C&P Breton), but I believe that the reds of the Loire are somewhat overhyped in wine geek circles (the whites, of course, are far more consistent and often magnificent).
For Clos Rougeard, the challenges of Loire Valley viticulture seem irrelevant. Their wines feel so effortless, so clear in purpose, so rounded, and so pure that you could easily be fooled into thinking all Loire reds are this good. They are not. And yet, Clos Rougeard embodies them all, becoming the Archetype of place for Saumur-Champigny and an emblem of the Loire’s essential character.
Drinking the Loire
Rougeard, like many in the Loire, somehow manage to practice biodynamics and very low intervention farming in a land where rot and mildew are far more prominent than the chemical-heavy central valley of California. Brothers Jean-Louis and Bernard Foucault use horses to plow the land, do not use pesticides or herbicides and use very minimal sulphur in bottling.
This is a stunning wine. Not just stunning, in fact, but expressive of a truth that you cannot experience anywhere else: this is the meeting of Cabernet Franc and the particular and unique biology, geology and meteorology of Saumur-Champigny. At the same time, it is utterly delicious, effortless brilliance in a glass. It gives the greenness of Cabernet Franc a vehicle that is plush and forward: green herbs, peppers and black pepper never tasted so juicy.
A wine with beautiful balance – fruity but supple as hell and drinking perfectly right now. Of course, Clos Rougeard can age (the legendary 1921 attests to this). Raspberry and crisp blackberry fruit show up amongst stones and herbs. Very long, very juicy, very complex, perfectly ripe. You get it now.
~$50 at Soul Wine in Seattle