Under the Radar: The Best Cabernet Franc in the Loire

Posted by CrushWine

Today, we're pleased to offer some of the most outstanding under-the-radar wines at some of the best prices in the nation.

Clos Rougeard is one of the oldest estates in the Loire Valley, and yet they are nearly anonymous in the US. Owned by the Foucault family since 1894, the Clos employs the usual recipe for absolute excellence: outstanding terroir, old vines, excruciatingly tiny yields, and incredible attention to detail.

Nadi and Charlie, the two brothers who run and manage the estate, also adhere to old family traditions of organic farming, bottling without filtration, and minimal racking, to keep the wines in their purest and least manipulated form.

Those who have the patience to give the wines the time they deserve in the cellar will have a Musigny-like experience at シ the price, especially in strong years like 2001 and outstanding vintages like 2002.

But don't just take our word for it - the Clos is heartily revered by their fellow winemakers. Joe Dressner (the importer) quotes Charles Joguet, fellow winemaking star from Chinon, as saying: "There are two suns. One shines outside for everybody. The second shines in the Foucaults' cellar."

If the estate was more intent on promotion and less on their craft (see sidebar), prices would likely be akin to Bordeaux garagistes and equals in quality like Pavie, La Mondotte, and Le Pin. Instead, they prefer the path of contemporaries like Nicolas Joly and Grange des P鑽es, flying under the radar while making incredibly underappreciated wine.

The Wines

Saumur Champigny
(<1500 cases produced)

The most approachable of all of the Rougeard wines early in its life, the Saumur Champigny, also known as "Le Clos" is blended from various plots vines with an average age of 25 years. Fermented in 100% old oak barrels, the wine it has an excellent balance of minerality and raspberry fruit. It can be enjoyed today or can age for 10+ years.

Saumur Champigny "Les Poyeaux"
(<900 cases produced)

In between "Le Clos" and "Le Bourg" in terms of approachability "Les Poyeux" is an equally intriguing wine.

Half of the juice from 40-60 year-old vines is fermented in 1 year old barrels from Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut Brion, while the other 50% is aged in new oak.

The wine displays startling aromatics with tobacco, red cherries and lots of earthy minerality. The palate is full of red fruit with sweet, rich tannins and an everlasting finish.

Saumur Champigny "Le Bourg"
(<300 cases produced)

The premier Rougeard cuvee made from 80 year-old Cabernet Franc vines painstakingly pruned to produce ridiculously low yields, even for the Loire Valley. Le Bourg is super-concentrated with intense levels of fruit and extract with flavors of spice, truffles, violets and tobacco. Cellar for 10+ years for earliest drinking in 2015. This is the wine to buy for your children (or your friends' children) who were born in 2001 or 2002!

Why haven't you heard of Clos Rougeard?

There are a number of reasons that one of the top estates for Cabernet Franc in all of the Loire has flown under the radar in the US.

The wine is made in absolutely microscopic quantities: the estate produces four different wines (3 Cab Franc, 1 Chenin Blanc) which account for a total production of less than 3000 cases.

A persistent rumor is that Nadi and Charlie keep 1/5th of the cellar for themselves.

With 3-star French restaurants and an adoring French public snatching up most of the production, no more than 30 cases of any cuvee make it into New York State in a given year.

Neither the Chateau nor the region has a "hype machine" and the wines are not generally reviewed by major critics.

Clos Rougeard sells all of their wine every year so the family makes a decent living, and has no interest in expansion.

Where in the World?

Saumur-Champigny is a 6.25 square mile, triangularly-shaped AOC southeast of Saumur (Bourdeaux, by comparison, has nearly 475 square miles under vine).

It is bounded by the Loire River to the North, the Thouet River to the West, and the Fontevraud Forest to the East.

While known primarily for Cabernet Franc, some Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d'Aunis are grown in the predominantly clay and limestone soil of the region.

Below the soil there is also a stone layer (in French "tuffeau"), which was created in the Cretaceous period. This stone layer stores winter rains and releases water during dry summer months so the vines gets a slow but regular flow of H20.

The name Champigny comes from the Latin "Campus Ignis" (Fields of Fire) that refers to the land's ability to hold in heat during the day and release it at night.