About thirty years ago I was in a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris when we noticed the table next to us being served a bottle of Cheval Blanc, a Grand Cru Classe “A” Saint Emilion and one of the greatest red wines in the world. We noted it to the Sommeliere when he came to our table, to which he replied “but that is not the greatest Cabernet Franc based wine being served tonight”. Intrigued, we asked him what Cab Franc can be better than that? Without a word he left the table and came back with a bottle of Clos Rougeard, a wine I had never heard of, from the backwater Loire Valley appellation of Saumur Champigny. “This is the greatest Cabernet Franc we have, and it is about ten percent of the cost of the Cheval.” We ordered it, of course, and It was a transformative experience, a wine of incredible complexity, layers and nuance…….and so my love/hate relationship with this incredible wine began.
As soon as I got home I found the importer and the distributor, and placed an order for all three of the wines – Les Clos, Poyeux, and Le Bourg, then selling retail for roughly $25, $40 and $50 per bottle. I opened them for clients, and it immediately sold out. I ordered more, and for a few years I developed quite a following for the wines, receiving about thirty assorted cases of the wines every vintage.
Then the wines started to get press, and the prices started to climb. They became highly allocated, but I still got my drop of thirty or so cases while others who had just discovered the wines were getting bottles. And then the distribution changed, and suddenly my allocation was gone. Instead of multiple cases of each, I was getting just bottles. And the prices continued to soar into the hundreds of dollars per bottle. Today, the three wines range from $300 to $700 and more per bottle, if you can find them!
The party was over, a wine I loved was now priced well beyond reach, and that was that. Until just a couple of weeks ago when one of my reps came by with a sample of Domaine Petit Saint Vinvcent Saumur Champigny, from their parcel of the famed Poyeux vineyard. One sip took me back to that magic moment in Paris so many years ago – this wine was absolutely delicious! Cool and elegant, deep and savory – all of the elements I recalled from that first taste of Rougeard. The biggest difference? The price! Rougeard Poyeux will set you back anywhere from $300-$700. Domaine Petit Saint Vincent? Under $50. Half dozen cases on offer today!
Dominique Joseph’s family has owned vines in the lieu dit of Les Poyeux for generations but they did not produce a single vineyard wine from those holdings until 2011. This vineyard, made famous (and crazy expensive!) by the Foucault family, gets its unique character from the geology of this site. The soil is mainly sand, much more so than the surrounding plots. Like Rougeard, they have a tiny parcel, less than one hectare in total, of southwest-facing 60 year old Cabernet Franc vines. The wine is fermented in concrete vats and aged for twelve months in neutral 225-liter barrels, and just 300 cases are made in an average year.