04 February 2011

loire road trip, pt. II: clos rougeard

Besides the wines themselves, the most unforgettable thing about last Saturday's tasting at Clos Rougeard was mustachioed winemaker Nady Foucault's strange entrance.

My friends J, C, and I had shown up early for our appointment,* along with winemakers Romain Guiberteau (Saumur) and Frantz Saumon (Montlouis), with whom we'd just had a very brief bada-bing-bada-boom sort of tasting at Domaine Guiberteau. By coincidence, they too had an appointment to taste the Clos Rougeard wines that day, so Romain led the way on the short drive to the nearby village of Chacé.

Once inside the unmarked gates of the Clos Rougeard operation, Romain guided us directly down into the dark wet cellar, where we encountered - no one. Romain, who'd been there before, called out a few times, and checked quickly into adjacent corridors, finding no one. We ascended back to surface level and smoked cigarettes for about twenty minutes in the freezing evening breeze, Romain remarking on how eerie it was that everything had been left open and seemingly abandoned.

Soon we were joined by a caviste from Bretagne and his two friends, who had evidently been doublebooked with us for the degustation. They lit cigarettes too.  There were like eight of us by now, standing around like a flock of pelicans, with others still to arrive. We were remarking on the odd incongruity of a nearby palm tree in the courtyard, when the winemaker we'd been awaiting, Nady Foucault, emerged from the same cellar we'd initially checked. He took the time to close the cellar door before balling his big fists at his sides and giving us a look from above his walrus mustache that said something to the effect of "What are you idiots all doing just standing there?"

Serious mold. 

There followed a full three dramatic beats, until everyone burst out laughing and went inside. Here I will admit that it is hard to convey the shock without including a picture of Nady Foucault - he just sort of looks like a man who would emerge surprisingly from the earth now and then, a cross between a mountie and a Pringles can.

But in the course of tasting us on his wines, he expressly asked that we not publish photos of him or his pre-medieval cellars on blogs.* Cue big micro-journalistic quandary for me. Clos Rougeard is a legendary estate, and furthermore, as evidenced by wine journalist Chris Kinnack's amusing complaints on his Wine Doctor website, the place is notoriously difficult to access. Nevertheless it seems right to respect the wishes of the winemaker on this one, whether or not I think blogophobia in winemakers is totally wrongheaded and silly.

A little backstory: Clos Rougeard, the estate, goes back several generations in the same family. Since 1969 it has been run by brothers Charli and Nady Foucault. They produce three red Saumurs - a domaine Saumur-Champigny (referred to hereafter as "le Clos"), a broad, rich cru called "Les Poyeux," and another significantly more intense 1ha cru called "Le Bourg." A very comprehensible range: even the élevage en fût is easy to remember, with "le Bourg" seeing two years in new oak, "Les Poyeux" two years in second and third passage oak, and le Clos two years in oak of an indeterminate older age. All are made in small quantities - the Foucaults work 10ha in total - but there is also a white Saumur from the "Brézé" vineyards made in even tinier quantities. Everything is natural, bottled without filtration, etc. (The Clos Rougeard wines, of course,  belong to a certain historied class that have no need to push their naturalness at all, since everything sells anyway, and since the methods still employed in their production are largely those which the current crop of younger natural vignerons are busy reviving.)

This was one of those vexing tastings wherein the first wine - in this case, the 2007 Clos - was so maddeningly, fill-your-vision brilliant that I spent the rest of the tasting wondering whether that first basic Clos was indeed showing better than all the other, grander wines that came after it, or whether it just hit me harder because I drank it first. I still don't know, although J later concurred. Anyway, it was searingly great, profoundly Burgundian in scope and texture, with a kaleidoscopic whirl of winter spices - cinnamon, nutmeg - and terrific side palate acidity. The nose was powdery, mineral, floral - an actual perfume, shocking for a wine just barely 4 years old. It beggared belief, like one of those absurdly competent debut albums that fill you with wonder and resentment, because the kids who made it are, like, teenagers.

We tasted a great deal from barrel, each time comparing different barrels of the same mid-fermentation wine, and, per routine, we pretended to enjoy it, except for J's wife / my friend C, who didn't bother pretending. I found the barrel tasting educational only in that it was truly striking how pronounced the wines' aromas become during their second year in barrel - until then they're mute. We trundled all around Nady's mold-caked, Temple-of-Doom cellars, sipping and pouring back wine after wine, until we wound up back in the tasting room, tasting yet more. We tasted three whites at the end of the tasting; all but the notably more balanced 2005 "Brézé" were way too trippy and jiggly and bounteous for my liking. With all their rushing, slightly oxidative tropical fruit, they were like being embraced by Carmen Miranda on ecstasy, just a little over the top.

The first tradition is to stick a coin into the mold on the wall of the cellars. The second tradition is to take a picture of the coins stuck on the wall of the cellars. 

At this time C, who had stopped spitting her pours, was still working on a superb glass of lithe, sinuous '93 "Le Bourg" from magnum. On the one hand I was filled with envy. On the other, it can't have been easy for her, the one female non-wine-geek in a damp creepy cave with no less than 12 dudes standing around swishing and nodding and spitting. The wine industry in general can be a kind of masculine, statistical place, but this tasting in particular was like Planet of Bro.

On our first attempt to leave, at C's increasingly vocal behest, M. Foucault flatly stated that the tasting wasn't finished yet. We read this as probably about 80-20, humor-threat. "Ha-ha!" we said, staring up into his imposing mustache. "Of course we'll keep tasting!"

There are, after all, worse fates.

* For which I must direct a huge remercie to Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports, the friend of J's who'd invited us along to taste at Clos Rougeard in the first place.

** Romain Guiberteau had said the same thing as we tasted his wines. Hence there are no photos of M. Guiberteau in the other day's post. He's a French guy about yay-high with dark hair, if you're wondering.

Related Links:

Loire Road Trip, Pt. I: Domaine Guiberteau

An informative, perceptibly frustrated profile of Clos Rougeard @ TheWineDoctor
A June 2009 tasting with Nady Foucault at Clos Rougeard @ Jim'sLoire (includes loads of photos!)
A smarmy, glib blurb on Clos Rougeard @ Louis/DressnerSelections


  1. From John Talbott's blog. Careful who you slag:

    Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2010, may be the best novel about the Viet Nam War ever, certainly ever written by a former Marine. Like Oliver Stone's Platoon and Michael Herr's "Dispatches," it has the ring of authenticity on every page.

    The fact that he worked on getting it published for almost 40 years says something terrible about the publishing business; this should have been grabbed up by the first person who read the manuscript. It is a stunning work. My only concern is that after 566 pages, he won't write another, which would be a shame.

    And my only reservation about recommending this book is his portrayal of one Navy nurse as uncaring and detached: my experience as a physician and surgical patient flies in the face of his description; I've never seen more empathic, caring, self-sacrificing women in my life than the nurses serving in Viet Nam.

  2. hi rex! was that comment intended, perhaps, for a different blog you may have had open simultaneously in another browser tab...? otherwise i kind of fail to see how it pertains to my occasional gently mockery, in other blog posts, of john talbott. thanks for also reading this blog though.

  3. this seems like tasters with a no real long history or reference of tasting at serious domaines... so be it... IT is not what is written more importantly IT is who is writing IT ..one must not forget this most important point

  4. hi anonymous! i appreciate your criticism. but i make no pretense of having reams of experience tasting at famous estates. i was a lowly somm in the deserts of LA before moving to paris and beginning a wine blog as a hobby. one must not forget this most important point! i'm not here to provide endless tasting notes, or photos of grapes ripening, because i find all that quite dull. in reporting my random experiences as a relatively well-informed amateur du vin, my main goal is not to educate people. it is simply to be engaging (a salutary thing for the wine industry as a whole). therefore i welcome your strange sinister comment, for it means i have succeeded.