As I said before about the legendary 1986 Henri Jayer Richebourg, I’m supremely picky about which wines I consider true “unicorns;” they should be rare, old, age-worthy, and historically significant. Although 2005 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny is still relatively young by fine wine standards, I consider it one of the few mid-2000s wines to have reached unicorn status already–it’s an exception to the rule. Not only does its taste compare with top-tier Bordeaux, it has astronomical value for collectors that will only increase over the next 10 years. This is a unicorn wine in the process of growing its horn, and if you’re lucky, you can invest in it while it still costs a fraction of what most unicorn wines are worth.
Vintage Is Everything
Many collectors were skeptical about 2005 Clos Rougeard when it first hit the market. How could a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc be worth more than $100? After tasting the wine, the answer became clear for these collectors: the vintage is simply that good. In the past, Loire was known for producing herby Cabernet Franc, heavy in green pepper and other grassy notes. Some collectors, especially Americans who tend to dislike “green” wines, avoided Cab Franc from this region because they felt the wines tasted underripe and unpleasant. It was rare to find Loire Cab Franc selling for more than about $50 per bottle–it wasn’t often a collector’s first choice.
However, by 2005, everything changed in Loire. The weather was absolutely perfect for Cabernet Franc, and Clos Rougeard emerged as a leader in a new movement. The climate was arid and hot that year, leaning toward drought. In short, there was little chance Cabernet Franc would taste “green” or underripe in these conditions. With minimal rain and plenty of sunshine, the grapes became rich, opulent, and concentrated. At night, temperatures dipped enough to retain acidity, allowing these wines the latitude to mature for decades in a cellar. Critics called it one of the best seasons Loire has ever had, and it forced collectors to take this region’s Cabernet Franc more seriously. The 2005 was a historical turning point, both for Clos Rougeard and Loire as a whole.
Mistaken for Left Bank Bordeaux
Critic Lettie Teague says 2005 Clos Rougeard is one of the only vintages she’s ever tried that lives up to the cult wine hype. Many critics compare it to 1947 Bordeaux, and based on early tasting notes, the comparison might not be that far off. Court of Master Sommeliers Examination Director Shayn Bjornholm told Teague that he once tried Clos Rougeard Cabernet Franc in a blind tasting. He thought it was Left Bank Bordeaux, and was shocked to learn that the wine actually came from Loire.
This is the most important fact to remember about 2005 Clos Rougeard. Left Bank Bordeaux producers make some of the most expensive wines on the market, and their Cabernet Franc is almost always higher in market value than any other Cab Franc in the world. Bordeaux blends made primarily of Cab Franc, like LaFleur Pomerol, sell for at least $1,000 per bottle. By comparison, Clos Rougeard sells anywhere from $200 to $300 per bottle. This is an excellent value for collectors because Clos Rougeard makes wines that taste near-identical to many Bordeaux vintages, yet these bottles usually sell at a third of the price. As Loire gains popularity among American collectors looking for riper-tasting alternatives to green Cabernet Franc, Clos Rougeard will likely increase in value. This fact, coupled with its ageability, make 2005 Clos Rougeard a no-brainer for serious collectors.
A Young Unicorn Is an Age-Worthy Unicorn
The problem with some unicorn wines is that, while they are legendary, they often are close to or have already reached peak maturity. You don’t get the opportunity to cellar these vintages from youth. That’s not the case with 2005 Clos Rougeard. According to most tasting notes, this is a highly-structured wine that is a bit difficult to drink right now. Critics believe the wine won’t truly open up for at least another 10 years, which means you have plenty of opportunity to store it long-term.
Wine Berserkers forum member Robert Alfert Jr. says he let the 2005 decant for two and a half hours, but the wine still had a tight quality and limited aromatics. He let it decant for another hour and a half, and the wine finally revealed itself more fully. There are layers to this wine that will only become evident after years of cellaring and hours of decanting. This is a vital quality for a relatively young wine because by the time it reaches maturity, it is more likely to retain its aromatics and have a more complex set of flavors. Whether you plan on drinking this wine or you’re looking for something that will increase the worth of your collection down the line, 2005 Clos Rougeard is the ideal choice. It proves that not all unicorns have to cost thousands of dollars, and that Loire has plenty more to offer for collectors in the future.
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Image source: La Chiquita – http://www.flickr.com/photos/lachiquita/7499602520/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23303972