Whenever we offer a wine from the Loire Valley appellation of Saumur-Champigny, it inevitably includes a mention of Clos Rougeard, the region’s reference-point producer. Especially since this cult estate’s high-profile sale in 2017, Rougeard is the first name out of anyone’s mouth when the topic is elegant, age-worthy, truly transcendent Cabernet Franc.
However, as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, there are many other serious talents plying their trade in this region, producing wines to rival Rougeard’s at much lower prices—none of whom will get you closer, qualitatively, than Richard Desouche. Richard is a vineyard manager at Clos Rougeard and a confidant of longtime owner Nady Foucault; “Le P’tit Domaine” is his aptly named solo project, a true micro-winery drawing on 4.5 hectares of expertly chosen vineyard parcels in Saumur-Champigny. Today’s 2011 is a maturing red of obvious pedigree: It’s in full bloom aromatically and is as layered and sumptuous as Saumur-Champigny gets, toeing a stylistic line somewhere between Côte de Nuits red Burgundy and top-flight Right Bank Bordeaux from St-Émilion. Vines averaging 50 years of age provide the material for a profound expression of Cabernet Franc from a true “winemaker’s winemaker”—undoubtedly the most exciting Loire Valley discovery we’ve made in a long time!
Having spent time working alongside not just Foucault but another Saumur luminary, Antoine Sanzay (his cousin), Richard was exceedingly well-prepared to launch his namesake label. He started small, with just a single hectare of vines, initially crafting his wines in the Clos Rougeard facility. He has since grown his holdings to a still-tiny 4.5 hectares, and has acquired his own cellar in the region as well, dug into the trademark tuffeaulimestone of the region. This porous, yellowish limestone, mixed with clay, sand, and gravel, is credited with giving Saumur-Champigny reds (and whites) their characteristic tension and mineral imprint.
Given his viticulturist bona fides, it should come as little surprise that Desouche’s vineyards have been Certified Organic since 2013, and chemical-free long before that. Today’s red hails from two old-vine parcels totaling 1.8 hectares in the villages of Varrains (one of the region’s most acclaimed) and Dampierre-sur-Loire, with hand-harvested fruit fermented slowly in a mix of used wooden vats and barrels. The wine was aged 18 months in used French oak barriques, then bottled unfined and unfiltered with the minimum amount of sulfur possible. Just 600 cases were produced in total.
As this 2011 takes on air, it’s clear that this is serious wine: aromatic, nuanced, layered, and blessed with a fine-grained, and voluptuous, texture. It displays a satisfying and still-youthful ruby-black color moving to garnet/pink at the rim, while its aromas really showcase Cabernet Franc in all its glory: blackberries, cherries, cranberries, violets, tobacco, all sorts of wintry spices, a delicate hint of sage and mint; and a hearty dose of underbrush and turned earth. It is medium-bodied, leaning towards medium-plus, with tannins and acidity that have been softened and integrated by time. Luscious and impeccably balanced, with plenty of freshness left to remind you that, yes, this is a cool-climate red, I foresee lots of positive evolution ahead for this wine—another 5-7 years at a minimum. Of course, that shouldn’t preclude you from opening at least one bottle soon, decanting it for a good 30-45 minutes, and luxuriating in its detailed, deep flavors alongside something like steak au poivre or the attached lentil stew preparation. This wine is a perfectly calibrated mix of rusticity and refinement—it should not be missed!
– Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier & Founder of SommSelect