Jacqueline Friedrich, in her book Wine and Food Guide to the Loire, writes of Savennieres as "the most cerebral wine in the world. When fully mature, it is breathtaking." And of all Savennieres, she ranks Clos du Papillon as the best. Michael Broadbent, in a 2004 article in Decanter includes the 1996 Clos du Papillon (along with 1961 Latour and 1947 Cheval Blanc) as one of the "100 wines to try before you die."
The respect shown to Domaine Baumard's Savennieres is nothing new; yet throughout the 1980s I was able to buy this wine for $5 to $8 a bottle at Village Corner in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was one reason I made Village Corner my place for buying wine: it was the only wine store I knew that was selling this and other inexpensive artisan gems. I remember one of the wine staff shrugging his shoulders. "People simply don't know what this wine is." He was joining me in stocking his cellar. Today, the price is beginning to catch up with the reputation, and Clos du Papillon is selling for $20 to $35, depending on the area of the country.
In December, 2006, I had a bottle of the 1981 Clos du Papillon, which was showing a little bit of age but more than enough brilliance to make up for anything it might have lost. This 1985 showed only the brilliance and a clear indication that it is capable of carrying on for at least another decade or two. The color is a beautiful, brilliant deep gold, and the Chenin Blanc scents are not shy. I smell honey, beeswax, flowers and quince. It has a botrytis-like pungency. My wife picks up a smell of fresh mown hay and a hint of the petrol that you get from a fine German Riesling. On the palate, it's as rich and pungent as it smells. As Jacqueline Friedrich puts it, this wine is "all about majesty" as it "spreads across the palate like rich cream," clinging and lingering. Two hours (and a chocolate dessert) later, I can still taste Clos du Papillon. So rich and honeyed but with a lemon zest focus. This is a wine that bowls you over with beauty and power.
Jean Baumard, who in 1955 restored a family domaine started in 1632, was the winemaker for this 1985 Clos du Papillon. His son, Florent, took over in the early 1990s, but from everything I have read, there has been no change in philosophy, style or quality. Jean Baumard always stated that he made wines for early drinking, and this wine 20 years ago was a zesty alternative to New World Chardonnay. Today, it is a gem of a wine. If you can find Baumard's Clos du Papillon for $20 bottle, my recommendation is to buy it. Drink some young to see what it's all about, but, by all means, put at least a few bottles away to see what aged Savennieres is all about.
Baumard, incidentally, has a less expensive St. Yves Savennieres that is also very good and ageworthy.