The WING group met for a Sancerre tasting, led by Laurie and Kim on Monday 10th August.

Sancerre is the epicentre of Sauvignon Blanc, although about 20% of the Wine is red or Rose from Pinot Noir. However although a relatively large Appellation in terms of the other Centre vineyards (Reuilly, Quincy, Pouilly, Menetou Salon etc…), it has only about 2% of the World’s Sauvignon Blanc plantings.  There are about another 5% in other Loire appellations (basic Tourraine + those mentioned above), about 7-8% each in Languedoc or around the wider Bordeaux area (inc. Bergerac, Duras, Montravel…). So France has about a quarter of the world’s SB, the rest of Europe – principally Moldova!! – also has just over a quarter. New Zealand has getting on for 20% and the rest of the New World the remaining quarter…

However Sancerre has the reputation for classic mineral and more elegant styles of Sauvignon Blanc, partly based on it’s situation on the long sweep of chalky soil that arcs from Dover, through Champagne to the Loire…

It is quite a small area on the West bank of the Loire, running about 8 or 9 kilometres West from the Loire at Saint-Satur and a similar distance both North and South. Sancerre itself, a  hilltop village,  is about 2km from the river.

In fact there are 3 distinct soil types in the area:

In the West of the area, furthest from the Loire, is “terres blanches” – limestone and clay soils which also include Kimmeridgean marl increasingly as you travel back to the East. The Kimmeridgian influence peaks near Chavignol about 4km West of Sancerre itself. This soil type produces powerful wines.

The area between Chavignol and Sancerre is typified by more limestone gravel and white pebbles, “caillotes“. Producing more aromatic and delicate wines.

Around Sancerre itself is the “Silex” (flint) area, producing long-lived, mineral perfumed wines.

It is quite common for growers to blend wines grown in different sites to balance the strengths, weaknesses and emphasis from different vineyards.

We tried examples from more specific sites with identifiable geologies to see what difference that made. In addition to four whites we tried a Rose and, rather rare, late harvest dessert wine.

Here are my notes:
Sancerre “Millesia” (Serge Laporte) 2013   –    13%    – £15
This comes from “Terres Blanches” soils just west of Chavignol. Pungent nose with a warm prickly acidity, going over to white peach. Palate rather tropical recalling limes, peach again and a rather citrus finish. Not that typical but a rather tropical wine, though rather a different sort of tropicality to New World examples.

Sancerre “Cuvee Caillottes” (Riffault) 2013   –    13%    – £17
As the name suggests this comes from a Caillottes vineyard just West, and above, Chadoux – looking South East over Sancerre itself. The nose is lighter with herby hints going over to something vegetal, “pea-shoots” the grower says! Palate has sweet white fruit again but more restrained and better integrated with the acidity – which is long and less citric than the first wine.

Sancerre “D’Antan” (Henri Bourgeois) 2012   –    13½%    – £32
This comes from a flint soil vineyard near Saint-Satur, East of Sancerre. Small yields are fermented in 4, 5, 6-year old oak barrels and matured on the lees. This has the stereotypical gooseberry nose with a later hint tending to the vegetal, a lighter note than that often called asparagus in new world examples, but in that direction… Later elderflower and white pepper notes appear. The palate has restrained power with lots of flavours intermingling – principally white fruit, gooseberry and mineral elements. Very very good!

Sancerre “Jadis” (Henri Bourgeois) 2012   –    13½%    – £31
This comes from a Kimmeridgian Marl vineyard on La Côte des Monts Damnés, just East of Chavignol. The small open-bunched grapes produce intense juice that is clarified by settling for two days before fermentation. The nose is very rich with hints of honey and rather heavy leafy notes. The palate has sweet fruit and vegetable elements underpinned by a warm acidity. Rather untypical and intense – a deluxe version of the first wine in some ways, would do well with spicy food.

Sancerre Rosé (Riffault) 2013   –    13%    – £14.50
Floral hints followed by red fruits but a delicate nose reminiscent of Rosé Champagne… Lightly fruity palate with structure – good acidity length and mineral grip, slight hints of cream and spice. Very suitable for food – even dishes with quite strong spice. Impressive.

Sancerre “Vendange de la Saint-Charles” (Henri Bourgeois) 2008   –    14%    – £38 (½l)
This is from Kimmeridgian  marl again – late harvested with shrivelled grapes and some botrytis (?). The grapes are slow pressed and then fermented in Troncais oak, until the winter cold stops the fermentation with residual sugar. The nose has a fish-glue note, reminiscent of Marsanne, peach jam and a rather sappy off-vegetal element I have noted before in Late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Only really medium sweet with a sharp counterpoint of sappy acidity. Rather an acquired taste, I think – but I rather liked their serving suggestion of pan-fried foie gras with candied rhubarb. Indeed the acidity does hint at rhubarb once the suggestion is made. An oddly odd oddity!

Well, an interesting tasting with quite a range of styles – none of which really overlap new world versions, although wines 1 and 4 do gesture in that direction.

(NB Prices shown are typical UK prices for the specific vintage, in fact all wines were sourced from the grower – either by arrangement direct from UK or at the cellar door. This saved about a third of the cost at 2014 exchange rate – but you have to go and get them, of course!)


Finally, last weekend I opened a 2006 Vacqueyras Blanc Les clefs d’Or (Clos des Cazaux) to compliment a summer vegetable risotto. The closure was a plastic cork and the wine seemed light in colour but was rather fusty smelling and harshly sharp and mineral on the palate. One of my companions asked if the wine was oxidised but I thought rather the opposite – starved of air or “reduced”. I immediately glugged it into a large jug and the transformation was immediate – fruit appeared on nose and palate – reaching normal levels in about 45 minutes, and the harsh elements receded. So if you get a fault – especially with a non-cork closure – it might not be oxidation or taint but reduction…

Back soon with lots of Cabernet Franc…..