Sancerre for the heat!

Time flies by and sadly my personal time to sit, reflect and write about wines is quite limited these days. That said, I’ve been enjoying some Sancerre recently during these hot and dry days in August and thought I’d just put a quick note out there about some of my favorites from this area.

Brief background: Sancerre is in the Loire Valley and one of the more famous regions in this area. The grape of Sancerre is sauvignon blanc which is grown the world over, but this western area of France is certainly one of the original spots for this now international grape. While many folks gravitate to New Zealand sauv blanc these days, many wine professionals and sommeliers still consider Sancerre to be the original reference point. The area is actually located quite far inland from the coastal regions of the Loire so it has more of a continental climate than a maritime climate. The soils are mixed with some areas having high amounts of limestone, some having more Kimmeridgian marl, and finally some areas with a lot of flint (locally called Silex) in the soil. I won’t delve into the different sub-regions as this is meant to be brief, but the wines of these different soils are all certainly notably unique.

The typical flavors of Sancerre are more green and mineral than the often tropical tones you find in sauv blancs from New Zealand or the US. Citrus, gooseberry, green apple, fresh cut grass, crushed stone, bell pepper, and herbs. That said in certain years where ripeness is very high, you will still get some tropical notes of mango or grapefruit.

Ok, enough background, the real reason I wanted to write this was to point out some producers to look for. I used to drink a lot of Sancerre and frankly quite a lot of it is very disappointing. Thin, acidic, aromatically not that interesting, and just not very good. So, when I found some consistent producers that make fabulous wines year in and year out, I stuck with them. For several years now I’ve been drinking basically 3-4 producers from Sancerre and that last disappointing bottle I had was quite a while ago.

A selection of my favorite Sancerre’s
  1. Domaine Vacheron: this was my first Sancerre revolution and still probably my favorite (though number 2 below is rapidly testing that). I randomly grabbed a Vacheron Sancerre 2012 as an aperitif wine while visiting Napa in 2013. That wine stopped me in my tracks and stole the show from the rest of the cabernets we were tasting that night. The freshness, the delicacy, the intensity on the aromatics and the intensity of the flavors on the palate were unlike any Sancerre I’d ever tasted. They have continued to perform at a consistent level of excellence and I’ve tasted every vintage since then. Vacheron also makes several single vineyard wines from the different terroirs in the region that are exceptional. My personal favorite is probably the Paradis from classic limestone and chalk soils, though I also love the Romains which is from an area with more of the silex/flint soils. All of them that I’ve tried have been excellent. The “basic” Sancerre remains high quality and reasonably priced and is a great summer drink.
  2. Vincent Pinard: so far in my experience Pinard is the only producer to give Vacheron a run for their money. This was a producer that was introduced to me by the Rare Wine Co in an offer that I luckily took part in. The wines are hard to find in the US, but starting to have a bit more of a presence. Pinard makes some Sancerre from several different single vineyards and bottles most of them separately. The thing that sets this domaine apart for me is the texture and density of the wine. The first time I tasted one (the 2016 Chene Marchand) while cooking dinner I literally stopped what I was doing and went over and just spent 5 minutes with the wine. It was that good. And that different. I wouldn’t call these “classic” renditions of Sancerre because they are texturally very different from most sauvignon blancs. I personally think they have more in common with a great Chablis than most other Sancerre wines. Would I be able to call this Sancerre blind? I’m not sure. Have I loved every bottle I’ve been able to drink. Absolutely. Give them a try if you can find them, but maybe pair them as if you were drinking something with more depth than a typical Sancerre. They also age well as I just recently drank my last 2016 and it was singing.
  3. Gerard Boulay: these are ultra-classic Sancerre’s in my mind. Boulay has vines in some of the best terroirs of the region and produces consistently excellent wines. These are more green and mineral in flavor and have many of the expected and typical notes of the region, but in a wine that is beautifully balanced and provides more depth and nuance than many others. The Montes Damnes and the Clos de Beaujeau are both excellent. These also remain quite reasonably priced for the quality.
  4. Francois Cotat: I don’t drink as much Cotat any more because they have gotten pricey, however they are excellent and unique. He tends to be quite a late harvester and thus has often the ripest fruit in the region. This gives the wines a lovely density and weight and often times they have a touch of residual sugar. The wines age well, I drank a 2010 Culs de Beaujeau in 2021 and it was still excellent and really quite young. I find these wines often have a bit of tropical fruit alongside the more classic Sancerre notes as well. That said they are consistently excellent and Cotat is no doubt considered one of the best producers in the region. Note: he has a cousin Pascal Cotat whose wines I am not personally familiar with, but who has a good reputation as well.

There you have it, 4 producers of stellar Sancerre that will be lovely to sip during these next few warm weeks. Hope you can find some and enjoy!

J. Newman, CSW

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