For many wine lovers, New Zealand sets the standard for sauvignon blanc these days. But long before anyone thought of planting wine grapes in New Zealand, there was Sancerre.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a pungent, tangy New Zealand sauvignon blanc. But the sauvignon blancs of France’s Sancerre region, toward the eastern end of France’s Loire River Valley, have a distinctive minerality and a nice restraint that makes them easier to pair with food than some of the more dramatic Kiwi versions. (White Sancerre is made from sauvignon blanc, even though the grape name doesn’t appear on the label.)
Sancerre’s minerality reflects the area’s soils. The three major types are the limestone-clay soils known as terres blanches, which yield full-bodied wines; pebbly-limestone soils called caillottes, which produce aromatic, elegant wines; and the clay-flint soils called silex, which tend to produce wines with a flinty, sometimes smoky character.
The Sancerre region encompasses the land around 14 villages, including the town of Sancerre itself, and most vintners farm blocks in numerous areas. Gilles Crochet of Domaine Lucien Crochet, for example, has 80 separate parcels. “It’s very complex to work,” he says. Much of the time, vintners blend numerous parcels into one wine, although grapes from special sites often go into a separate bottling.
Sancerre’s popularity has driven up prices and has also resulted in the inevitable underperformers who are content to trade on the region’s fame. But the best producers keep vineyard yields low and are scrupulous about quality.
Many of the 2010 wines are still in stores; the 2011s are just starting to show up. The 2010 is considered a more classic vintage, with tighter wines, while 2011, with its hot September, produced wines that are a little fleshier and more generous.
The wines at Hippolyte Reverdy illustrate these differences. The winery’s 2010 Sancerre ($26) is racy and slightly herbal, with pink grapefruit and mineral, while the just-arrived 2011 Sancerre is fleshier and easy to drink.
The Lucien Crochet wines offer a similar contrast. The 2010 Sancerre ($29) is complex and bright but not too tart, with mineral, citrus, green apple and a hint of anise and a long finish; the 2010 Sancerre “La Croix du Roy” ($33) is very precise and has even more minerality. (The 2011 Sancerre, which isn’t available yet, is racy but has a lot of fruit.)
The 2010s at Domaine Vacheron, especially the higher-end bottlings, display a fair amount of weight. The 2010 Sancerre ($32) is very persistent, with citrus, green apple and mineral, while the 2010 Sancerre “Les Romains” ($60) displays more richness and flintiness. The 2010 Sancerre “Chambrates” ($63) is richer still, with nice roundness and creaminess.
Pascal Jolivet exports a number of Sancerres. One of the best from 2010 is the Sancerre “Clos du Roy” ($34), which displays a lot of mineral, along with racy citrus notes. Jolivet also makes a reliable basic Sancerre ($24), though I found the 2011 to be a little too herbal.
Reach Laurie Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.