How does wine stay interesting? Forever in motion, the immense bio-chemical complexity of wine means you can continue to learn after years of experience. Do not let preconceived notions define your wine experiences, but allow expectations and narratives to be challenged. The transience of wine is its great strength and patience its great enabler.
As I’ve written before, Sancerre is not a region with a plethora of interesting producers. Chemical farming predominates and makes Sancerre the most famous but, for many, the least interesting of the Loire Valley’s sub-appellations. Compounding this, most of the greatest Sancerre producers make wines that need patience to show their greatest complexity and interest. Few put these wines in their cellars and have the opportunity to see this other side of Sauvignon Blanc – a side that in my view is irreplicable in other regions.
Sancerre is home to three main soil types: terres blanches (marl), caillottes (limestone) and silex (flint). The soil types have a lot in common with Chablis and I would actually compare top Sancerre to top Chablis in terms of weight, texture, and ageability. They also both offer outstanding value for top-quality ageable wines. The contrast between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay creates significant differences in the wine, but those who seek the objective, non-flavour qualities described above will find a lot to love in collecting both regions.
Domaine Vacheron is a great entry point into top-level Sancerre. It is one of the largest producers in the region that still makes wines using hand-harvesting and the domaine employs biodynamic farming and a meticulous sensibility that brings great quality at all levels. Their top wines are in the hundreds of dollars, but the entry level wine is affordable and delicious. My preference, though, is for the single vineyard bottlings, which express profound depth and complexity, both in aromatics and on the palate. They are also wines that are fairly open in youth and can give an impression of the textural and secondary flavour complexity that comes with ageing the greatest Sancerres. Excellent. $75 + tax.
Pascal Cotat, by contrast, is a tiny producer making wines at the very top range of quality that can be challenging in youth. The wines are also made from meticulously farmed biodynamic grapes. They are fermented neutrally in old oak. I have been deceived myself by these wines in youth, which can seem taught and unforgiving. A recent tipple at Hawksworth showed me the true beauty of these wines with age – completely open, textural, honeyed with apple aromas and a quality comparable to the very greatest old-world, ageable whites. The 7 years in bottle had completely changed the experience and offered a wine unlike any other. Patience. Excellent+. $55 + tax for new vintages. $250 for the 2010 on the wine list.
Looking for other great Sancerre producers? Seek out Georges Boulay, Didier Dagueneau and Alphonse Mellot.