Aristocrats and the bourgeoisie in Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé

This small area of central France is world famous for its wines.  But despite its small size it is full of contrasts. Nowadays the grape varieties are basically Sauvignon Blanc for whites, sold around the world via the recognisable names of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, and Pinot Noir for reds for a strong French market.  Both are high value wines with the result that these two varieties have pushed out the greater range of grapes that existed before phylloxera and the agricultural crisis that followed the first world war.

For those used to buying their wines in the UK, the first contrast is in style of the Sauvignon Blanc.  We have become used to the ubiquitous and successful New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with its powerful gooseberry nose and racy acidity. It is instantly recognisable and a great starting point for identifying grape varieties.  The wines here are less obviously herbaceous and definitely less aggressive in their acidity.  Here there are subtler shades of green vegetable and fruit and many degrees of minerality.  If the wines are ordinary they  tend to the neutral or even boring; when well made and from the better sites, they are complex and subtle.  Also they are ageable, at least in the medium term of 10-15 years.  And, importantly, they are excellent food wines.

The second major contrast is between the soils.  It is customary to draw a comparison between the subtlety of Sancerre and the power of expression of Pouilly Fumé but in reality what appears to matter is the soil. The three main types are Kimmeridgean (marine fossil deposits over and interspersed with clay, know locally as terres blanches), flint (silex) and chalk.  And all three types occur in both appellations.  It was noticeable that the one large concern we visited organised its extensive tasting by soil type not by appellation.

Our main visits also showed the contrasts along old class lines, hopefully, like the landscape, mellowed with age – one old aristocratic family with a fine chateau in the Loire style, one family with humble roots who started not that long ago with two hectares and now are the largest concern in the area with 70 hectares.  The third visit was over lunch with a good sized producer with wines from all the local appellations:

Travelling down by coach from England to central France has its longueurs but also its rewards, not least arriving in Sancerre. The most tangible of these is the fact that you can bring back wine from the places you have visited. But the journey itself has its interests, while the opportunity for a stop off in the Champagne district on the way back certainly does. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the journey having arrived in a wine town like Sancerre. Read more

 

The visit to Château de Tracy was so good that it appears in the ‘Special places’ section of this website.   It was a winning combination: the personal commitment and good humour of the owners who showed us around,  very good to excellent wines of real character despite a very limited range and a beautiful château on a dry autumn day as a bonus!  Read more

 

 

Every wine zone needs a really good producer who can faithfully represent the zone around the world, both for great bottles and in volume. Henri Bourgeois does just that, from a modern winery tucked away at the top of the village of Chavignol, directly opposite Sancerre’s most famous vineyard, the Mont Damnés. Read more

 

 

The minor appellations of the so called central vineyards are worth getting to know – Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé can be expensive, especially in restaurants, so Menetou Salon, Ruilly and more come into their own. Joseph Mellot has an excellent regional representation, along with top wines of course. Read more

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