Coach travel is all very well. Within northern France from the UK, it is tolerable – quite fast, better ecologically than flying short distances, secure, uneventful. But it still takes quite a while to get from London (7.45 am) to Sancerre (6 pm French time), central France. The specialist wine travel company, Arblaster and Clarke, handle it well – they leave you alone for the early hours, punctuate the middle hours with food stops and then entertain you with a New World Sauvignon Blanc tasting while you prepare to arrive in Sancerre. The village is very picturesque and the view from the hotel of the vineyards is superb.
After a bath and a good meal, it’s amazing how much of the journey you have already forgotten.
The wines at dinner are a good introduction. Compared to the New World Sauvignon Blanc we tasted all the whites are understated and elegant with well-tamed acidity. The reds are less successful – there is better Pinot Noir to be had in nearby Burgundy, in Germany or in Alsace, but it’s worth trying the local style.
Joseph Balland-Chapuis, AC Sancerre Le Chatillet 2009
Moderately fragrant nose, some grassy and floral notes, subtle on the palate, well-tempered acidity, very good
Laporte, Le Grand Rochoy, AC Sancerre 2005
More mineral on the nose, floral notes again, good fruit still with a lime undertow, medium persistence, relatively little obvious development in the bottle, a glass of wine that needs some patience and some understanding.
Lucien Crochet, La Croix du Roy, AC Sancerre 2007 – said to be a good year, not a great year for Pinot Noir. Lively fresh raspberries on the nose, light fruit on the palate, rather underwhelming finally from this very famous name. It needs a very good year indeed to have the follow-through which the nose promises.
Gitton Les Herses AC Sancerre 2005
Slightly darker in colour and in the red fruit with some oak ageing, medium weight, some length, good.
Discussing these wines with English fellow travellers, it is clear that the first thing to get past is the switch from New World fruit-led styles to these austere, even lean, wines. Some thought they didn’t go well with food, but I would disagree. In any case the wines certainly all disappeared. But more on this style in the next few days. So, while Sancerre remains a big name on the restaurant wine list, how many people actually enjoy its slightly intellectual delights?
This was an excellent trip – just the right combination of very good weather, excellent visits, real insight into the wines, very good food (too much, but who’s fault was that?) and congenial company. Many thanks to Tim Clarke for sharing his knowledge, accumulated on tours here for the last 25 years, and to Yasna on her first trip.
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