Sancerre meets Roussillon

Tasting Andover Wine Friends’ September tasting featured a comparison between two very different French wine regions: Sancerre very much in the middle of this large country in the aptly named ‘Central Vineyards’ and Roussillon, 600 kilometres further south and on Spain’s Mediterranean border. 

The contrasts between the two regions are marked:



  • historic vineyard with a recognisable name, famous for a century for its white wines
  • bulk wine producer for much of the twentieth century now trying to establish a profile for excellent value and increasing quality
  • moderated continental climate, with short hot summers and cold winters, with a risk of frost in spring; nearly 1,900 hours of sunshine a year (Oxford has 1,500), and an overall average temperature of 11.8° C (Oxford is around 10° C). 
  • highly reliable sunny Mediterranean climate with low rainfall which mainly falls in winter.  2,500 hours of sunshine a year and an overall average temperature of 14° C
  • overwhelmingly white wine from Sauvignon Blanc, around 80% of production, and the rest is Pinot Noir, mostly of local interest
  • mainly red blends, but with an important production of rosé, sparkling wine in Limoux, some interesting whites and sweet vin doux naturel – the full range of wines!
  • an internationally recognised style of Sauvignon Blanc – not aggressively ‘green’ and grassy, but grapefruit flavours, mineral, potential for complexity; capable of being made in unoaked and oaked styles and, unusually for this variety, age-worthy. 
  • typical modern wine styles  – full-bodied, moderately high alcohol, fruity, clean, highly drinkable, mostly not intended for ageing
  • the vin doux naturel have a whole style catalogue of its own: read more

The wines tasted were mainly from two estates Janet and I visited in October 2010 and June 2011: Henri Bourgeois in Chavignol, Sancerre and Domaine Gayda, near Bugairolles, just in Languedoc but with vineyards in Roussillon as well. This was a great opportunity to reassess the wines away from the ‘bonus’ factor of being at the winery. 

Sancerre Bourgeois’ Sancerres more than stood up to the test – they are wines with a great sense of place, full of flavour, and with a great balance between their fruit, the mineral notes and the characteristic acidity of grapes in a fairly northerly latitude.  The fairly basic ‘La Bourgeoisie’ AC Sancerre 2007 has sophisticated gooseberry and grapefruit fruit, with just a hint of lime and more exotic fruit and a good refreshing length.  Jadis, Sancerre 2008 is a much more substantial affair: made with the fruit of old vines (50 years and more) like the other wines it is part fermented in stainless steel and part in oak.  It is still extremely young but has a powerful nose and palate of melon, asparagus/grass, some enticing floral elements with some as yet unintegrated blockiness.  Great persistence.  By contrast, Etienne Henri, Sancerre 2002, manages to hold together the sweet roundedness of the oak (this is fermented in oak barrels) and the rich fruit, ranging from melon to grapefruit to lime peel. The ageing means there is less immediate attack but a big bonus in terms of complexity and completeness. 

We stayed in central France briefly.  Unfortunately, our bottles of simple Sancerre Rouge had somehow mysteriously been drunk before I put this tasting together … Pinot Noir does not stand much of a chance in our house unless it is carefully secluded in the fairly impenetrable depths of the wine store.  So we made do with a bottle of Pinot from Chablis producer, Vignoble Dampt, just a 100 kilometres away in the most northerly part of Burgundy – pale, mild cherry and savoury notes.  I like this style because it is clearly Pinot from a cool site but many others were underwhelmed. 

Macabeu Meanwhile down south, Domaine Gayda shows a typical southern eclecticism: a white made with the local grape variety, Macabeo, a single variety Grenache and then a Cabernet Franc.  We tasted these with a much more typical southern blend from Les Vignerons de Lesquerde: Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. These showed the vitality of the wine scene down here under the sun. 

First the three wines from Domaine Gayda.  The Figure Libre, Macabeo, Pays d’Oc IGP, 2009 is a  really excellent effort – Macabeo is more known for dull, rather acidic wines, rather than this lively palate of peach, citrus and some leafiness.  Jancis Robinson found honey and granite – quite an interesting combination!  The Grenache Vin de Pays d’Oc IGP, 2008 is the vivacious, delicious substantial quaffer which Gayda serve at lunchtimes in their roof-top restaurant.  Figure Libre, Cabernet Franc, Pays d’Oc IGP 2009 is beautifully judged – great depth of ripe fruit, herbs, some chocolate notes: ‘chocolate digestive biscuits’ was the snappy description of one professional taster!  This is rich without being sickly or jammy. 

The wine from Lesquerde’s excellent co-operative was Hesiode, AC Côtes de Roussillon Lesquerdes, 2008.  This is a special selection of the three varieties mentioned above, from very low yields of 17-25 hectolitres per hectare, half those that are typical of quality producers. The Grenache here on the village’s granite soils producing a great palate of strawberry and balsam, ripe fruit of course, then black pepper and structure from the Syrah.  Excellent quality for about £8 at the co-operative in France. 

We finished the evening on with a bottle of, I thought, rather undistinguished vin doux naturel from Domaine des Soulanes, Maury 2008, but it was certainly pleasantly moderately sweet with some fruit.  Although an unconventional pairing, Sancerre and Roussillon showed the richness of winemaking styles in France.  Sancerre – I hasten to add of this quality – showed why it is one of the great names of French viticulture and Roussillon demonstrated variety,  vivacity and value-for-money. 

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