The rolling hills around the hilltop village of Sancerre, in the Loire Valley, are completely covered with vineyards. It may come as a surprise to learn that Pinot Noir represents almost one quarter of plantings here, with the rest reserved for the Sauvignon Blanc responsible for Sancerre’s brisk, citrusy whites. Interestingly, Pinot Noir once dominated these slopes, but planting Sauvignon became the norm after the phylloxera epidemic wiped out all of the region’s vineyards in the late nineteenth century. Today, growers in the area are realizing the potential to make fine reds—after all, Sancerre is not so far from Burgundy, and it shares the clay and limestone soils known to yield such noble expressions of Pinot. Daniel Chotard and his son, Simon, are constantly experimenting in the cellar, testing different techniques in fermentation and aging in order to improve each vintage. This rouge saw aging in a combination of stainless steel tanks and oak barrels of various sizes, the perfect combination to capture bright, fresh fruit while maximizing depth and complexity on the palate. It is proof that red Sancerre deserves to be taken seriously.
Daniel Chotard and his wife, Brigitte, live just outside Sancerre in the village of Reigny. The Chotard family has been making wine for well over 200 years. The terroir of Sancerre is widely regarded as producing one of the greatest expressions of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The Chotards grow Pinot Noir as well, used to make both red wine and rosé. Daniel and his son Simon farm the slopes of the village Crezancy-en-Sancerre, a terroir of clay and the famous Kimmeridgian limestone. The hilltop town of Sancerre is surrounded by a commune of villages, each blessed with varieties of a distinct limestone that imbue a lengthy mineral component to its wines.
The defining feature of the Loire Valley, not surprisingly, is the Loire River. As the longest river in France, spanning more than 600 miles, this river connects seemingly disparate wine regions. Why else would Sancerre, with its Kimmeridgian limestone terroir be connected to Muscadet, an appellation that is 250 miles away?
Secondary in relevance to the historical, climatic, environmental, and cultural importance of the river are the wines and châteaux of the Jardin de la France. The kings and nobility of France built many hundreds of châteaux in the Loire but wine preceded the arrival of the noblesse and has since out-lived them as well.
Diversity abounds in the Loire. The aforementioned Kimmderidgian limestone of Sancerre is also found in Chablis. Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur boast the presence of tuffeau, a type of limestone unique to the Loire that has a yellowish tinge and a chalky texture. Savennières has schist, while Muscadet has volcanic, granite, and serpentinite based soils. In addition to geologic diversity, many, grape varieties are grown there too: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne are most prevalent, but (to name a few) Pinot Gris, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and Folle Blanche are also planted. These myriad of viticultural influences leads to the high quality production of every type of wine: red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert.
Like the Rhône and Provence, some of Kermit’s first imports came from the Loire, most notably the wines of Charles Joguet and Château d’Epiré—two producers who are featured in Kermit’s book Adventures on the Wine Route and with whom we still work today.
Let the brett nerds retire into protective bubbles, and whenever they thirst for wine it can be passed in to them through a sterile filter. Those of us on the outside can continue to enjoy complex, natural, living wines.
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