When you open a bottle of Sancerre, you know what to expect: a cornucopia of fragrant citrus and gooseberry, delicate floral nuances, a flinty mineral note, and a bracing finish that leaves you salivating for more. Nowadays, these wines are by and large crafted in the same manner, with fermentation and aging taking place in stainless steel tanks. But this was not always the norm in Sancerre. According to Kermit, when he began visiting the picturesque Loire village in the 1970s, “Stainless was already pretty rampant. But there was a lot of wood, too, of all sizes. Then the wood was phased out in almost all the cellars…” The zippy, clean, ultra-precise Sancerres we are accustomed to are in fact a relatively recent phenomenon, corresponding to the arrival of temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks in the cellars. But what did Sancerres taste like before? At Domaine Chotard, the ambitious Simon Chotard has taken over proceedings after his father Daniel’s retirement. In addition to an entry-level Sancerre that captures the totality of Sauvignon Blanc’s thirst-quenching, mouth-watering properties, Simon is producing smaller batches that recall the olden days of this great appellation:
Les Cris is a single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc that is fermented and aged in acacia barrels. Acacia does not impart the woody flavors that oak is known for, so fruit shines through with brilliant purity while the wine acquires more breadth relative to one aged in tank. With a deep aroma of key lime, zingy acidity, and an almost salty, chalky finish, this multi-dimensional beauty takes the Sancerre we know to a whole new level.
Les Racines is an old-vine cuvée vinified and raised in 300-500 liter oak barrels. The most Burgundian of Simon’s wines, it combines the racy acidity and taut mineral structure imparted by the Kimmeridgian limestone terroir with a subtle kiss of oak and a fine wood grain on the finale. Its inherent power, tension, and richness will allow it to age superbly, reaching its peak in five to eight more years.
The Sancerre rouge is another blast from the past, as the region was long renowned for its red wines until plantings of Sauvignon Blanc overtook Pinot Noir after phylloxera. A bistro wine par excellence, this Pinot Noir emanates a lovely aroma of bright fruit and peppery spice. Its well-defined structure and gentle tannins frame the fresh and elegant flavors.
While Simon may be relatively new on the scene, his small-production Sancerres show a real sensibility to the region’s traditional wines. Tasting this compelling trio of 2016s will take you on a journey several decades back to the old days of Sancerre, when times and wines were much different than today.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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