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.