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Sancerre Royalty: Domaine Vacheron
A visit to the eastern Loire in May 2016 was a great awakening to the potential and diversity within Sancerre. Styles of winemaking differ nearly as much as the change in soil throughout the region, from flint to marl and Kimmeridgian limestone. But when the tours concluded, it was Vacheron's duo of sites that stuck with me.
Vacheron's epic south-facing slopes of old vines immediately felt special when we hit the rocky terrain. In a marginal climate, where every last ray of sunlight counts, these Sauvignon Blancs have a generous cut and rigor. They develop faint notes of honey, ginger, and orchard fruit while maintaining a disciplined frame and finish with loads of crushed rocks and salinity.
It's rare in Sancerre to farm organically, as the weather can be brutal and uncooperative. Less than ten producers are certified organic including Vacheron (since 2000). In the cellar, they've transitioned to larger vessels such as foudre to ensure the wines are taut and structured, as temperatures in the region continue to climb. The wines ferment spontaneously with native yeasts, and the lunar cycle dictates when bottling occurs. No fining or filtering!
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Seamless Sancerre: 2019 Vincent Gaudry
Sancerre is famous for simple, crisp, and chuggable whites reliant on its iconic name, but the value realm of the region still has alternatives. Vincent Gaudry is a part of a select group of Sancerre vignerons who employ organic and biodynamic farming. He began this "radical" shift into organics in 1993 and fulfilled the rigorous Demeter certification for biodynamics in 2004.
Le Tournebride may be Gaudry's introductory bottle, but it's always my favorite. Tournebride comes from old vines planted in the appellation's three main soil types: Silex, terres blanches, and caillottes. Mélodie de Vieilles Vignes comes from 50-to-90-year-old vines on Kimmeridgian clay soils over limestone bedrock in Sury-en-Vaux. There's a remarkable refinement in detail, with the fruit displayed in the purest and most unadulterated fashion.
Gaudry's wines remind me of the sensibilities found in Burgundy where a sense of place almost overrides Sauvignon Blanc's characteristics. These Sancerres continue to over-deliver vintage after vintage!
Sancerre's Seamless Trois Terroir
Vincent Gaudry delivers the single Sancerre that over delivers vintage after vintage. After the first sip, you'll immediately recognize something is different here given its price tag. There's a refinement in detail, the fruit displayed in the purest and most unadulterated fashion, with an authenticity that screams of terroir.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Vincent Gaudry Sancerre Le Tournebride.
Le Tournebride may be Vincent's introductory bottle, but it's always my favorite. Tournebride is sourced from old vines planted in each of the appellation's three main soils: silex, terres blanches, and caillottes. Surprisingly, Vincent is still part of a select group of Sancerre vignerons who employ organic and biodynamic farming. Vincent began this "radical" shift into organics in 1993 and fulfilled the rigorous Demeter certification for biodynamics in 2004.
There is a quality to Gaudry's wines that just speak to a perfect sense of harmony between the three terroirs assembled here, as well as the structure and contours in play on the palate. Drinking Le Tournebride, I'm more reminded of the sensibilities found in Burgundy, where a sense of place almost overrides Sauvignon Blanc's characteristics.
Sancerre is famous for simple, crisp, and chuggable whites reliant on its iconic name, but the value realm of the region still has alternatives. Gaudry is that beacon of top-notch quality in Sancerre where—in this case, for $32—you can expect the royal treatment from vine to bottle.
Loire's Boldest Secret
One of the thrills of living in Beaune throughout 2012 was getting familiar with an enormous range of Burgundy's producers. Beaune had its fair share of wine bars that we'd frequent almost nightly as a group. However, none of these bars devoted serious space to wines outside of the region. That all changed when the natural-focused Les Vins de Maurice opened in the spring. Wines from the Jura, Rhone, and Loire Valley covered the walls.
One day I asked Maurice to introduce me to a producer that was doing something out of the ordinary, and he quickly picked up a bottle of Vincent Pinard's Sancerre. Since that day, I've been on the hunt in the US, but availability is always very slim, at best.
I was lucky to receive small quantities from a favorite source this week. And, when this small importer of Mugnier, Comte Liger-Belair, and Lafarge takes an interest in Sancerre, it's time to pay very close attention.
Today, I'm happy to offer the full lineup from my favorite secret domaine of Sancerre, Vincent Pinard.
Vincent Pinard is located in Bué, a village that, along with Chavignol, has some of the most prized vineyards in the region. Pinard's wines can best be described as overtly stylish, with each cuvée standing drastically apart from one another. They have intense concentration and a gossamer texture that bears little resemblance to what we commonly expect from Sancerre.
There's a grandeur to this seriously defined structure that reminds me much more of those sensibilities found in Burgundy. When I've found Meursault and Puligny lovers who shy away from Loire Sauvignon Blanc, it's Pinard who ends up reverberating with them.
All parcels sit on a bedrock of limestone covered with the famous caillottes pebbles on the surface.
Florès comes from a collection of vineyards in Bué. Aged in 2/3 stainless steel tanks and 1/3 wooden vats.
Chêne Marchand is comprised of 100% Oxfordian Limestone. Pinard's farm 4 separate parcels: two east facing, two south-facing, with an average vine age of 60 years old. Only 15 growers farm here, and rarely is the single vineyard seen on labels.
Petit Chemarin is the coldest vineyard in the range and always last to be picked. The top is Kimmeridgian soil, but the bedrock of Oxfordian Limestone is just 20 centimeters below the surface. Vines were planted in 1968.
Grand Chemarin is full south facing and exposed to the sun. This terroir has the nickname "moulin à vent" or windmill as it's constantly windy. This exposure and the nearly all Oxfordian Limestone are what gives this wine its character.
Le Chateau is sourced from 45-year-old vines, planted full south in Kimmeridgian limestone. A large slope to the west protects the vines from the late afternoon sun.
Charlouise is densely planted at 7,000 vines per hectare on clay and limestone over Oxfordian limestone bedrock. 100% de-stemmed. Aging in 1/3 new demi-muids, 1/3 two and three-year-old demi-muids, and 1/3 wood vat.
Vendange Entières is sourced from 40-yr-old vines in La Pèlerine. Aging takes place in large barrels, up to 25% new. As the name indicates, this is 100% whole cluster fermented Pinot Noir.
Beyond Sancerre: Cousins Cotat ChavignolCrossing into the tiny, picturesque village of Chavignol we very much leave Sancerre in the rear-view. The painfully steep Kimmerdgian limestone slopes define this appellation, one where Sauvignon Blanc is known for its atypical style and wild transformative capabilities in bottle. François and Pascal Cotat, (along with Vatan) are where the enthusiasm for Chavignol reaches its fever pitch.
Cotat wines stand out for their unusually high ripeness for Sancerre, while effortlessly maintaining a taut mineral backbone. In their youth they have a disciplined structure that's impossible to resist falling for, as it's such a departure from common Sancerre.It's as if a Lincoln Town Car Sauvignon Blanc was traded in for a Porsche - Precision, fine-tuning, and raw power awaits.
With age we see a transformation that has no rivals in the world of white wine. Sauvignon Blanc's citrus, herbaceous, and grassy characteristics mysteriously vanish. Acidity settles, flavors become more rounded, showing jasmine and faint honey notes. In the end you're left with what can only be described as Chavignol.
These are beloved by collectors for their ability to age like top White Burgundy. Bottles I tasted at the domain with François from 2002 and 1998 seemed no older than just a few years, both showing only a pale straw color.
Between the two sites below, La Grand Côte offers the more deep and broadly textured wine. While Les Monts Damnés ("Damned Mountain") showcases a more mineral component and linear quality.
Pascal and François Cotat have a unique back story, as the two domaines were once the same. Due to French property law the single estate was split, and today each heads their own eponymous domaine. The wines have nearly identical labels, with the exception of the first name.
François Cotat has less than one hectare of Pinot Noir vines. He produces a thrilling rosé from this parcel and sometimes he chooses to produce a red wine. 2010 was excellent throughout Sancerre, and back-vintage Cotat rouge is something I've never come across until today's offer.