Gérard Boulay has long been a top-secret source within Sancerre's most esteemed village, Chavignol. These Kimmeridgian limestone slopes are home to tiny producers who capture Sauvignon Blanc at its most crystalline, defined, and age-worthy. The Cotat cousins and Edmond Vatan are often the first names mentioned, but discerning collectors also know to turn here for two of Chavignol's most recognized vineyards, Monts Damnés and La Côte.
The Loire's cold climate finds some respite here, in Chavignol, the vineyards on these two sun-battered slopes having an unusual abundance of fruit ripeness. Comtesse is sourced from a special parcel within Monts Damnés of 50 to 75-year-old vines next to Vatan's Clos la Neore, and his Pinot Noir, planted at the very top of the slopes, is made exclusively for rosé. These steep vineyards are only capable of being worked by hand.
Sancerre's soils vary greatly, but you know exactly what you're getting within the tiny village of Chavignol: Diamond-cut clarity of terroir and underlying mineral tension. The band of unique limestone in Chavignol is the same circular formation that stretches from the White Cliffs of Dover to Champagne and then onto portions of Chablis.
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.
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.
The Friulian Sauvignon Blanc selection has long been dominated here by the skin macerated style. To be blunt, I've left the direct-press, crisp style to Chavignol and the eastern Loire valley. The reason is simple. I've found the tension and structure much more appealing in the Loire versus Friuli. Of course, my #1 job is to continue to taste and continue to have opinions flipped. Ronco del Gnemiz marks a serious shift in my thinking.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 Ronco del Gnemiz Sauvignon Blanc "SOL".
Ronco del Gnemiz' entire range of wines is dead-set on displaying a serious backbone of minerality that perfectly frames the sun-soaked hill of Rosazzo, famous for its poncasoil (a limestone/clay marl). Their "SOL" bottling comes from a parcel of selection massale Sauvignon Blanc vines on a particularly limestone-dominant portion of Rosazzo. "SOL" is endowed with a rigor and laser-like focus that stands out, as not only one of the greats of Friuli, but one of the world's most compelling expressions of Sauvignon Blanc.
Tasting "SOL" is a masterclass in how Friuli's unique ponca soil translates into wine, as the pulverized chalky components here skyrocket out of the glass on first sniff. There's loads of tropicality like grapefruit and guava, but all held in check under a tremendous amount of tension that offers a serious side here that matches anything you're likely to find in the Loire valley. The sensation of grip, dancing minerality on the palate, and long finish is a statement on the world class effort this is.
The Ronco del Gnemiz wines still very much fly under-the-radar. Serena Palazzolo and her sons have organically farmed these parcels since she took over for her father in the 90's. Today, these southern-facing slopes see moderation from the Adriatic ocean that also offers a sea-breeze element that differs drastically from what you're likely to find in the Loire. A must try for any Sauvignon Blanc lover, or those who gravitate towards whites founded on structure and a more linear focus.
In summer, Loire Valley whites are opened with abandon. And, there's no region in the world for whites that offers diversity and value quite like this stretch from the Atlantic ocean east into Sancerre. Today, I'm focusing on the three varieties from elite producers that offer aging capabilities that will make you think twice about only opening upon release.
In the right hands and proper terroir Sauvignon Blanc can age with the best of them. Chavignol is always an emphasis of mine in this cellar-worthy category. But, Vacheron's 2016 Les Romains and Chambrates equally embody the best of what's yet to come in bottle development from Sancerre.
Within Chenin Blanc, cool new kids like Olivier Lejeune (Clos des Plantes), Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie (Chateau de Bonnezeaux), and Benoit Courault are the best names you've never heard of, and I cannot recommend them enough - Want to know why sommeliers and wine geeks are as excited about Anjou as anywhere in France? It's because of the magic brew these three are putting into bottle. Of course, tried and true names like Nicholas Joly Coulée de Serrant are listed below from 1981 to 2016. And, Thierry Germain's crisp and chiseled Chenins from Saumur are perfectly juxtaposed with Guiberteau's more opulent expression of this limestone slope.
Finally, you cannot speak of Loire Valley & value without mentioning the Melon de Bourgogne grape and Muscadet. Jerome Bretaudeau is the best name you're not familiar with yet, and if push comes to shove, I'd have to say his "Gaia Cuvée Ovoide" is the greatest bottle of Melon de Bourgogne I've ever had - completely seamless and ethereal, this goes down in a hurry.