Blog » Sauvignon Blanc
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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Bona Fide Naturalist: Werlitsch vom Opok
Wineries like Werlitsch in Austria's Styria region perpetuate those dreamy biodynamic farm vibes we've seen springing up in Eastern Europe. Sure, the scenes are breathtaking and make for a good selling point, but what winemaker Ewald Tscheppe produces from his opok-rich soils restores our faith in the far reaches of natural wine.
Our team once blind-tasted the Ex Vero I together. It had a matchstick quality on the nose, followed by white florals, fresh citrus, coconut milk-like texture, and electric acidity on the palate. Still, the wine's focal point was its lively energy and slightly waxy texture. I guessed it was from the Jura, thinking it had a Burgundy gone rogue feeling, but it turned out to be a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (aka Chardonnay). Ex Vero is a three-part series showcasing the varied levels of altitude and soil composition on Werlitsch's steep hillside. These vines grow on limestone and clay soil rich in minerals and marine fossils, which locals refer to as opok. Frankly, the wines are unlike anything you'll taste from Austria or elsewhere.
Ewald and his friends discovered biodynamics while studying wine in the early 1980s. As a true devotee of the naturalist movement, he believes that nature always does it better—for him, that means gravity-flow winemaking, natural yeast, no temperature control, and no sulfur. In 2004, Ewald began to apply biodynamics to his family's estate, which also inhabits fruit trees, wild herbs, vegetables, and forests.
Backcountry Treasure: Goisot Saint-Bris
Burgundy's backcountry has many hidden treasures, including Guilhem and Jean-Hugues Goisot, based outside of Chablis. Jean-Hugues Goisot was one of Burgundy's first adopters of biodynamic viticulture, and his son Guillaume carries on the same commitment to natural practices. The pricing also strengthens the argument quite a bit.
Goisot's extremely sharp pricing is a product of its appellation, Saint-Bris, banished from Chablis in the late 19th century due to phylloxera decimating its vineyards. Still, Kimmeridgian limestone and clay soil are the foundation here, like in Chablis, instilling oyster shell and overtly mineral accents to the wines.
Only Sauvignon Blanc can be labeled as Saint-Bris, so Chardonnay here falls under Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre. It's not as rough as a Vin de France exile, but this obscure zone has prevented top Chardonnay vineyards from getting proper recognition. Nonetheless, the Goisot wines are sought after with a fervent zeal in France!
Friuli Fireworks: Vignai da Duline
Vignai da Duline (Doo-Lee-Nay) produces some of the top Northern Italian wines most people have never heard of. Their site, Ronco Pitotti, is one of the oldest hillside vineyards in Friuli—some of these vines were planted in the 1920s! There's a common thread through each bottling that's impossible to miss, with a balance and seamless structure that I more so associate with my favorite French white wines.
In the late 1990s, Lorenzo Mocchiutti and Federica Magrini inherited a few hectares of old vines from Lorenzo's grandfather. The couple quickly committed to the philosophy of "No trimming shoots" and "No herbicides." They believe the organically grown vines will find their balance through uninterrupted shoot growth, and who's to argue when it truly is the balance of their wines that stands out first and foremost.
Pinot Grigio comes from less than two hectares planted in 1940 and 1958 on marl-sandstone and limestone flysch. This bottling is a towering example of what Pinot Grigio is capable of!
Morus Alba comes from two parcels of Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia equaling just 1.4 hectares. The Savignon Blanc and Malvasia vines grow on flych and red soils, respectively. Planted in 1940 and 1979.
Valori Merlot comes from a 0.32-hectare planted in 1920. Gravner and Radikon receive well-deserved acclaim for their Merlot-based wines, but I'd argue that Duline makes another great case. Only bottled in magnum.
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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!