Crossing 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.
Today's offer from these, the most collectible and age-worthy wines of the appellation, feature back-vintages, magnums, and the ultra-rare Sancerre Rougefrom 2010 and 2015.
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.
1x 2005 François Cotat Sancerre La Grande Côte
$92 per bottle.
4x 2007 François Cotat Sancerre La Grande Côte 1.5L
$237 per bottle.
3x 2010 François Cotat Sancerre Rouge
$99 per bottle.
1x 2013 Francois Cotat Sancerre La Grand Côte 1.5L
$149 per bottle.
1x 2013 Francois Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 1.5L
$144 per bottle.
3x 2014 Pascal Cotat Sancerre La Grande Côte
$69 per bottle.
12x 2015 Pascal Cotat Sancerre Rouge
$68 per bottle.
5x 2015 Pascal Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Rosé
$55 per bottle.
9x 2016 François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Caillottes
$54 per bottle.
12x 2016 François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre La Grand Côte
$78 per bottle.
10x 2016 François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Les Monts Damnés
$68 per bottle.
23x 2016 François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Rosé
$51 per bottle.
2x 2016 Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés
$57 per 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 as a group almost nightly. 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 very slim. I was lucky to receive small quantities from a favorite source recently. And, when this small importer of Mugnier, Cathiard, and Lafarge takes an interest in Sancerre, it's time to pay very close attention.
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 other Sancerre producers.
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.
Nuance comes from vines located in Bué vineyards, Petit Chemarin and Château. Aged in 2/3 stainless steel tanks, and 1/3 in one-year-old barrique.
2016 Vincent Pinard Sancerre Florès
$45 per bottle.
The wines of Gérard Boulay have long been the top secret source within Sancerre's most esteemed village, Chavignol. These steep, chalky, 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 may be the first names mentioned from Chavignol, but discerning collectors have long turned to Boulay for top quality and value when searching for the hamlet's Grand Cru level vineyards, Monts Damnés and La Côte.
Today I'm very happy to offer both Gérard Boulay's 2015 Monts Damnés and La Côte with special pricing on mixed 4-Packs.
Chavignol, in many respects, is not Sancerre. The terroir throughout Sancerre varies a great deal. Within the tiny village of Chavignol you know exactly what you are getting: Diamond-cut clarity of terroir and underlying mineral tension reminiscent of top Meursault. The band of this unique limestone in Chavignol is the same formation that reaches parts of Chablis and Champagne.
Chavignol's most desirable trait may be the unusual abundance of ripeness found in these two sun-battered slopes. The cold climate of the Loire Valley finds its greatest respite here, where the steep pitch evoked such awe that I had to pull my car over to truly take it all in during my visit. Much like in Côte Rôtie and the Mosel Valley, Monts Damnés (Damned Mountain) and La Côte are only capable of being worked by hand.
Along with the top two wines from Boulay, there's a small amount available of his villages level Chavignol ($32), as well as two vintages of his rosé of Pinot Noir - always one of France's most transformative and age-worthy.
Although any Boulay Chavignol can bring fireworks to a range of pairings from shellfish to bone-in pork chops, there may be nothing more satisfying than serving alongside your favorite goat cheese. Some iconic partnerships simply do not tire!
2015 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Monts Damnés "Comtesse"
$59 per bottle.
Sourced from a special parcel within Monts Damnés of 50-75 year-old-vines next to Vatan's Clos la Neore.
2015 Gérard Boulay Sancerre La Côte
$55 per bottle.
Special E-mail Chavignol 4-Pack Pricing: $213 (Regularly $228)
2 bottles of each: 2015 Monts Damnés "Comtesse" & La Côte
2013 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu
$41 per bottle.
2014 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Monts Damnés 1.5L
$95 per bottle.
2013 Gérard Boulay Sancerre La Côte 1.5L
$112 per bottle.
2005 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu
$69 per bottle.
2016 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Chavignol
$32 per bottle.
2016 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Chavignol Rosé of Pinot Noir
$32 per bottle.
2014 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Chavignol Rosé of Pinot Noir
$34 per bottle.
Last May in the eastern Loire Valley was a great awakening for me to the potential and diversity within top Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre. Styles of winemaking differ nearly as much as the change in soil throughout the region, from flint - to marl - to Kimmeridgian limestone. When the tour of domaines concluded, and the dust settled, there was one site and one wine that stuck with me like none other: Vacheron's Les Romains (pictured above).
Les Romains is one of the most transformative wines coming from the Loire, and sits at the top of a very short list of Grand Cru sites should the appellation classify.Unlike the age-worthy Cotat and Boulay Sancerres, here it's the silex (flint) soil that dominates instead of the Kimmeridgian limestone of Chavignol.
This epic south-facing slope of 60+years-old vines felt special the moment I hit the rocky terrain. In a marginal climate where every last ray of sunlight is coveted, Les Romains has a generosity with an element of cut and rigor that other wines of the region can only dream of possessing. Like tasting Burgundy vineyards side-by-side, Les Romains has an impact next to its neighbors that cannot be overstated. Immediately you taste that every element is heightened, with the definition of each jumping out.
The smokey quality produced from the flint-based soils cannot be glossed over. Tasting alongside wines from nearby Kimmeridgian limestone sites shows a completely different side of the variety. Sauvingon Blanc here develops faint honey, ginger, and orchard fruit notes with time in glass, and keeps a disciplined frame finishing with loads of crushed rocks and salinity.
Tasting at the domaine back several decades was another reminder that top Sancerre has a dynamic story to tell when given ample time. There's a dizzying array of secondary notes that come out with age. Qualities which are a great departure from the citrus and herbal elements that define much of young Sauvingon Blanc in the region.
A tour throughout the seven different parcels with Jean-Dominique Vacheron was a thrilling way to get up close with the varied landscape. Farming practices are rigorous here, and there are no short cuts taken. It's very rare in Sancerre to farm in organics and biodynamics, as the weather can be brutal and uncooperative. Less than 10 producers are certified, with Vacheron starting in 2000.
In the cellar there has been a move to utilize larger vessels such as foudre to ensure the wines are taut and structured as temperatures in the region continue to climb. All wines are fermented with native yeasts, and the lunar cycle dictates when bottling occurs, There is no fining or filtering.
Les Romains is always the highlight of the Vacheron range. There are several single vineyard wines produced here that show site in crystal clear perspective, but none has the depth and capability to transform like Les Romains. It is Grand Cru Sancerre of the highest order.
2016 Vacheron Sancerre Les Romains
$64 per bottle
As we've all witnessed from afar, there are not sufficient words to express how sad and devasting the fires in northern California have been for that tight-knit community. Everyone living in the region has been affected, some losing everything. I encourage visiting this page to see various options for donations to assist the efforts.
I've been reluctant to speak about and offer wines from the region this week, not knowing just how to start. However, it's clear that the wines and people of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino will need support throughout the country for many, many years to come. One of the great fortunes I have is to shine a light on some of the smaller producers who tirelessly work their land to bottle authentic reflections of the place they live.
Today, we turn to Snowden Vineyards and their new release, the 2016 Napa Valley Sunninghill Sauvignon Blanc.
The story behind Snowden Vineyards is one derived from a distinct sense of place. However, the background of the estate cannot be told without mentioning its winemaker. Diana Snowden Seysses's other job is working alongside her husband Jeremy in producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy.Without question, Diana's life in France has passed along a thoughtfull aproach to viticulture and vinification that put expression of terroir at the forefront.
Diana aims to produce wine from her family estate that she wants to drink. And of the entire lineup, it's the one acre of Sauvignon Blanc that really drives this point home. At 13.3% alcohol, the Snowden Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect reminder that the racy, mineral, and cool-fruited elements of the variety do have a home in Napa. The 2016 vintage, and its unusually cool August, has played perfectly into the house style here, turning out the most mineral-drenched wine of the past several years.
In east Saint Helena's Lost Orchard vineyard, one acre of vines are planted on volcanic Rhyolite and sand at 830 feet looking down on Lake Hennessy. Barrel-fermenting and aging in a combo of neutral oak and stainless steel endow a striking verve that balances Napa's sun-kissed fruit brilliantly. And as you can imagine, like the approach at Dujac, only native yeasts are utilized here for fermentation.
While I lived in Saint Helena in 2011 it was a challenge to find Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc that appealed to me the way the Loire Valley can. Tropicality is often taken to the extreme, with the citrus and crushed rock characteristics falling by the wayside. If one example from the valley exhibits the qualities that make you reach for pour after pour without tiring, it's Snowden's micro-production Sauvignon Blanc coming from above Lake Hennessy.
2016 Snowden Sunninghill Sauvignon Blanc
$33 per bottle.
2012 Snowden Lost Vineyard Napa Valley Merlot
$38 per bottle.
The most forward and open-knit of the wines. Soft, approachable, and silky.
2014 Snowden The Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
$53 per bottle.
A blend of three vineyards showing a Napa Valley Cabernet at it's most diverse, honest and graceful.
Antonio Galloni of Vinous drives the point home,
"The Ranch is one of the best values readers will find in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Don't miss it!"
2014 Snowden Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
$85 per bottle.
From uniform volcanic soils at 850 feet on the mountains of east side of the valley. From a parcel on Palomino Hill. Structured and supremely age-worthy.