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Outstanding, 95-point Sancerre - June 2020

The sole June 2020 panel tasting is Loire Sauvignon Blanc

Ooh la la! L'elegance, la finesse, etc etc.

What's under test? Pretty much anything from the core regions of the upper/central Loire ... such classic AOCs/names as Pouilly-FuméSancerre and Menetou-Salon, plus the outliers of QuincyReuilly and the broader downstream area of Touraine (as one heads intyo Chenon Blanc country). Map-wise, that looks a bit like this:

map courtesy of Decanter (www.decanter.com)

 

Some general chat

But those names: Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.

Come with me on another journey, this one back in time; bear with and indulge me, if you will. It is 1998: the Spice Girls and Jamiroquai (Heaven forbid) are in the charts. France are closing in on an unexpected World Cup victory. Most importantly, the sea trout are coming in from the Atlantic. Your narrator, you see, is working as a fishing ghillie (rowing boats up and down a loch) by day and serving wine in a far North Highland fishing hotel by night. The celebration of a (rare) good fish - accompanied, very occasionally, by the fish itself - will seldom be made with Champagne, Chablis or Burgundy. Rather, beaming guests will descend to enter the dining room and announce, just a little too loudly, "I believe we'll take the <dramatic pausePouilly-Fumé" or "shall we make that the <coughs, turns to onlooking tablesSancerre?"

Loire Sauvignon was a statement of luxury, of taste, of class. This may have been the peak of fashionability for what was then the cutting edge of Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough (NZ) was becoming known but was still small in Europe, even the UK. Pretenders elsewhere were small in number, volume and quality.

Since, so much has changed. New World Sauvignon is now largely its definition. The Old World (Rueda, northern Italy, say) is producing some star turns. France itself sees Sauvignon appearing from - and strengthening in - other quarters (not least of which, Bordeaux), and there is alas overall dilution in quality of Loire SB as more producers seek to use the big appellation names without the historic care that was their watchword (see also for this trend: Rioja, Cava, Chianti...).

But not all is bad. Far from it: the great producers of the 'Central Vineyards' of the Loire have largely maintained its quality and prestige. What is good is still very good. And, especially in Touraine, there is now mid-priced (£10-£15) Loire Sauvignon that is increasingly excellent. 

Obviously, the Decanter review focuses on what is good. We've made sure we're offering one of the wines that is Outstanding. We'll get to that in just a second. But first, just a few 'primer' bullet points on the region and its wines ...

 

Loire Sauvignon - a starter for ten

  • Everything here is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Nobody's throwing in a spot of Pinot Gris (say) as a makeweight.
  • Ripeness here is a different concept to New Zealand. Grapes reach full phenolic ripeness here at higher acidity and lower alcohol than in Marlborough. There's often a line put about that Loire SB isn't really ripe in some way. It is; the producers of the Loire might indeed claim that NZSB is (perhaps) over-ripe. Let's not go down that road right now.
  • Geology is a huge part of the story. Sancerre has a continuum of three quite different geologies that underly the appellation: a) the clay-limestone terres blanches of the west; b) the gravelly cailottes of its centre; and c) the flinty silex soils to the east, around the hilltop village of Sancerre itself. Respectively, these soil types lend themselves to: a) fuller, more powerful wines; b) elegant, delicate wines; and c) mineral, longer-ageing and more-perfumed wines.
  • The Pouilly-Fumé appellation is on silex soil (in the main); its wines are akin to the last Sancerre category above, most of all.
  • It is said it is easy to tell a Sancerre from Pouilly-Fumé. In my view, it definitely is not, especially if you run into a silex-driven Sancerre. Most Sancerres, though, are a blend of different vineyards and soils - for overall balance - which helps. Generally, though, P-Fs are quite flinty, mineral and aromatic; Sancerre is typically fuller and richer.

photo courtesy of Christophe Mouton (www.christophemouton.com)

  • It's often said that Loire Sauvignons - especially P-F and Sancerre - are instantly recognisable over everything else. I wouldn't go with that either (especially having fouled this up spectacularly in wine exams). It so turns out that Sauvignon Blanc is a great vehicle/vector of terroir (it seldoms receives the praise for this that Chardonnay or Pinot Noir do) and transmits those soil/geological influences to the nose and mouth very well, over-riding the influence of grape variety. Which is why Sancerre can very often taste like Chablis (100% Chardonnay), and nothing like NZSB, or even SB from Chile or South Africa.
  • Taking forward that Chablis idea, much good Loire SB ages well. It's often held that SB doesn't have the DNA to age. There's 20 years in some of the top wines here, if you like the developed (often quite asparagus-sy) notes of ageing SB.
  • Expect to run into unexpected oak here and there. Most Loire SB is all about steel, freshness and acidity. But many top producers either (or both) barrel-ferment and/or barrel-age some proportion of their upper wines in oak.
  • Menetou-Salon can be (and often is) a hidden gem: it's typically 65-75% of the price of neighbouring Sancerre but often as good.
  • That said, it's Sancerre that has typically fared best in the huge frosts of the last few years (reason: hiller topography and higher vineyards => steeper-sloping vineyards => cold air slides down to below vineyard level).
  • Touraine Sauvignon Blanc is typically cheaper, shorter-lived, fuller in the mouth and excellent value.

 

The Decanter review

The review used its time-honoured, panel-based, blind-tasted approach.

  • 90 wines were scrutinised.
  • Of those, two emerged as Outstanding (95 points or above), and another 31 as Highly Recommended (90 points or above).
  • There was no stipulation on vintages under test (2017-19 accounted for almost all), and no particular vintage emerged as best (there were fears that the badly-frost-affected 2018s might not measure up; this fear was not realised).
  • There was, however, a clear trend among districts and appellationsOf the 33 top wines, 19 were Sancerres; only 4 were from Pouilly-Fumé (+ 5 from Menetou-Salon and 5 from elsewhere). For those of us with a visceral and historic love of/affinity for P-F, this was a bit of a blow/shock.
  • Although the upper wines on test are clear candidates for long(er) ageing, virtually all wines emerged as 'drinking now'.

 

Our top-scorer

We offer one of the two Outstandings. We have 600 bottles waiting to leave to loving homes. Beyond those 600, we will struggle to source more. If you fancy this wine, it's probably best not to hang about.

That top-scorer is from from one of the greats of Sancerre (named by Jancis as one of its finest exponents). Lucien Crochet's Les Calcaires 2017 is drawn from a range of his plots near Bué, one of the key Sancerre villages. There's a heap more info on Crochet on the product page for Les Calcaires and on his/their website.

It drew, as you'd rather expect, great praise from the judging panel. We can italicise their quotes in bold, or just let you take a gander at the review below. Certainly, "brilliant energy and aromatics", "very clean and precise" and "massive focus and grip" are suitable statements ("sweaty," we really do not get...)

Some may spot:

a) the far drinking horizon of 2035. Leading to the question: can I drink it nowYou certainly can. Its time in bottle and high fruit concentration already make this glass-ready ... and you have a superb wine in front of you. That's flexibility that is: no need to glug this by Christmas, no need to keep if for the grandchildren. But if you like the tones of ageing, this will do that beautifully. Take some to drink; save some for a few years' time. It's up to you. Whichever you choose, the Les Calcaires is an excellent partner.

b) the price: Decanter shows £19.18 while we're at £21.00. We'd love to be under £20, but we can't do that here, despite shaving our margin to the bone. But neither, actually, unless you're very quick and prepared to buy a lot, can the named party there. £21 is a very fine price for this wine; we have it ready to leave.


Demand, as ever, will be for the very top wine(s). We don't offer a vast array more, especially with reliable sourcing being a definite concern at the current time. For balance and variety, and from this review, we offer the oaked and delightful Les Calcis Pouilly-Fumé from Tabordet (2017, 90 points), Reverdy's Domaine de Villaudiere Sancerre (2018, 90 points) and Cherrier's Domaine de la Rossignole (2018, 91 points), all at UK-beating prices.

 

And also, on the subject of Loire SB...

Off the back of this Loire SB focus, we do have a great offer available, although we aren't claiming the following wines were themselves panel tested. Which is not to doubt their quality: one is an upper 'house' Loire SB at a very-well-known, 3-star Michelin restaurant (this is indeed their stranded stock) and the Menetou's 2019 vintage scores 91 in the panel. Perhaps the biggest statement is that these are from Joseph Mellot, another of the super-classic names of the upper Loire.

We've managed to secure a block of a Menetou, a Pouilly-Fumé and a Sancerre at great prices (£13.95£15.50 and 16.95 resp). If you fancy a little stocking up for immediate/more everyday drinking that you might intend for the Crochet, here is a fine opportunity indeed. These wines are all £3-£5 lower in price than they really ought to be. And they present a chance, not only to find a rare Menetou (only 12% of all Menetou is exported), but also to compare and contrast these three classic appellations. But move quickly: there are not many of these to go round. Click the banner below.

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