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Sancerre, I Went For The Wine And Fell In Love With The Town!

by Claire L. Torbeck, Dipwset And Certified Sommelier

As part of a road-trip around France, I planned a short stop in Sancerre to taste the wines and learn more about the producers. While the landscape greeting us was miles of gently rolling hills dotted with farms and small towns, the sight of fields of rapeseed was breathtaking (canola oil is a vegetable oil made from the pressed seeds of rapeseed). It looked like millions of fluorescent highlighters had been dumped in the fields. Blooming during April and May, we caught the crop at its brilliant best!

Drawing close to our destination, the landscape began to change, vineyards popped up and we began our climb up the hill to the town of Sancerre. It is stunning as it rises from the plains of the Loire Valley as if to proclaim its position as lord of all it surveys. Clearly it was a stronghold that made the village a strategic location for, I am sure, most of its history. It is thought the Romans planted the first vines here.

Up the hill, we popped out into the town square where most of Sancerre’s shops and restaurants are located. Luckily, our B&B, La Place, was located on this beautiful square. What a gem! The house was originally the proprietor’s grandmother’s home. She spent two years having the property remodeled for her B&B. I would highly recommend this property as a great location in the heart of the town with spacious rooms which includes breakfast.

We strolled around the square and up and down many of the side streets, dropping into interesting shops. I came prepared with a list of vintners to visit, and Domaine Vincent Pinard had a shop around the corner. We tasted his entry level Sauvignon Blanc with lovely aromas of peach, nectarine, limestone, and a side of smoke (terrior) which had more minerality than fruitiness. Next, we tasted a single vineyard bottling from two old vines plots (55+ years old) that was minerally, unfiltered (texture), and elegant.

The dry, Sancerre wines from Sauvignon Blanc have made this little corner of France famous the world over. Before phylloxera devastated the grapevines, Sancerre was Pinot Noir country and red wines were mainly produced. After phylloxera, Sauvignon Blanc was planted to replace the lost vines, and this grape thrives in the variety of soils (terroirs) that surround the town. Limestone, clay and flintstone (silex) all contribute to the aromas and flavors. The area, which includes many of the surrounding hamlets, not only produces its famous white wines but it is also home to some very good red wines crafted from the Pinot Noir grape and some delightful, savory rosé wines. If you do not wish to splurge on Burgundy, explore Pinot Noir wines from areas surrounding Chablis, Burgundy, and Sancerre. You will be pleasantly surprised (as will your wallet).

Next, we tasted at Alphonse Mellot, a fantastic producer and world-renowned vintner of both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. We tasted seven whites and six reds, playing charades as I speak no French and our host spoke no English. It was great fun using our phones to interpret and we all enjoyed the challenge. Luckily, it was a slow afternoon, and the proprietor could focus on our visit. While I absolutely loved the whites, I must say Alphonse Mellot has truly mastered and perfected Pinot Noir. His wines were indeed spectacular.

Next, we went on a merry chase to locate Domaine Vacheron, another stellar producer. As he is building a new tasting room in town, we were like lost sheep with our inability to ask for directions (no French) complicated by the twisty roads and losing sight of which direction we were heading. We were finally successful and had a lovely tasting of both white and red wines. They also had an amazing display of fossils found in the vineyards which highlight the limestone and sedimentary soils and deposits. It is amazing what nature has created over the years and left behind as treasures!

Looking for a place to rest our feet and have a beverage, we stopped at La Banque, an upscale watering hole with stellar service and an expanded offering of wines and cocktails. Our dinner reservation was at the La Pomme d’Or, and like so many other fantastic French restaurants, it was a prix fix menu with the ability to select the number of courses desired. Small and intimate, notable local wine list, fresh and savory ingredients, warm bread, all shared with good friends on this adventure with us. Highly recommended cuisine with great attention to every detail.

It is a charming town, the people are friendly and accommodating, the wine is fantastic, the food creative and gourmet, and the narrow, cobbled streets a delight to explore. I went for the wine and fell in love with the town. Savor the French countryside with a trip to Sancerre and do not forget to allow a bit of time to explore the surrounding areas!

About the Author

Claire L. Torbeck, Dipwset And Certified Sommelier - I am the Wine Director/Cellar Master for the International Wine & Food Society -Lake Tahoe where I purchase and manage the cellar and provide wine pairings for events. I develop and deliver educational seminars for winery staff, clubs and enthusiasts, purchase wines for clients, and judge at various wine competitions around California.

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