It’s no longer fitting to speak of Sauvignon Blanc from the chalk hills of the eastern Loire as simply herbaceous. Sancerre is riper and richer than ever. New styles continue to appear in which tropical fruit and toasty notes dominate.
It’s not just the whites that have changed. While they are the most familiar wines by far, there are also reds and rosés produced in Sancerre. The grape is Pinot Noir, and a newfound richness has also come to these wines.
Once thin and often as herbaceous as the whites, recent offerings bring notes of black cherry and spice, creating a new generation of full-bodied, ageworthy wines. These aren’t just limited to productions from top domaines like Vacheron. Smaller estates like Pierre Morin are also part of the action.
This newfound focus on red wine is not some marketing ploy to capitalize on the ever-increasing demand for Pinot Noir. For seven hundred years, prior to the phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century, Sancerre was known for red wine. Sauvignon Blanc arrived as post-phylloxera vineyards were replanted, and it took over in the minds of consumers.
Tasting through the latest vintage releases, most from the high-quality 2015 crop, we have to adjust our view of Sancerre.
One reason to alter this focus comes from the use of riper fruit, due to later harvests and the effects of climate change on regional temperatures.
Growers have also shifted their attitudes toward their wines. Rather than produce bottlings meant to be enjoyed immediately, they now expect their wines to age. Many of the wines from the most recent vintages will be even better in two or three years, so in that, they’ve succeeded.
That’s new and exciting. That is the future of Sancerre.
Recommended Wines from Sancerre
Daniel Chotard 2015 Les Cris (Sancerre); $39, 95 points. This is a limited production wine from small parcels of limestone soil. Aged in acacia barrels, it has subtle spice and toast flavors. They wood aging has had the effect of broadening the wine and giving it extra richness. It’s an impressive wine, ready to drink from 2018. Cellar Selection
Domaine Vacheron 2015 Le Paradis (Sancerre); $65, 94 points. Produced from biodynamically grown grapes, the wine was aged in wooden vats to promote the oxygenation and richness of the already ripe fruits. The result is a serious wine, one with intense fruit and with a broad swathe of ripe white stone fruits and mineral texture. The wine is powerful, finishing with a touch of pepper as well as great fruit. Drink from 2018. Editor’s Choice
Henri Bourgeois 2015 Sancerre d’Antan Terroir de Silex (Sancerre); $60, 94 points. The wine’s name means Sancerre from the old days, or made in a traditional way. Certainly if that way was to make a superb rich wine with great fruit, then this succeeds. It comes from flint soil and that’s discernible in the steely edge that gives a contrast to the ripe fruit. Drink this still-young wine, with its wood-aging flavors from 2019. Cellar Selection
Michel Vattan 2015 Les L-O (Sancerre); $34, 93 points. From a number of old-vine parcels, designated in the past as L-O and only produced in the best years, this wine is beautifully ripe with great layers of rich apple and pear fruits. They are cut with zesty acidity and a more mineral aspect. The wine still needs to age further, so drink from 2019.
Domaine Fouassier 2015 Le Clos de Bannon (Sancerre); $33, 92 points. Like all wines from this producer, the fruit from this five-acre vineyard has been grown biodynamically. That explains both the clean lines of the wine and its beautiful ripe fruitiness. The yellow fruits and generous texture are deliciously full in the mouth. Drink this fine wine from 2018.
Alphonse Mellot 2014 En Grands Champs (Sancerre); $112, 94 points. From old vines planted in a single vineyard, this is a spectacular red. It has the crisp acidity of the cool-climate Sancerre, but it also has the weight and ripeness of a fine Burgundy. The wood aging has left a spicy toasty edge to the beautiful cherry fruits and acidity. It could age for another year to be at its best. Drink from 2019. Cellar Selection
Domaine Bernard Fleuriet et Fils 2015 Anthocyane (Sancerre); $60, 94 points. Old-vine Pinot Noir has produced a rich structured wood-aged wine. With its opulent texture and ripe full-bodied cherries and red plums, the wine is poised and generous. Drink this impressive wine from 2018.
Pierre Morin 2015 Sancerre; $24, 90 points. This is a ripe smooth wine. With its generous tannins and concentrated black-plum fruits, it is rich and full. The wine still has plenty of youthful acidity and fruitiness and needs time to fully develop. Drink from 2019.
Domaine Sautereau 2014 Côte de Reigny (Sancerre); $23, 89 points. Some barrel aging has given this wine, with its already ripe fruits, extra richness. It is spicy, lifted by juicy acidity from the black cherries and plums. This is a full, warm and ripe wine that is just now ready to drink.
Paul Prieur et Fils 2015 Sancerre; $25, 89 points. The wine is ripe, full of black-cherry fruits and with a substantial tannic core. At the same time, it does have the lighter style normally associated with red Pinot Noir. The aftertaste is ripe, fruity and rich with fruit. Drink from 2018.