It’s hard to find many benefits of climate change. However, there is one for vine-growers and wine producers in cooler climates. Grapes that ripened erratically are now regularly capable of going the extra mile, turning out wines that previously could only have been made in warmer climes.
The red wines of Sancerre and Menetou-Salon, which are made entirely from Pinot Noir, used to be mainly thin and weedy. A few geniuses, such as the Vacheron family, managed to coax richness from grape, but mostly the wines were light in profile, with flavors of bell pepper and green herbs. Sometimes, a producer would throw wood at the problem and fail.
The last six years, starting with the 2014 vintage, there has been a remarkable change. Producers have learned to make red wines that are close to attaining the heights of Burgundian Pinot Noir, with the same depth and complexity. They have learned that wood supports the fruit and doesn’t submerge it.
The resulting wines are reflected in a recent batch of reds reviewed from the regions. Who would have thought that Sancerre could produce a 95 point red?
These wines are succulent in rich black cherry tones, lifted by acidity that comes from picking the grapes at just the right moment, and not from under-ripeness. They show all that effort put into growing Pinot Noir in the chalk soils of Sancerre was worth it—that there was a logic to putting the red vines among the ocean of Sauvignon Blanc.
Alphonse Mellot 2016 Géneration Dix-Neuf (Sancerre); $140, 95 points. This flagship wine is one of a pair of releases that celebrate the 19 generations of the producer. Its structure and ripe, generous black fruits are still developing, sustained by the wood aging and acidity. Age further and drink from 2022. Organic and biodynamic. MS Walker. Cellar Selection.
Domaine Vacheron 2016 Belle Dame (Sancerre); $84, 94 points. This is a magnificent wine from a producer that has made a name for its red Sancerre. The wine is dark, solid and firmly structured, balanced by rich, dense black fruits that impart great potential. Drink this wine now, but it will be better from 2021. Terlato Wines International.
Pierre Prieur et Fils 2014 Cuvée Maréchal Prieur (Sancerre); $35, 93 points. This ripe, wood-aged wine is mature. Perfumed and with its spice and black fruits supporting the secondary, smoky flavors, the wine is suave, balanced and totally ready to drink. Vineyard Road. Editors’ Choice.
Domaine Pellé 2018 Morogues (Menetou-Salon); $27, 93 points. This succulent, juicy wine has ripe cherry flavors, generous tannins and freshness all at the same time. Acidity and fruitiness hold the wine together and promise aging. Drink from 2021. DB Wine Selection. Editors’ Choice.
Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy 2018 Terre de Maimbray (Sancerre); $30, 92 points. This dense wine has fine tannins that are still softening. Blackberry and red cherry fruits shine with freshness and richness. The elements have potential and will come together further. Drink from 2022. Weygandt Metzler.
Michel Vattan 2018 B-C (Sancerre); $30, 91 points. Soft and fruity, this wine has a texture that has smoothed out into luscious blackberry flavors. Acidity and a hint of pepper add further interest to the forward fruitiness. Drink from 2021. Boivin Selections.
Lucien Crochet 2015 La Croix du Roy (Sancerre); $32, 91 points. This perfumed, ripe wine is now fully mature. Although the fruitiness may be diminished, the texture has softened and opened into a smooth, structured, cherry-jam-flavored, wine. Drink now. Rosenthal Wine Merchant.
Domaine Delaporte 2019 Chavignol (Sancerre); $36, 90 points. In this rounded wine, generous black-cherry fruits are balanced by acidity and a light touch of tannins. This perfumed wine is open, packed with fruit and a peppery edge. Drink the wine from 2021. Vineyard Brands.
Domaine Bernard Fleuriet et Fils 2018 Sancerre; $34, 90 points. A ripe, smoothly textured wine, this is packed with black-cherry and red-berry flavors. Tannins support the fruits and spicy structure. Drink from 2021. Integrity Wines GA.
Isabelle et Pierre Clément 2018 Classique (Menetou-Salon); $22, 90 points. Short wood aging has enhanced the perfumes of this smoky, ripe and fruity wine. With acidity as well as red-berry flavors, the wine is still buoyant, showing a firm layer of tannins. Drink from 2021. World Wine Source.