The name “Sancerre” evokes particular styles of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, ones with bright fruit, lively minerality, and stunning complexity. It’s because of these distinctive traits that Sancerre has become the most renowned place in the world for these two varieties.
The appellation touches the banks of the Loire River and stretches over 7,400 acres westward. The river made it an early hub for the wine trade; in the 12th century monks exported its then-famous Pinot Noir via the waterway, and it wasn’t unusual to find mentions of these red Sancerre wines in historical royal court documents. After phylloxera ravaged the existing Pinot Noir vines, vineyards were replanted with Sauvignon Blanc. The white grapes proved to be so at home in Sancerre’s terroir that it soon became the dominant grape. In 1936, in recognition of these high-quality Sauvignon Blancs, Sancerre achieved AOC status.
Digging deeper, three different soil types provide nuance to these elegant wines. Clay and limestone, found in the hilly, western part of the appellation, lend a sense of power. Gravelly limestone caillottes, on the other hand, result in a more delicate style of Sauvignon Blanc. The third, siliceous-clay, which is found furthest east, creates highly aromatic styles. Despite these differences, there is a purity that speaks to the essence of Sancerre’s terroir; these wines couldn’t be from anywhere else but here.
The Loire River and surrounding forest play a major role in moderating temperature and mitigating frost throughout the growing season, which allows grapes to fully ripen while retaining electric acidity.
Although Sancerre is most often synonymous with the white grape—look at any wine list and you’ll see “Sancerre” instead of “Sauvignon Blanc”—Pinot Noir and rosé wines still thrive. As winemakers continued to elevate Sauvignon Blanc in the appellation in the earlier part of the 20th century, Pinot Noir also benefited from the new ideas and innovations being introduced in the vineyards and wineries. In 1959, the red variety also achieved AOC status.
Given the long history of winemaking in the region, many estates remain family-run affairs. By respecting their roots and traditions while continuing to refine techniques, they produce energetic, terroir-driven Sancerre wines.