The wine trail summer 2016...
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume Demonstrate the Power of Loire Terrior
Barely a week has passed, 2000 kilometers later and we are heading east from Nantes to land in the beautiful central vineyards and a comparative analysis of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. Regardless of your personal preference, this is a great journey in discovering the soil variants to clonal differences in Sauvignon Blanc.
Sancerre’s soil specificity is of interest in what it adds to the experience. This area is well endowed with Kimmeridgian clay, a limestone based and highly fossilized clay originating in Kimmeridge, England. This soil can be found from England to Scotland and into Champagne and Burgundy.
In each of the areas where this soil is associated with grape growing and wine making there are a specific series of characteristics which can be found. In Sancerre as well as Chablis, you should find to some degree a salinity, or brininess in the wine, along with some level of oyster shell. The wines of Sancerre are in general, made in stainless steel and do no go through malolactic fermentation. These two wine making techniques coupled with an effort to press quickly to insure little to no skin contact are employed to insure the cleanest possible expression of soil and grape.
Our day started with a small producer whom I have known for years, Domaine Alain Gueneau. Elisa has taken over the reins some time ago and in 2015 convinced Alain and Dominque to invest heavily in equipment. The investment was considerable. They started with a new building to house all the wine making equipment on a single floor in a large high ceilinged space. Next purchase, larger state of the art pneumatic presses. This purchase increased the quality of the primary juice significantly while minimizing juice to skin contact during press, and allowing them to move through a higher percentage of fruit per day reducing potential oxidation issues.
The Gueneau are very late pickers. They are interested in a tropical quality to their sauvignon blanc bringing a juiciness to the finished wine. The richness, the salinity, the fruity sharpness of the layers is the balancing act to the incredible ripeness from the longer hangtime. The Gueneau manage to harness the beauty of the soil surrounding their domaine in their entry level offering. On this visit, we were exposed to a slew of new products which are vineyard\ soil specific and show the diversity of expression the Sancerrois can offer. Their bottling from a tiny vineyard in Chavignol shows how soil striation can alter the expression of a single grape variety. Here the wine is equally focused but has a juicier minerality in the mid palette. The floral character is more pronounced. There is a sense in tasting this cuvee that the aromatics simply jump out of the glass like a bouquet of sweet flowers. The salinity is less evident and the candied nature of the fruit wrapped in the orchids, lilies, gardenias and freesia is so delicate when tasting it, you are afraid it might break. The finish is so long and persistent each sip lingers. A great union of power and elegance a bottle.
We next travelled to Pouilly sur Loire, to the Silex soils of Pouilly Fume and the hospitality of Chateau de Tracy and its 17th century Disneyesque Chateau in eponymous Tracy sur Loire. While they offer four different cuvees, they have a singular attention to soil expression. Their vineyards are a flint base with varying amounts of limestone striated throughout with streaks of Kimmeridgian clay. Here for most the cuvees the wines are classically made in steel and without malolactic fermentation. When coming directly from Sancerre while each of Chateau de Tracy’s cuvees are unique there is a singular intensity from Pouilly Fume that is remarkable. The fruit characteristics are similar but more intense. The expression of the flint is so clear, a smokiness that is very subtle but evident. Sancerre is not better or worse than Pouilly the wines are incomparable except for the varietal. Pouilly simply has a laser intensity to the fruit, florals and minerality as different as though different grapes were involved.
©American Sommelier 2016 by Andrew F. Bell