The Loire river is the longest river in France, extending for about 300 miles, from the Massif Central, continuing north and west, and finally ending in the Atlantic ocean. As it happens in many wine appellations in the world, there are vineyards planted on both sides of the river, where over sixty three appellations craft all styles of wines: whites, rosés, sparkling wines and dry reds. This post is dedicated to the regions located on the eastern side of the Loire; here, in the very heart of France, also known as the Central vineyards, we can find two appellations of note for producing excellent dry whites: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
Map courtesy of Loire Valley wines (the Central Vineyards are located inside the triangle)
Located on opposite sides of the Loire river, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé enjoy a completely different climate from other Loire appellations, located to the west and closer to the Atlantic, where the climate is maritime and therefore humid. In the Central vineyards, we find a cool continental climate, with temperature and seasonal differences; that means sunny summers and very cold winters. Spring frost during the growing season is often a real problem, as well as intense summer hailstorms. In general, all of the Loire Valley is considered a cool climate region, yielding very lively wines with high acidity. The Loire Valley is located at 47º latitude north, which is very northerly; however, the area enjoys longer days with more sun hours, especially during ripening season (August and September).
This is the actual place where Sauvignon Blanc is believed to have originated, and from where it was transported to other countries. Pouilly-Fumé is located on the right side of the river, near the town called Pouilly- Sur-Loire while Sancerre is located on the left bank surrounding the city of the same name and neighboring other satellite appellations that also make good Sauvignon Blancs, such as Menetou-Salon, Reuilly and Quincy.
The soils in Sancerre are chalky and rocky and can be divided into three groups. The Terres Blanches are rich in Kimmeridgian marl, a limestone rich in sea fossils, which usually provides wines with plenty of structure (it's the same soil found in Chablis). The Caillotes combine limestone pebbles, clay and gravel and produces the most aromatic wines, and finally the Silex, a flint sand based soil that gives the wines their typical minerality and smoky aromas. In Pouilly-Fumé the soils are similar to those of Sancerre but usually have more Silex, hence the use of the word Fumé (smoky in French). Sancerre is the largest producer of the whole Loire valley, producing double the amount of bottles of any other sub appellation, which includes a small amount of red and rosé, while Pouilly-Fumé produces only white wines.
Stylistically, Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are completely different from those produced in the new world. For starters they tend to be more restrained, mineral and herbaceous and therefore less fruity, plus they are not normally aged in oak, with most producers fermenting in stainless steel and or very old casks and purposely avoiding malolactic fermentation. Their focus is to keep the wines’ elegance and inert aromas of the grape. These characteristics are what have made Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé a better match for food, and what made them a favorite of most French bistros.
Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs feature light to medium bodies, medium alcohol, high acidity and no tannins. Common descriptors used for these wines are: gooseberry, black currant leaves, green peppers, pink grapefruit, fresh cut grass, thyme, fennel, cat’s pee, asparagus, lemon curd and lime zest. In warmer vintages, they will also show white peach, pineapple and honeydew melon notes. Sancerre tends to be very green on the nose, elegant and refined while Pouilly-Fumé is smoky, mineral and a bit rounder in body. They are best consumed upon release and up to three years from their vintage, right before they lose their delicious freshness.
My wine recommendations: a very special thanks to Kobrand, Vineyard Brands, Taub Family Selections and David Milligan Selections for this fine selection of samples.
J de Villebois Sancerre Blanc 2020, $29.99
Vivacious 100% Sauvignon Blanc, grown in three different terroirs: Caillotes (stones and clay), Terres Blanches (Kimmeridgian clay) and Silex (flint). This wine is completely fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for six months on its lees.
This lovely Sancerre delivers gooseberry, green lime and lemon zest aromas, framed by a lively and mouth-watering finish.
Domaine Fournier Sancerre Silex 2020, $49.99
Minerally laden 100% Sauvignon Blanc grown in Silex soils (with black, gray and pink flint), from an average of 35 years old vines. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged for 8 months on its lees, without any malolactic fermentation. Classic Sancerre exudes black currant leaves and green lime zest notes, with a herbal and stony finish.
Domaine Fournier Pouilly Fumé Les Deux Cailloux 2020, $29.99 Elegant 100% Sauvignon Blanc from 20 years old vines grown in Kimmeridgian limestone and Silex. It is aged from 6-12 months on its lees. Vibrant Pouilly-Fumé features pineapple, lime and white peach notes. Taut and focused on the finish.
Michel Redde et Fils Pouilly Fumé La Moynerie 2019, $33.99
Single vineyard 100 % Sauvignon Blanc from 20-25 year old vines, grown in Kimmeridgian marl and clay with Flint. Fermented in a combination of stainless steel and wooden barrels and aged on its lees for 10-12 months. Lively Pouilly-Fumé yields pink grapefruit and ripe pineapple notes with an enticing and very mineral finish.
Saget La Perrière La Perrière Blanc Fumé de Pouilly 2018, $31.99
Refined 100 % Sauvignon Blanc, completely fermented in stainless steel with indigenous (natural) yeasts and aged for 6 months on its lees.
Textbook Pouilly-Fumé yields honeysuckle, white peach and smoky goût de pierre à fusil notes with a delicious and long lasting finish.
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