Sancerre, which produces one of the most famous Sauvignon Blancs in France, is a sub-region in the eastern Loire Valley.
Before the mid-1900s, Sancerre was primarily associated with light-bodied red wines, such as Pinot Noir, and it is only after the town received its appellation that it also became known for the quality of its white wines.
Wines from Sancerre are typically light, dry and high in acidity. Only Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are permitted to be AOC (Appellation d’origine côntrolée) certified wines.
The region around Sancerre was first cultivated by the Romans around the 1st century AD, as the Loire Valley and the Loire River was utilised as part of their vast trading network in France, then known as Gaul.
Sancerre’s position in the middle of France made it an important trading area, both for the Romans and later during the Middle Ages, when it became a stronghold during the Hundred Years War. During the Reformation in the 1500s, French Huguenots moved to Sancerre and held out against the Catholic French king for eight months during the Wars of Religion, in what became known as the Siege of Sancerre. The town continued its militaristic history, and during the French Revolution, it was the location of a rebellion in favour of restoring the monarchy.
In the 1860s, Sancerre was hit by the phylloxera epidemic that swept through Europe and the grape vines in the area were devastated. Up until this point, Sancerre had produced mostly light red wines, however, after finding a way to fend off phylloxera by grafting European grapevines onto rootstocks from American plants (which have natural defences against phylloxera), white wine began to take off in the region, as Sauvignon Blanc grapes were more receptive to this new combination.
Sancerre received its appellation for white wines in 1936 and for red wines in 1959. After World War II, Sancerre wines became known in Paris as easy drinking wines, and its popularity only grew from there.
Sancerre is located in the eastern part of the Loire Valley and enjoys a continental climate with short, hot summers and long, cold winters. The length of the winters can extend the threat of frost into the early stages of spring in the region. However, the climatealso helps to give these wines their rich textures and renowned aromas. The Loire River does help to moderate temperatures in the region, however., protecting the vines to a degree.
The soil in the region is mostly chalk, limestone gravel, and flint, which wine producers’ credit for the gunflint aroma that is sometimes found in Sancerre wines.
Around 2,900 hectares of vines are grown in Sancerre, with 2,200 hectares devoted to growing white wine grapes, and 600 hectares for red wine grapes. 79% of the wine produced in Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc and 21% is Pinot Noir. Yields are limited by the AOC to a maximum of 60 hectolitres per hectare for Sauvignon Blanc wines, and to 55 hectolitres per hectare for red and rose wines from Sancerre.
As a whole, Sancerre produces about 16 million bottles of wine per year.
Sancerre grows primarily Sauvignon Blanc, a white wine grape, and Pinot Noir, a red wine grape.
It is thought that Sauvignon Blanc’s name derives from the French words sauvage (wild) and blanc (white), which is a reference to its origins as an indigenous, wild-growing French grape.
Pinot Noir derives its name from the French words for pine and black, which references the Pinot Noir grape’s tight clusters, which can look similar to a pinecone.
White wines from Sancerre, which make up the vast majority of wine production, are usually more aromatic (floral), with notes of grapefruit and citrus, although they can also have flavours like grass, anise, pear, melon, gooseberry, and gunflint.
Sancerre wines are high in acidity, as well as light and dry.
From the mid-1990s onwards, local regulations have prohibited Sancerre vineyards from producing vineyard designated wines in the region. A vineyard designated wine is one produced exclusively by that vineyard, and then the vineyard puts its name on the label.
Because this practice is prohibited in Sancerre, some vineyards have tried to get around the regulation by abbreviating its name on the label. For example, a wine produced by Le Grand Chemarin would have the name of the wine with CG following.
However, there are several notable producers within the Sancerre appellation, such as Clos de la Poussie, Chene Marchand and Le Grand Chemarin, that are among the most renowned in the Country.
Francois Cotat’s estate in Chavignol is small in size, but huge in terms of reputation. The wines produced from this vineyard are atypical for the region, which only helps to increase their notoriety.