Gitton Père et Fils Sancerre X-elis 2010
Following on from my recent focus on Saumur, in my series of Saumur-Time profile updates and tasting reports, during 2014 I will be concentrating on expanding and updating my coverage of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, and of course the associated appellations of Menetou-Salon, Reuilly, Quincy and the Coteaux du Giennois. Although it was the wines of these appellations - Sancerre in particular - that first drew me to the Loire, in more recent years I have neglected them somewhat. They didn't really fire my interest in the way some of the wines of Touraine, Anjou and Muscadet did. Recently, though, perhaps prompted by return visits to the all of these appellations (to be honest I didn't get up to Gien, but I made it to all the others), I have a renewed interest in these wines. And so I should; Sancerre is surely the most commercially successful appellation in the Loire Valley, quite possibly the most widely appreciated, and I am sure along with Muscadet it is one of the most famous. And I know, because I have always kept in touch with one or two notable domaines, such as Alphonse Mellot and Domaine Vacheron, that there are still some excellent wines being produced here.
I thought I would kick off in a gentle fashion with this wine, from Gitton Père et Fils. This is an unusual domaine in that the proprietor Pascal Gitton not only has a huge portfolio of Loire vineyards under his control - not only 27 hectares in Sancerre but also 7.5 hectares in Pouilly-Fumé and a little over 2 hectares in the Coteaux du Giennois - he also has ownership of a 13-hectare domaine in the Côtes de Duras. This appellation lies in France's south-west, to the east of Bordeaux and the Entre Deux Mers.
As a consequence the range of wines made at this particular address is very broad. On the whole the fruit is picked by machine, but thereafter Pascal works in finer detail, fermenting plot-by-plot, without recourse to added enzymes or yeasts. A number of his wines reflect the terroir or lieu-dit of origin, with his top cuvées all coming from the east-facing slopes above Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre (a small town close to Sancerre, and one of the fourteen communes of the Sancerre appellation). Here are the lieux-dits Les Herses, Galinot, Les Implipeaux and Les Belles Dames, the latter of these surely familiar to those who drink the top red cuvée Belle Dame from Domaine Vacheron. All of these vines are planted on flint and two of the vineyards - Les Implipeaux and Les Belles Dames - are the source of the fruit for Pascal Gitton's X-elis cuvée. It's not unusual for Sancerre vignerons to label a cuvée from flint with some play on the word silex (French for flint) and I see Pascal has also not been able to resist following suit.
What sets this wine apart from most other silex cuvées I have tasted over the years, however, is fermentation in wood. Oak and Sancerre are no strangers, of course, but when the wood shows through too plainly in the finished wine I often find it a turn-off. This wine is fermented in 600-litre futs, generally one- or two-years old. The élevage continues in the same vessels, before transfer to stainless steel vat before bottling. Tasting the Gitton Père et Fils Sancerre X-elis 2010 blind, I had no expectations about it; it has a pale straw-gold hue in the glass, nothing unusual, but then the nose kicks off with a little blast of aniseed, clearly betraying the wood used here, although happily this fades somewhat and a little more complex fruit character soon comes to the fore. There is citrus fruit and crystalline yellow plum, with nuances of smoke, juniper berry and bitter fruit pith. The palate shows this bitter backbone laced with subtle oak complexities, which take a backseat behind the fruit and the fresh texture. This is young, quite energetic despite that shield of aniseed-oak, with a tingling acidity which lasts through the long finish. This is a wine that will take some aging I think, and is one of the better oak-aged cuvées of Sancerre I have tasted. 16/20 (20/1/14)