Sancerre: The Appellation
The success of Sancerre is, I suspect, down to the fact that it can be all things to all drinkers.
On the one hand, this is a very accessible appellation, even to those new to wine. This is partly down to its reliance largely on a single variety, Sauvignon Blanc, one with which even novice drinkers are already familiar and, even if you aren’t, it doesn’t exactly take long to get to grips with it. The Sauvignon Blanc style in Sancerre might not be so obvious as its modern-day New World counterpart, offering more subtle citrus, flower and mineral elements compared to the zingy firecracker fruit found in Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, nevertheless you don’t need a slew of wine qualifications to pick out some typical Sauvignon flavours in a glass of entry-level Sancerre.
This broad accessibility is also a reflection of the pricing of Sancerre. This is one of the more economically successful appellations of the Loire Valley, one in which growers can expect a good return even on entry-level wines, certainly more so than their counterparts in, for example, Quincy, Cheverny or Muscadet. And the very best wines can fetch a tidy sum. Nevertheless, the situation here is still very different to that in other parts of France. Many famous wines from the precious côtes of Burgundy or the prized gravel beds of Bordeaux are now so restricted in supply and so highly priced that even if you are fortunate enough to find a merchant willing to sell you a bottle, you could not afford it. Sancerre, meanwhile, even the top wines from some of the very best domaines such as Gérard Boulay, Alphonse Mellot (pictured below), Vincent Pinard and so on, remains within the financial reach of many.
I would also propose that, when it comes to Sancerre, there is none of the usual wine mysticism that sometimes revolves around other famous Old World appellations. For starters, the name is easy to pronounce, so even wine neophytes can comfortably ask for a glass of Sancerre, certainly more comfortably that they can ask for Bourgueil (more difficult than you think) or Haut-Poitou, anyway. In addition, while many famous French wines need some time in the cellar to show their best, so that we can understand why we paid so much money for them, the accepted wisdom with Sancerre – and this is certainly correct of the majority of wines, although perhaps not all – is that the wines are ready to drink as soon as you pick them up from the shelf. This is much more in keeping with the way most wines are purchased and drunk today. Those of us who have wines sitting around in a cellar, an air-conditioned room, a wine cabinet or in professional storage are, in this day and age, very much in the minority.
I should also make clear my belief that Sancerre also has significant appeal on a gastronomic level, because the white wines work so well with certain dishes, not least all manner of seafood and most cheeses, including (of course) the Loire Valley’s many goat’s cheeses. And so Sancerre is beginning to look like the perfect wine; widely distributed, affordable, easy to order, ready to drink when you like and just perfect with food. Who could ask for more?