Domaine Vacheron, 2011 Update

Has Sancerre given us all it has to offer? Or, as I have come to wonder in recent years, is this a region of unbridled potential, one where we have yet – despite the appellation’s global fame and instantly recognisable status – only just scratched the surface?

A look back at Sancerre’s recent history might at first suggest the former is true. After all, I would argue that this is the Loire’s best known appellation, and to those who would disagree in favour of Muscadet for this title, I would counter with the fact that Sancerre is surely the more successful of the two. Sales are riding high, and bottles with Sancerre written on the label usually sell for several times the price of their more salty Atlantic cousins. This is despite the fact that the quality of the latter may, on occasion and from the right domaine, be considerably higher.

Domaine Vacheron

So Sancerre is famous, but that is a long way from saying we have seen all this appellation has to offer. In fact, I wonder whether we really understand even a fraction of Sancerre, its vineyards and wines. To illustrate my point, let us contrast the wines of Sancerre against those of Burgundy. This is not at all inappropriate, on many levels, as there are numerous similarities between Sancerre and Burgundy, especially Sancerre and Chablis. The terroir is similar, the famous Kimmeridgian chalk of the latter being the same limestone that gives us terres blanches and caillottes, two of the three principal terroirs (the third being flint) of Sancerre. The style of wine, in terms of its style and structure, is similar. One major difference, however, is in the granularity of the range of wines. Whereas in Chablis, or the Côte d’Or for that matter, we are quite used to seeing the wines of single vineyards, either grands or premiers crus, or unclassified lieux-dits, aside from a few famous names – Le Chêne Marchand, Les Monts Damnés, Le Cul Beaujeu for example – this is very unusual in Sancerre. Here, wines are much more likely to be terroir-specific (limited to one of the three types above) than vineyard-specific, and indeed it is not unusual for wines to be blends of two or three of the major terroirs. These cuvées have more in common with a generic Burgundy, perhaps a commune-level wine such as a generic Corton or Meursault, than the grands and premiers crus that made Burgundy famous.

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