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Henri Bourgeois Sancerre La Bourgeoise 1990

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre La Bourgeoise 1990

Having just spent the best part of a week knocking around Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, tasting and drinking the region’s wines, eating the occasional slice of Crottin de Chavignol, it should come as no surprise that this week I am casting the tasting spotlight in that direction (towards the wine rather than the cheese though). This week I am looking at Sancerre, to Chavignol to be precise, with the 1990 Sancerre La Bourgeoise from Henri Bourgeois.

I suspect the 1990 vintage is one that most drinkers of Sancerre, in 2017, would not immediately wish to seek out. The old maxim that Sancerre should be drunk young is true for many of the region’s wines, and – bearing in mind the huge quantities being churned out by négociants, co-operatives and less quality-minded producers who trade on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of what they produce – it is probably true for the vast majority of the wines. But it is certainly not true for all of the wines.

Much old Sancerre does just taste like tired old white wine (and encounters with these bottles will no doubt reinforce the ‘drink youngest available’ maxim), but I have learnt from experience that some can taste magnificent. The question is, how can we tell when an old Sancerre is likely to be worthy of our time? The truth is, there doesn’t seem to be an easy method (isn’t this always true of wine?). There are some trends, but there are always exceptions to the rules. First, I seem to have had more success with wines from Chavignol than with other Sancerre villages, and perhaps this commune’s terres blanches (Kimmeridgian limestone), the same terroir that imbues premier and grand cru Chablis with its unquestioned ability to age, makes a difference. The problem with this generalisation is that I have had good bottles from other communes and other terroirs, including an absolutely fizzing 1995 from Bué – a commune characterised predominantly by caillottes (Oxfordian limestone) – which was on top form when I tasted it only just last week.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre La Bourgeoise 1990

Secondly, you might also think vinification may play a role, especially as wines vinified in oak positively demand cellar time in order to show their best, while steel-vinified (or mixed vinification) wines are more likely to be ready to drink in the traditional Sancerre window. The problem here is that I have tasted both styles of wine from the same domaine, such as La Côte des Monts Damnés (vinified in stainless steel) and the Cuvée Etienne Henri (vinified in oak) from Henri Bourgeois and both can age well. Thirdly, one generalisation I would be prepared to sign my name to is that the identity of the domaine matters. While some hit the bull’s eye only occasionally (for example, that excellent 1995 came in a flight of less interesting wines, of which the two oldest bore strong a resemblance to Monty Python’s parrot) others seem to have much more reliable success.

The upshot of all this is that while I would never discount an old Sancerre, from any domaine or any village, I think genuine pleasure is more likely to be found in Chavignol, and Henri Bourgeois seems to have – based on my tastings – one of the most enviable track records. A tasting at the domaine last year took us back to 1990 with La Côte des Monts Damnés which showed brilliantly, and slightly less mature wines also showed well in my Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting the previous year. The 1990 La Côtes des Monts Damnés was vinified in steel, whereas the 1990 La Bourgeoise (tasted here) was vinified partly in steel and partly in oak, and it too shows extremely well. In the glass it displays a clean, gently polished straw yellow hue. Aromatically it seems to have evolved down the dried-fruit pathway, showing concentration, with lightly desiccated citrus fruits, rather than the more oxidative pathway some older Sancerre (and older Muscadet too) can follow. More importantly, it feels vigorous and alive on the palate, fresh and framed, with a textural energy and form that carries the fruit across the palate giving true joy, a feature which rolls up in the long, precise finish. This is an excellent result after more than 25 years in bottle, and yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that Sancerre is only for drinking young. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (24/7/17)

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