Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Les Bonnes Bouches 2008
Perhaps my vinous revelation of the year so far has been a sudden personal unveiling of the relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and terroir and how, in the best wines at least, the latter affects the flavour of the former. It didn’t come as any real surprise of course, I have no doubt whatsoever that terroir affects the aromas, structure and flavours of many different varieties. Riesling is the one most often touted, although my own pet example has long been Cabernet Franc, as the three terroirs of Chinon (sand, gravel and limestone, the latter stone known locally as tuffeau) do make for three very distinct styles of wine. For Sauvignon Blanc it is perhaps more difficult; so many of the wines are dominated by varietal characteristics, sometimes turbocharged by early picking which results in fruit with higher levels of methoxypyrazines, bringing those characteristic crunchy, capsicum aromas. With New World examples even later picking still produces wines with overt varietal traits, including passion fruit, gooseberry, grass and asparagus, veering into less appealing flavours such as tinned peas and green beans. And of course let us not forget the old favourite, cat’s pee.
My revelation came at this year’s Salon, at the stand of François Crochet, when he – or rather Carine, his wife – was showing the domaine’s three terroir-specific cuvées, these being Les Amoureuses from a vineyard of heavy clay soils, Le Chêne Marchand, a vineyard characterised by one of the region’s most typical soil types, caillottes (which are small, chalky stones) and finally Exils which comes from a flinty terroirs (flint being silex – of which Exils is an anagram of course). Not one of them tasted like those conveyer-belt varietal Sauvignons at all; and each one had distinctive traits which carried through across other vintages. And since then I have seen these traits in other wines of the appellation, and when judging the Loire category of the Decanter World Wine Awards recently two or three wines – which I scored quite highly as a result – also displayed these characteristics.
And so it is now perhaps time to look in more depth at one or two wines, rather than these hurried tastings at wine fairs or competitions. Over the next few months I have a small handful of wines from the Loire’s central vineyards lined up, with the intention of tastings and viewing the wines in the context of their terroir. First up is Les Bonnes Blanches from Henri Bourgeois, a cuvée sourced from vineyards to the west of Sancerre, between this most famous of wine towns and nearby Chavignol. The latter is perhaps better known for goat’s cheese, but fans of Loire Valley Sauvignon will also readily recognise it as a source of high quality Sancerre (as evinced by François Cotat, whose labels declare the wines as from Chavignol more than Sancerre) even if it is not one of the appellation’s fourteen authorised communes. The vines are rooted in soils which are 65% clay and 35% chalk, so we should we looking for the clay-caillottes characteristics, which are very similar, these two terroirs producing solid, substantial wines, rather than the more lifted, citrusy, vibrant and filigree character found with wines from flinty soils.
As for the wine itself, the 2008 Sancerre Les Bonnes Bouches from Henri Bourgeois has a pale, polished yellow hue in the glass, clean and bright. The nose is classic Sauvignon Blanc in a restrained style, starting with yellow fruit, capsicum and yellow plum, and then followed up by face cream with a lightly steely edge. Citrus fruits, densely packed and creamed, with a quite solid feel to them, more akin to the richness of an orange cream than the zingy tang of orange zest, which would be more suggestive of flint. So this seems to be in keeping with the wine’s chalky caillottes origins, although I’m not tasting this blind. Tightly packed on the palate, a good creamy flesh on entry, lovely fruit, lively and vivacious, full of direction and life. This wine is full of the well-directed punch that Sauvignon can offer, but it also has a polished, lightly creamed-corn character which I find rather attractive. A moderately short finish rounds it all up. Very good. 17/20 (24/5/10)