The Upper Loire's Best Wine: Sancerre

The Upper Loire’s Best: Sancerre

Following France’s longest river, the Loire, east from the Atlantic coast through the maritime conditions of Nantes to Saumur, then Tours, and finally Sancerre, a shift toward a cooler continental climate occurs. The various appellations along the way, connected by this French wine region’s defining body of water and its tributaries, contain a diverse collection of grape varieties and winemaking styles well worth exploring. 

Within the upper Loire sub-region, also called the Central Vineyards, Sancerre represents the benchmark for French red wine, white wine, and rosé bottlings produced from two grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. For many lovers of Sauvignon Blanc especially, Sancerre epitomizes the ultimate reflection of the French white wine.

Before jumping into the history of this French wine region, we wanted to share a secret about some of the Loire Valley’s best wines: you can often find them available for purchase on WTSO’s Last Chance page. Here, you can find customer favorites that you may have missed during their initial flash sale. WTSO’s Last Chance Wines offer a wide selection of bottles with limited qualities – all at extreme discounts.

Sancerre’s Modern History and Wines

Before the second half of the 20th century, Sancerre winemakers concentrated mainly on red wines. Between the 1960s and 2012, the region’s total acreage increased from 1,730 to well over 7,000 acres thanks to growing interest in Sauvignon Blanc-based white wines during the 1970s, culminating with the style becoming a standard restaurant offering worldwide. Sancerre’s wide popularity and commercial success today is attributed to this demand for food-friendly French white wines. 

Ranking among the best French wines, Sancerre Blanc delivers a freshly aromatic, crisp style marked by citrus, gooseberry, grass, and mineral notes. However, stone fruit, tropical fruit, and floral characteristics may appear in the wines of warmer vintages. 

Sancerre Rouge wines made solely from Pinot Noir represent about 20% of the appellation’s total production and tend to display high-toned red fruit and a lighter, earthier style compared to many of Burgundy’s versions. Also composed entirely of Pinot Noir, Sancerre Rosé bottlings typically showcase bright berry, citrus, and floral aromas complemented by refreshing acidity, making this French rosé wine another versatile pairing option.

Terroir & Viticulture

The viticultural potential within Sancerre was recognized during Roman times, with the variable terroir found in the area eventually gaining plantings primarily to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Steeply sloped hillside vineyards 200 to 400 meters in elevation are a defining characteristic of this French wine region’s landscape, the most desirable of which face southward. 

Spring frosts present one of the greatest challenges to producers. Within the 14 communes permitted to produce Sancerre, vines tend to grow on three main soil types: Caillottes, shallow pebbly limestone; Terres Blanches, marls of chalky-clay found mainly in western Sancerre; and Silex, flinty-clay soils in the appellation’s east. 

94 Pt. Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2022 Domaine Beauséjour ‘Les Silex’ 

Notable Vineyards

Among the prime vineyards in this French wine region, Chêne Marchand in Bué and Les Monts Damnés in Chavignol stand out. South-facing Chêne Marchand’s well-exposed 26 hectares lie on caillottes soils celebrated for bright, focused, and distinctly mineral expressions, often providing an early drinking window. 

Further north and referred to as “the damned mountains” due to its steep 45-degree slope, Les Monts Damnés faces south-southeast and serves as home to older vines grown on terres blanches soils known for yielding broad and powerful wines that may benefit from additional bottle age. 

Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc 2020 Domaine Chaumeau Balland Chêne Marchand 

Reputable Producers

Jean-Paul Picard

Domaine Picard traces its Sancerre winemaking legacy back to 1750, during which the family’s intimate knowledge of terroir and vines passed between generations to inform their modern production. By committing to vineyard management on 14 hectares of slopes in Bué with minimal intervention, they impart a refreshing, lively character and vivid sense of place to the 2023 white and rosé Sancerre expressions – outstanding values for the category!

JP Picard Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc 2022 

JP Picard Menetou-Salon Rosé 2022 

The Bizet family began farming vines in Sancerre at the start of the 20th century with the help of a horse-drawn plow. Today, Thibault and his mother, Maryline, oversee 8.5 hectares planted to Sauvignon Blanc and a small quantity of Pinot Noir, adhering to a philosophy emphasizing respect for their terroir of 30 parcels within four communes. The soil diversity in these vineyards is readily evident when tasting their wines; each carefully vinified to express its unique site. 

Domaine Bizet Sancerre Blanc 2023 

Pascal Jolivet

Continuing in the footsteps of his négociant father and grandfather, Pascal Jolivet established his namesake Sancerre brand in 1987, embracing natural vinification and indigenous yeasts for winemaking. It wasn’t until six years later that he finally acquired his own vines in Le Chêne Marchand, Le Grand Chemarin, and the Plante des Prés. 

Early critical acclaim inspired an expansion of the business, which today includes more than 180 hectares throughout Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, and Touraine, informing a large portfolio spanning entry-level to super-premium wines.

Domaine Vacheron

Domaine Vacheron champions organic and biodynamic farming primarily on silex soils to deliver terroir-centric, beautifully defined bottlings that grace some of the finest restaurant wine lists throughout the world. Cousins Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique take a “Burgundian” approach to winemaking, vinifying parcels separately and calibrating the final blends depending on what mother nature provides each vintage. Pinot Noir stands on equal footing with Sauvignon Blanc at the estate, creating a strong demand for all their Sancerre releases. 

Now that you know the story behind Sancerre, visit frequently to spot amazing deals on gorgeous wines from there and other fine Loire Valley gems!

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