What is the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre? This a frequently asked question in the wine world and for good reason. Wines from Sancerre are distinctive and synonymous with classic, elegant, French winemaking. That said, the grape may not grace the bottle but Sauvignon Blanc is inside. Read on to learn more about Sancerre.
The History of Sancerre
Sancerre is a French wine Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), a wine growing and producing area, located in the eastern Loire valley, south of Orléans, on the left bank of the Loire River. Just across the river is another AOC, Pouilly-Fumé, also known the world over for Sauvignon Blanc.
Sancerre is named for the hill town of Sancerre. First founded by the Romans, it sits on a natural fortress that and has endured numerous sieges, one, by the English during the Hundred Years War, as well as an eponymous 16th-century battle (The Siege of Sancerre) to defend the Huguenots from the Catholic Church. During the second World War, the area served as a command center for the French Resistance in their efforts to prevent German forces from crossing the Loire River to Brittany.
History of Sancerre Wine
Wine production most likely arrived with the first Roman settlements. Sancerre’s hillside position and access to the river made it an ideal location to cultivate crops and wine and transport them throughout the empire. Wine production continued during the Middle Ages, under feudalism as well as within the monasteries and was also exported via the Loire River.
While we think of Sancerre primarily as Sauvignon Blanc today, the region first produced red wines and rosé wines mainly from Gamey and Pinot Noir. It wasn’t until the 19th-century phylloxera epidemic wiped out the vineyards that farmers replanted with Sauvignon Blanc, which took more easily to the American rootstock, which had proven to be resistant to the blight. In 1936 Sancerre wines made from Sauvignon Blanc were granted AOC/AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) status as atop quality wine produced in a designated area.
Sancerre in Paris.
Following the liberation, during the mid 19th Century, Sancerre made its way to the bistros of Paris where it caught on like wildfire and gained a reputation as elegant and easy to pair with classic bistro cuisine.
A salmon fillet with a glass of Sancerre is still quintessential bistro meal. The bright, steely acidity and mineral finish of the wine is a match made in culinary heaven for rich and fatty Atlantic salmon.
Another great food and wine pairing with Sancerre is creamy goat cheese. In particular, the small rounds of Crottin de Chavignol, which is produced in the same area. What grows together goes together! For more tips about pairing food and wine, check out our guide.
Just like fashion, what starts in Paris takes the world by storm. By the turn of the century, Sancerre could be found on top wine lists around the world.
Sancerre Wine Terroir and Production
Sancerre wines are produced in the Centre region of the Loire Valley province. Centre is referred to as such, not because it is the center the Loire Valley, but rather, the center of France. The easternmost part of the Loire Valley enjoys a more moderate, continental climate as the ocean lies some 300 miles away. The landscape is composed of sloping hillsides and deeply carved valleys with clay and limestone soils, in particular an outcrop of Kimmeridgian marl (a layered clay and limestone mix) that reaches northeast to Chablis (Burgundy) and into southern portions of Champagne.
The continental climate, gentle slopes and combination soil types that are ideal for drainage create optimal conditions for ripe grapes, stealth acidity and distinctive fruity and mineral-driven aromas, including flinty note that has made Sancerre the most famous name in French Sauvignon Blanc.
Sancerre Wine Growing and Winemaking
While frost is rare, it’s still a threat. Growers tend carefully to single-file trained vines (Guyot) and prune according for adequate shade or sunshine, depending on the style of Sauvignon Blanc they are looking to produce. Grassy, herbaceous notes emerge in cooler, shadier conditions whereas most sun, heat, and pruning produce a riper, fruitier style. Read more and watch a video about styles of Sauvignon Blanc here.
Sancerre is designed to be a reflection of its unique climate and geological element, the essence of terroir. That means very little invention in the winery, and little to malolactic fermentation or barrel aging. While some producers have experimented with both, it’s remains quite uncharacteristic of the appellation.
Sancerre Tasting Notes
Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc after all, so expect steely, clean acidity, an element of green or grassiness (depending on the growing techniques and the climate), as well a distinctive gooseberry aroma, in addition to fruit notes of citrus and peach and the mineral-rich, flinty notes the area is noted for.
5 Sancerre Wines to Try Right Now
Domaine Bernard Fleuriet et Fils, Sancerre 2017
A quieter, more restrained Sancerre with more citrus (grapefruit), and tender pale peach notes.
Noël et Jean-Luc Raimbault, Sancerre 2016
This Sancerre is made from old vines and grows on particularly silex (flint)-rich soil. Laser-like acidity and bracing, bright flavors.
Pascal Jolivet 2017 Clos du Roy
A recognizable and trustworthy name on the Sancerre scene, Pascal Jolivet practices biodynamic farming in Sancerre as well as in neighboring Pouilly Fumé and Touraine. Rich and fruit-forward, yet always balanced and distinctively flinty.
Henri Bourgeois 2017 La Côte des Monts Damnés
Ten generations of Sauvignon Blanc growers can’t be wrong, the Bourgeois family also owns a winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, a region also known for stellar Sauvignon. These grapes grow on sun-drenched slopes and the wine exudes a sunny, ripe fruit character.
Domaine Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Generation XIX 2016
19th-generation, an established and always elegant and classic expression of Sancerre. Usually on the pricier end of the spectrum and definitely worth it for Sancerre connoisseurs.