Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sancerre Wines and Sancerrois. Choosing and Tasting Sancerre Wines. Sancerre Wines on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Sancerre Blanc
Sancerre La Mercy Dieu, Domaine Bailly Reverdy

Sancerre is a beautiful, small, hilltop town with a medieval aspect; it is set nearly in the geographic center of France. Sancerre is in the Loire Valley and its vineyards reach the banks of the River Loire.  The town has maybe 2,000 inhabitants and is the source of the name for the white, rosé and red Sancerre AOC/AOP wines. It is the white wines that made Sancerre famous; these Sauvignon Blanc wines can be smooth and fruity, while the youngest white wines are fresh and flinty. As I note further on in this post you do need an up-to-date pocket wine book to take with you when you travel in France; even the Sancerre wines from different vineyards and different years taste differently; you need help when choosing. Price tells you little more than how much you will pay and the year and means nothing to those who have not studied; take that pocket book. There are Sancerre rosés and Sancerre red wines but they only make up some 15% of the overall Sancerre production. The rosés may be crisp and are often chosen as a light and interesting alternative to a white Sancerre. The grapes used in the rosés are Pinot Noir and unless they are very young they are generally light and quaffable. The reds are also made with Pinot Noir grapes but even those that are aged are quite light and not really the wine of choice to accompany a steak or a beef stew. The rosés and reds are the wines you may choose to accompany duck or a fish such as tuna.
The area around the town is called Sancerrois and with 14 other communes (towns or villages and the area around them)  they produce the Sancerre wines. Nevertheless, despite the popularity of Sancerre wines, not everything in Sancerrois is vineyards. The area is equally famous for its many goat cheeses especially the Crottin de Chavignol AOC/AOP that is produced in and around the village of Chavignol, next door to the town of Sancerre.

Getting to Sancerre

Bourges was the capital of the ancient Province of Berry and is now the capital of the department of Cher and Sancerre is in Cher.  Bourges, itself a beautiful and absorbing city is just 46km (29 miles) from Sancerre. It takes about 50 minutes by car or bus from Bourges to Sancerre; however, avoid the train which is indirect and takes over three hours with changes.
Bourges Cathedral

Sancerre wines on French menus:
Andouillette AAAAA (Christophe Thierry) Rôtie Sauce Sancerre Andouillette AAAAA sausages made by Christophe Thierry, a highly rated producer from the town of Troyes.  In this menu listing the sausage is roasted and served with a Sancerre wine sauce.  Andouillettes are a pork intestine sausage that is quite strong; some call them the French chitterlings.

Andouillette de Troyes in a mustard sauce.
Photograph courtesy of Ross Bruniges
Filet de Bar sur Fondue de Poireaux, Sauce Sancerre – A filet of European Sea Bass served on a bed of leeks that have almost been cooked to the consistency of a jam, and all is served with a Sancerre wine sauce.
Le Dos de Cabillaud Sauce Sancerre et Purée Maison – A thick cut from the back of a cod, the fish, prepared with a Sancerre wine sauce and served with the house’s special potato puree.
Omble Chevalier Sauce Sancerre - Freshwater Char prepared in a sauce made with a Sancerre wine. Freshwater char come from France’s rivers and lakes and are one of France’s tastiest freshwater fish.

Fishing for trout and freshwater char near Sancerre.
Photograph courtesy of Grégory Ménard
Pavé de Saumon Grillé à la Plancha, Riz Pilaf et Légumes du Marché à la Sauce Sancerre – A thick cut of Atlantic salmon grilled on the plancha served with a rice pilaf and the season’s vegetables; all is accompanied by a Sancerre wine sauce.

Tournedos de Bœuf en Robe de Lard Paysan et sa Sauce Sancerre Rouge – A tournedos, a thick cut from a beef filet, the tenderloin, cooked while wrapped in country bacon and served with a red Sancerre wine sauce.

Quenelle de Brochet, Sauce Sancerre Blanc Pike, the fish, made into dumplings served with a white Sancerre wine sauce. (Pike dumplings are a traditional dish and a French comfort food)

In the cellars of the Delaporte’s family.
The Delaporte Domain has been family owned since the 17th century.
Photograph courtesy of Jameson Fink

The History of the Sancerre wines.

As may be expected Sancerre was a wine-growing area of France from when the Romans arrived in the area and they planted grapevines they brought from home; very different to the grapes grown today. (The Romans occupied Provence in 121 BCE and after Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls in 51 BCE the Romans settled France and made it part of the Roman Empire.  Roman rule ended with the Battle of Soissons in 486 CE.)

The Sancerre White Wines.

The white Sancerre Blanc, white wine, is made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes with a minimum of 10.5% alcohol. Sancerre whites wines were amongst the first wines to be granted an AOC in 1936 when the AOC became part of France’s official labeling system for wines. There is a huge difference in the taste of the Sancerre white wines within its own appellation. That difference I was told comes from the very different soils in the appellation. The light red and rose Sancerre wines are both made with pinot noir grapes, received their AOC’s in 1959 and they also have tastes that change with the year, vineyard and soil.

Across the River Loire from Sancerre on the other side is the appellation for Pouilly-Fumé whose wines are also made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes, but with very different tastes. 

Go to Sancerre with an up-to-date pocket wine book.

To buy a Sancerre Blanc wine, you need an up-to-date wine book or a knowledgeable friend who will explain the differences among the Sancerre Blanc wines. In a restaurant, a knowledgeable sommelier, (wine waiter) will help if he or she is given a budget.  I was on a sales trip to Bourges, nothing to do with wine, to visit a customer who invited me to his home for dinner.  At dinner, he served a white Sancerre that showed that all my previous tastings were of mediocre wines. Here I received a lesson on the very different Sancerre white wines; the best come from specific vineyards and vintners and are often aged.  Later I checked the cost of the wine that was served at dinner, and in a restaurant, a bottle would have cost more than the cost of dinner for one. I try not to pay more for wine than the cost of the dinner for one; preferably no more than the cost of the main course; nevertheless, if someone else is paying I am happy to accept the invitation. 
Château de Sancerre and park
In the background is the town of Sancerre.

The Sancerre Reds and Sancerre Rosés

The Sancerre Rouge, Red wines, and the Sancerre Rosé wines have 10% alcohol and are both are made with Pinot Noir grapes. The red Sancerre is a light red that goes with well with duck and also certain fish dishes. The Sancerre Rosé wines have a light taste when compared with the light reds as the grape skins are separated from the wine at a very early stage.
Sancerre Rosé wines.

Wines just outside the Sancerre Appellation.

Wines made outside the Sancerre AOP appellation may not carry the Sancerre AOC label.  Most are classified as IGP wines; wines that previously were known as Vin de Pays du Val de Loire and now are called Vins de Val de Loire IGP.  Here the cognoscenti look for bargains in wines made in the same manner as Sancerre wines but outside the boundaries of the Appellation. If they find an excellent IGP wine with the taste of a good AOC Sancerre, they may save more than 25% or 30% of the price when they buy a crate. Good restaurants with a local clientele will stock up on these wines and offer them as house wines.  With a good wine and low prices, the customers will return again and again.
The cheeses of Sancerrois

The most famous cheese in Sancerrois is the Crottin de Chavignol AOC, a goat’s cheese mostly made in and around the village of Chavignol just 3.7km (2.19 miles) from Sancerre. At the same time, many villages in the area make other cheeses that are excellent, but most are only available locally because their production is small and without a minimum production level they remain mostly unknown in the rest of France. In local fromagers, cheese shops, you may buy them, and at least one or two will be on local restaurant cheese plates.  However, the best way to enjoy these cheeses is to take a cold bottle of white Sancerre and three or four local cheese plus the Crottin de Chanvignol and have a picnic. Do not buy more than 20 grams of cheese per person or you will have a lot left over. I speak from experience.
Goats’ cheeses from Sancerrois.
The light colored cheeses are ten days old
and the cheeses with the all-blue rind are three months old.
The fetes in Sancerre and Sancerrois
With advice from the local Tourist Information Office, you will see that many of the nearby villages have fetes for their cheeses, snails, and wines. From April through August these villages have about nine or ten fetes of their own.  To that add the town of Sancerre with its own seven or more fetes. One of the Sancerre fetes includes their neighbors’ Crottin de Chavignol AOC cheese and another that celebrates Sancerre wines and oysters. For more about "Buying cheese in France and taking it home;" click here,

The wine routes of Sancerre

If you are not in the area at a time that coincides with one of the fêtes, there is still much to do in the area around Sancerre. Take from the French Government Tourist Office a map of the local route de vins, the wine roads; the maps include places of interest along with farms that make cheeses and, of course, restaurants. While the wine routes of the whole of the Centre Pay du Loire covers all its appellations it is more than 300 km (187 miles) long.  The local part of the wine route may be enjoyed in a day’s drive and even after half a day and a stop for a long lunch you will have the picture and tasted many different wines and cheeses.

Signpost to the wine route in Sancerrois and all Loire wines.

The Tourist Information Office in Sancerre has an English language website:

For additional information on what is happing in Sancerrois write to the Tourist Information Office, in English.

Additionally, there is an excellent website from the Doyen of wine routes, Jacques Coeur but it is in French. Nevertheless, if you use the Bing or Google translate apps you will miss very little:

The routes de vin in the Jacques Coeur website above covers all of the wines in the ancient province of Berry.

To choose the best pocket wine book to take with you to France read  the interview with Janice Johnsons on the best wine books:Click here.

Other sites in Sancerroise.

Depending on your interests, especially if you are traveling with children, consider the Musée de la Sorcellerie, the museum of witchcraft (open in July and August in the village of Blancafort 39 km (miles) from Sancerre. The museum has an English language website:

The Plancha or Planxa in French Cuisine. The Plancha on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are nearly 400 articles that include over 1,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations. To search for more articles like this one simply add the word or words you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google or Bing.

Bryan G. Newman
Copyright 2010, 2017

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

No comments:

Post a Comment