Grapevine: With Sancerre and Chablis, minerals leave their mark
How often do you buy a bottle of wine that doesn’t have the grape varieties on the label?
It’s a barrier that still holds many back, and fair enough; if you don’t know what to expect then it might be better to steer back to safety. Historically in the ‘Old World’ of European wine growing countries, it was the name of the area in which the wine was grown and produced that featured most prominently, thus requiring some education and research to learn the common varieties for the labelled area. In some areas this is changing and varieties are included on the label, but many still don’t, which means you might be missing out on some of the best examples of your favourite grape varieties.
While we can’t cover them all, we can start with the two most popular white grape varieties and what many consider to be some of their finest examples.
In the west of France you will find the Loire Valley, a popular holiday destination for its tours along what is the longest river in France dotted with wine regions the whole way. You will likely have found names such as Muscadet, Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre and Anjou on wine labels, however none of them are grape varieties. The most recognisable of those being Sancerre has a very familiar grape variety behind it. Any white wine labelled as Sancerre will always be made with 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc. Long considered a benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc before Marlborough became a household name, Sancerre doesn’t typically show the pungent herbaceous and sweet tropical fruit flavours common in a Marlborough example. Sancerre is predominantly made up of chalky, stony soils and littered with marine fossils that among other factors help to contribute a stronger mineral feel and flavour to the wines, the tropical fruits can pop up too but appear subtly as does the grassiness.
Jumping further inland, we find the quiet little town of Chablis. Aside from diehard lovers of the wines, it doesn’t attract many tourists like the Loire does, but the wines are equally considered international benchmarks for their style. A wine labelled as Chablis will be made entirely from Chardonnay, a style that many producers have tried to emulate over the past decade as the trend moved towards lighter, leaner, delicate styles as opposed to the big, bold and buttery wines of the ‘90s and ‘00s. In Chablis we find the same soil type that runs through Sancerre (and all the way up to Champagne) known as Kimmeridgian soil. The marine deposits are found here mixed in amongst the clay and limestone soils so we again find wines that have a marked minerality running through them with delicate, subdued fruit character and a creaminess that develops from leaving the wine in contact with its lees (dead yeast).
It is often the minerality that resonates so strongly in both Sancerre and Chablis, a character that many try to emulate around the world, but few achieve.
Christophe Petit Chablis ($45) is a fantastic introduction to the wines of the region. Grown on the Portlandian soils of Chablis where you get a little more fruit coming through, which for those new to the wines is a good way to ease in and get a feel for them. Located in Fye, just behind the best vineyards of the region, it offers exceptional value year in and year out with a little more power and richness than other parts of Chablis. Lemon and lime citrus and green apples lead the way with seashells and subtle floral notes in the background, light weight and dry with crisp acidity that gives the wine real energy and drive across the palate.