Vail wines: Sancerre grows great sauvignon blanc
Vail, CO Colorado
If you leave Paris and drive south on L’Autoroute de l’Arbre for about three hours, you will come to the hill of Sancerre with its village overlooking the left bank of the Loire River and the region’s many chalk-laced ridges.
The village is a landmark in an otherwise bucolic countryside where orchard fruit and grapes may be grown side-by-side. In the town square you can enjoy a sunny patio lunch of local pan-fried andouillette sausage and a glass of crisp, white Sancerre.
Sancerre is one of France’s greatest expressions of sauvignon blanc. Generally, better wines are produced from chalky, limestone soils that contain a spattering of ancient, marine shells and are perched on steeper south-facing slopes to maximize exposure to summer. Elite vineyards are planted along amphitheater-shaped slopes that are protected from rain and wind.
Classic examples of Sancerre should have an intense, piercing aroma with a slight “green” streak to them. It is this “green” note that defines a good sauvignon blanc. The key is being able to match it with ripeness. Gooseberry, lime-rind, fresh cut grass and wet stone are common descriptors of this variety. The wines carry an obvious appeal for anyone who enjoys crisp, dry, uncomplicated wines.
The white wines of Sancerre must be made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc, although a few reds and roses are also produced in the area from pinot noir. These wines can be lean and tart – not for the novice pinot noir drinker. In Sancerre’s sister appellation of Pouilly-Fume, which lies across the Loire River to the east, white wines are also produced from sauvignon blanc, although the best wines are more likely to see some oak influence.
The unique landscape of the top vineyard sites necessitates hand-harvesting, which, along with vintage variation in this cool climate, means the best wines can more expensive than sauvignon blanc grown in less quality-driven areas. Less expensive versions of Loire Valley sauvignon blanc can be found under the names of Menetou-Salon and Touraine, wines of less complexity and balance than good Sancerre.
Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He currently holds the Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Razee is one of 96 Master Sommeliers in the United States and the only person in the Vail Valley that holds the distinguished certification.
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