What is a Sancerre? My curiosity was aroused by a character in Ian McEwan’s wonderful novel Nutshell, who loves this French white. I was curious. What kind of wine was a Sancerre? And was the name that of a grape varietal or of a region? A little research on my favourite online wine source quickly set me on the right path:
“Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape, while Sancerre is the name of a wine region in France's Loire Valley where the white wines from are made exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc.”
Sauvignon Blanc is a wine varietal that many are familiar with. No country has done more to popularize this fresh and aromatic white than New Zealand. Almost everyone knows the names Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay; these Sauvignon Blancs are on restaurant wine lists and are extremely popular.
I love the refreshing acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. The Marlborough has many valleys that have gravelly soils and a windy, cool climate, which results in a wine that many call herbaceous or grassy, with green pepper or even tomato notes. These wines are particularly refreshing.
In warmer climates, still in the southern hemisphere, the wine can take on very tropical notes with lots of pineapple. Everything Wine has a lovely example of this, Sunshine Bay, capturing both the tropical and the herbal notes. It’s got lime, kiwi and grapefruit flavours along with some herbs.
So why sample a Sauvignon Blanc from France? Especially one that can be significantly more expensive? (Hubert Brochard Sancerre at Everything Wine comes in at $38.98 compared to Oyster Bay at $19.99) Because the northern hemisphere’s soil and growing conditions create an amazing wine, subtle and mineral-y with less of the bold aromatics you find in the Marlborough region’s wine.
Sancerre is a region. It is located in the eastern part of the Loire Valley and is far from the ocean. The climate in Sancerre is continental, very cold winters and very hot summers. The soil is very different too: it is chalky and full of stones and little marine fossils. These differences make for a restrained, mineral-y wine not so intense and herbaceous. Another online source I consulted says,
The classic style of Sancerre is more subtle than that of Marlborough - the wine isn't as overtly herbaceous and fruity. To achieve this, the wine is fermented at slightly warmer temperatures so that there is less retention of the intense Sauvignon Blanc characteristics.
Do a taste test on your own. Seek out a French Sauvignon Blanc (or even a Sancerre) and, along with your favourite from NZ, sip and see if you can detect and enjoy all these differences in the taste of these refreshing white wines.