Sun 9 Sep 2007
Tired of the full-throttle lime peel/grapefruit/tarragon/green bean assault you get when you open a bottle of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand (and increasingly from California)? The sauvignon blancs that are so crisp that the glass quivers when you set it down? Sure, those wines are fine sometimes, but they’re so upfront, so aggressive and showy that they get tiresome after a while.
Turn for relief to this trio of classics from Sancerre, in the far eastern reaches of France’s vast Loire Valley region. All three are from 2005, a great year in the Loire, as, indeed, it was in most of France if not the world. This area, where the river makes a great curve from its northward flow to heading west and slightly southwest, seems to be the natural home of the sauvignon blanc grape. The best-known appellations are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé; lesser designations are Touraine Sauvignon, Menetou-Salon, Quincy, Reuilly and Coteaux du Giennois. All produce, when the grape is properly handled, wines of great verve and energy, grounded in a full range of lemon attributes, nerves of acid and bones of limestone. The best wines are truly elegant, yet that doesn’t mean that different growers and winemakers don’t imbue their wines with varied characteristics. And because of the wide use of stainless steel in these areas, rarely does oak intrude on the grape’s purity and intensity.
Look first at the Sancerre 2005 from Daniel Chotard. This is super fresh and clean, spare and elegant yet earthy. Notes of fresh-cut grass and tarragon are subdued to lemon zest, limestone and a flash of flint. The wine is quite crisp and dry but bright and juicy, too, and it picks up hints of spiced lemon and jasmine on the finish. Attractive and delicious but with a touch of reticence. Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca. Excellent. About $19 to $26. We drank this with salmon wrapped in lettuce and steamed.
Offering more in the grassy-herbal category is Celestin Blondeau’s Sancerre “Cuvée des Moulins Bâles” 2005. The bouquet embodies mown fields of grass and hay where tangles of thyme and tarragon lay (to be Midsummer Dreamish about it) with powerful accents of lemon and hints of lime peel and tangerine. If this sounds deliriously attractive, well, it is. Acid is crisp and sprightly and even the mineral element is lively. It’s not so much elegance going on here as irresistible vitality. Imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agencies, Solvang, Ca. Excellent. About $19 to $25.
The most delicate (and paradoxically the earthiest) of these three Sancerres is Alphonse Mellot’s Sancerre “La Moussière” 2005. Mild lemon and roasted lemon scents feel the pull of smoke, ash and limestone that can’t conceal winsome hints of quince, dried thyme and tarragon. The wine is clean and crisp in the mouth, yet limestone and flint come up in a powerful tide, and the texture turns out to be both dense and ethereal. A delicious feat of prestidigitation. Domaine Select Imports, New York. Excellent. About $23 to $26.