I visited Sancerre knowing that I like the taste of the wine called Sancerre, that there is a town called Sancerre and an area of France called Sancerre. I came away with glorious memories of all three, says Janine Marsh as she takes a sip of the good life in the Loire Valley…
My first glimpse of the little hilltop town of Sancerre, perched up high and looking over the valleys and land to which it gives its name was breath-taking.
A striking medieval town, with winding hilly streets, beautiful ancient houses with pastel coloured shutters and roses growing over the doors, and dozens of cafes, bistrots and “caves” to taste wine in. What it also had was spectacular views over the landscape around, which is also known as Sancerre.
Sancerre wine is a firm favourite in restaurants and wine bars around the world and especially the US which is the wine’s biggest importer. A trip to the vineyards and town of Sancerre is just a couple of hours drive from Paris and a great chance to explore this very pretty and very friendly region of France.
It is the fossilised soil of Sancerre which gives it its special terroir, a word that sums up all that is great about French food and wine and yet which is almost impossible to explain. In technical terms it refers to the characteristics of a soil, influenced by the weather, the geology and the geography of the land – but it is much more than that, great terroir has great soul. The wines of Sancerre are AOC, Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée, a label that recognises produce as being outstanding and based on the concept of terroir.
So far so good I thought, but to understand all this a bit better I went to the Maison des Sancerre, a very modern type of museum that tells the story of Sancerre using high tech media. I learned that the land of Sancerre has a secret – that wherever you stand, the soil is not of the same type or age. It is this that makes for an exceptional mosaic of terroir that enables the vines to produce the outstanding grapes for the wine.
I was surprised to discover that Sancerre makes not only white wine but red and rosé too – though in very small amounts. There are hundreds of small estates and around 7.5k acres and each may have different soil from the others – all of which offers unlimited possibilities for blending. There are as many wines as winemakers and around 350 families making wine.
Out in the gardens of the Maison des Sancerre is a grape picking machine which had everyone in peals of laughter as it lurched crazily as the amateurs attempted to work the controls – not as easy as you might think. Up on the terrace tables were readied for wine tastings – part of the visit and a bottle of perfectly chilled white Sancerre was produced with a flourish. As I sat there, sipping from the glass (which you get to keep as a souvenir), looking out over this gorgeous valley, I realised a profound truth. The Director of the Maison des Sancerres, Denis Rournet, who had poured the wine, had said “You don’t have to know anything about wine to appreciate the taste… when you take one glass you want another”, he was absolutely right.
“The wine of Sancerre is the best in the kindgdom” pronounced the Duc de Berry, after whom the region is named, and who am I to disagree. I know very little about wines but I know one thing, I like Sancerre a lot!
See our Sancerre photo gallery feature for gorgeous photos of this beautiful part of France