Readers here could be forgiven – what with all of the French wine mini-review action, and the Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Loire features running here lately – for thinking that 1WineDude.com has gone totally Francophile. But then, after I start pumping out the coverage from my recent Napa jaunt, you’ll probably start calling me a CA-o-phile… whatever…
I like to think in more Zen terms, in that swinging the pendulum one way, followed by a full-on go-for-broke swing in the other direction, maintains (ironically) a sense of centeredness to our vinous proceedings here.
And so it’s in that Zen vein (Zein?) that I top off the Salon des Vins de Loire feature-style coverage by going back to where my Loire wine journey started in the first place, many moons before I’d ever dreamed of actually going there. After tasting a enough Loire valley wines (most of them new to me) to probably fill the region’s river, I’m coming full circle. I’m going to delve into what have long been my two favorite regions in all of its river’s serpentine 600+ mile length: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Sooooo predictable…
Prior to my press trip to a very chilly and snowy Angers, I was a sucker for the almost-hypnotic flinty, lilting qualities of what might be the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc from those areas on the far eastern side of the Loire. And hundreds of Loire wines later, I’m still a sucker for the almost-hypnotically flinty, lilting qualities of what might just be the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc.
So it’s with a warm spot in my ticker and notes of papaya and grapefruit on my tongue that I give you my thoughts on two family-run outfits that are making near-heart-stoppingly good Loire Sauvignon Blanc, but the whole thing is even more Zen precisely because they aren’t at all in-your-face about it: Domaine Vacheron and Chateau de Tracy…
Domaine Vacheron – Sancerre
Jean-Laurent Vacheron seems a soft-spoken, mild-mannered dude, even a bit aloof. But he’s clearly not detached when he’s walking you through Domaine Vacheron’s (mostly) single-plot wines, of which he is able to offer near-encyclopedic detail.
Jean-Laurent, along with cousin Jean-Dominique, is the next generation for the family-run domaine, which is in the process of having its 40-some-odd hectares of vineyard and winemaking operations handed over to them from brothers Jean-Louis and Denis Vacheron.
In this case, Jean-Laurent’s soft-spoken nature fits his family’s wines (which have been made in some way/shape/form within Sancerre for a few generations) just about perfectly: they are pure, clean, almost subtle, offering whispers of beguiling tropical fruits and floral aromas that emerge slowly, seductively, drawing you in and insisting that you just wait a goddamned minute please while they perform quietly for you.
Here’s the real Zen part: while tasting, Jean-Laurent a) managed to get me to shut up, which is not all that easy, and b) casually asked me “had I mentioned that we are biodynamic?” – no fanfare, no holier-than-thou, self-righteous superiority complex about being better for the Earth, god and successive generations because they bury cow poop in horns, etc., etc., etc. Just quiet calm. Just letting the wines speak; here’s what they had to say:
2011 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre
From half flint and half chalk soils, this “starter” SB is (guess what?) flinty, but also floral & conveys a sense of seriousness. It also happens to be herbal & refreshing, so those not looking for serious SB will be able to gulp it down with grilled shrimp while their geeky friends wax on more philosophically about it.
2010 Domaine Vacheron Les Romains (Sancerre)
From 100% flint soils, planted in the late 1960s. It’s the herbal side that comes out first here: nettles, lemon grass, and then once she gets rolling she starts to open up a bit more quickly, even getting a little forward with you. Sexy while still being refined, with white flowers in her hair. The finish is lilting and lingering, like catching a whiff of her perfume on the couch cushions the next day. The whole experience is crisp, clean & just insanely good.
2010 Domaine Vacheron Rouge (Sancerre)
Pinot Noir is not dead in Sancerre, folks, as this gem from 30 year old vines on chalk & flint soils can attest. Following in the more subdued, patient vein of Vacheron’s SBs, this red is slow to come around but downright gorgeous when it does, with tart red berry fruits. Peppery and elegant – but sure to be somewhat divisive, because fans of big Pinots are not going to dig her company.
Chateau de Tracy – Pouilly-Fumé
Chateau de Tracy is another family-run outfit, in this case owned by Count Henry d’Assay and his sisters. Zen qualification? Well, aside from the bow-tie (which totally plays people!), I didn’t know that Henry was a Count until I researched the Chateau well after I’d flown back to Philly from CDG airport. Far from flaunting his forefathers’ four-striper footing, the Count was probably the most accessible and down-to-Earth Chateau owner I met at the entire Salon, showing keen interest in what I was doing and how things worked (or didn’t) in the on-line world when it comes to wine. Zen as the art of being accessible and open to whatever the world is putting in front of you (in this case, a geeked-out, on-line wine guy).
It helps matters, of course, that his Chateau happen to make an incredible Sauvignon Blanc. Their parcels of Pou-Fu vineyards are vinified separately and then subjected to a blind-tasting by the staff, the result of which determines the final blend, the emphasis being on balance by way of how the acidity impacts the wine’s texture, taste and potential longevity.
2010 Chateau de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé)
The result of that in-house, rigorously blind tasted blending is an intense, concentrated, and almost creamy Sauvignon Blanc. It’s gorgeous now, with an amazing grapefruit and citrus-rind finish that seems to have more stamina than the Sub-Mariner. This wine has a great deal of bite (not as much bite, as, say, Zombie Deadpool, but a good deal of acidic structure all the same), because the acidity is no joke, and will take some time to soften up – after which the patient will likely be rewarded with an elegant white that will cause minor gasps from those lucky enough to be around when it gets poured.