Sips: “Sancerre and Friends” – some top Loire Valley whites

Sancerre is arguably the most well-known white wine of France’s Loire Valley, the benchmark sauvignon blanc appellation by which other examples of the variety in the Loire – and throughout the world – are  judged. And so it was with a good deal of anticipation that I attended a superb dinner last night that was dubbed “Sancerre and Friends,” the friends being the nearby appellations of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly in the so-called Centre Loire, as well as the larger  Touraine appellation to the west. The wines are known for their distinctive minerality, which is achieved by the soils in which the grapes grow (primarily chalk and flint for Sancerre, limestone, flint and clay for Pouilly-Fumé, for example), and this gives them a signature, an originality, that is achieved nowhere else. You can see a good example of the rocky soils of Sancerre in the photo, which I took on my visit to the region in February. sancerre rocks

We tasted a dozen wines at The Modern, which is attached to the Museum of Modern Art and which, in just a few years or so, has become a landmark on the New York restaurant scene. The dinner was built around fish because the wines are in their element with seafood. The pairings were, for the most part, right on target, especially the two centerpieces, a Maine lobster salad with roasted beets, black truffles and goat cheese followed by  a gorgeous “dorade royale” with a nasturtium flower broth and Swiss chard. The latter was one of the more exciting fish dishes I’ve had in recent months, the subtle broth, golden in color, providing a perfect accompaniment to the mild and beautifully textured fillet, which should boost the status of the local porgy, a dorade relative.

As for the wines, we’ll stipulate that the last two in the tasting were the top wines, as well they should be at $65 and $120 respectively. The first was Domaine Vacheron’s 2007 Sancerre “Les Romains,” a wine of beautiful balance and great length with citrus, apple and vanilla notes; the second was Didier Dagueneau’s 2007 “Silex” Pouilly-Fumé, which showed extraordinary fruit, notably apple and apricot with a rich, round mouthfeel.

Other notable wines were:  Domaine de Chatenôy’s 2008 Menetou-Salon, $20, which won the prize as the evening’s most unusual offering – an elegant and zesty wine with orange, grapefruit and green apple tastes and a flinty backdrop; Gerard Boulay’s Sancerre ‘Les Monts Damnés,” $41, a generous, rounded wine with layers of spicy pear and vanilla; Domaine des Caves du Prieuré’s 2008 Sancerre, $23, a classic Sancerre with lots of minerals and notes of green apple and a touch of brown sugar on its long finish; Claude Lafond’s 2008 Reuilly “Clos Fussay,” $19, which is on the simpler side with lemon and lime notes that almost demanded a dozen oysters or clams; and the bargain of the evening, Domaine Duret’s 2009 Quincy, $13, elegant and reserved with minerals, tropical fruit and lime.

These wines reminded me that when it comes to sauvignon blanc, there is the Loire Valley and then all the rest; the wines, with their distinctive terroirs and varied styles, are unique and compelling. (Dinner and wines presented by Loire Valley Wines.)

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