Known for its exceptional Sauvignon Blanc wines, Sancerre is found in some of the world’s best restaurants and praised by many of the top wine experts. Although Sancerre is most famous for its white wine, the appellation also produces high quality red and rosé using Pinot Noir grapes.
East of Bourges, the Sancerre appellation is located along the left bank of the Loire River, stretching across 2,900 hectares (7,166 acres). This appellation extends over the villages of Bannay, Bué, Crézancy, Menetou-Ratel, Ménétréol, Montigny, St-Satur, Ste-Gemme, Sancerre, Sury-en-vaux, Thauvenay, Veaugues, Verdigny and Vinon.
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Vines have been growing in Sancerre since ancient times, with the first historical evidence found in 582 as referenced in Gregory of Tours’ book, Historiae Francorum. It was during the 12th century that Saint-Satur Augustine monks and the ruling counts of Sancerre began to seriously cultivate the vines. At that time, Sancerre was famous for its Pinot Noir wine, which was exported from the region along the Loire River. References of wine from Sancerre are found in accounts of life in the royal court, and Duke Jean de Berry believed it to be the finest wine in the entire kingdom.
Phylloxera destroyed the predominant Pinot Noir vineyards at the end of the 19th century. Sauvignon Blanc has since become widely planted, and is particularly suited to the local climate. The terroir in the region helps yield great white wines that are AOC classified since 1936. True to its origins, Sancerre still produces red and rosé wines using Pinot Noir grapes, receiving the AOC accreditation in 1959. Three types of soils are characteristic of the Sancerre region:
· Clay and limestone white soils, (terres blanches) situated on the hills of the most western part of Sancerrois
· Pebbly soils, known as caillottes
· Siliceous-clayey soils found in the hills east of the vineyard
The “Vendanges” (grape harvest) in Centre-Loire begin between the last week of September and the first week of October, ending the last two weeks of October. Some grapes are still harvested by hand, particularly red grapes, though most are picked with mechanical grape harvesters. The grapes are sent to the modern wine storehouses for processing. In the Centre-Loire, three winemaking methods are employed.
At its most ripe, the harvest is pressed as soon as the grapes arrive. For 12 to 24 hours, the must is racked, before it's placed into a fermentation tank, where it will ferment at a temperature of 64°F. Temperature control allows for longer fermentations, which gives more intense and delicate aromas. Once fermentation is complete, a racking is made to remove the first layer of lees. The wine matures in tanks with a thin layer of lees. The first bottlings occur between March and September, with some waiting more than a year before being bottled.
After the stems from the ripe grapes are partially or completely removed, the fruit passes through a crusher, then placed into maceration and fermentation tanks. The maceration allows contact with the grape juice and skins, which contain the coloring pigments. Temperatures of 77 °F to 86 °F must be reached in order to fully extract the color. Should there be a cooler-than-normal autumn, the grapes are heated in order to trigger the fermentation process.
To ensure homogeneity and optimum contact of the grape juice and skins, pumping and treading of the must is performed once or twice per day. When the desired color and body have been obtained, the must is drawn off and pressed. The press and free-run juices are then put into tanks or barrels. Once the alcoholic fermentation is complete, the malolactic fermentation begins, which results in a natural loss of acidity. At this point, a first racking is made. Maturing begins, and it results in several additional rackings occurring during the various phases of clarification. The first wines are bottled in spring; while wines matured in oak barrels wait one year before bottling.
Rosé wines are created using two different methods:
The first method is known as “rosé de pressée”. It consists of pressing of the grapes as soon as they are harvested, just as for white wines. There is a short time of contact between the grape juice and the skin, and as a result, the color is lighter. The second method is called rosé de “saignée”. It begins with maceration, followed by racking until the desired color is obtained. This wine is stronger and more full-bodied.
The methods of maturing, stabilization, and clarification are the same as those used for white wines.