Has this happened to you? Someone starts talking about how amazing Sancerre is, you agree, but deep down you are not really sure why or what it is. No, really. What is it and why am I the last invite to this party? If so, please know, you are not alone. I am right there with you. It’s not because I don’t like wine. At home, just about anything is a good excuse for a celebratory sip: writing this article, a bestie got a promotion, the weekend, you beat traffic, or—to be real—you’re home, it’s after 12 pm, and Hulu is always playing, well, everything. So, while I could certainly appreciate a Wine of the Month Club, certain details elude me. For example, Sancerre.
For years, I knew it was dry like Sauvignon Blanc and have always noticed that Sancerre, like many French things, is just more expensive.
Well, did you know that Sancerre is made from the same grape as Sauvignon Blanc? Neither did I. Then, what’s the big deal? Well, like many well-cultivated pleasures, there is a story. Luckily, I got all the deets so you and I can nod knowingly the next time we get into confusing wine conversation.
To start, let’s get some basic wine knowledge out of the way, so we can really appreciate this story.
The advertised names of wines around the world are not consistent. At its most basic, wines have varietals, which are the types of grapes and regions, which are where they are grown. The winemaker gets to decide what gets stressed when the wine is advertised. Confusing? I know.
In most of the world, we use the name of the grape first and then talk about the location. A great example is Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina. Malbec is the grape, Mendoza is the region. Or, if there is a blend, some neutral name is made up—like the party-favorite Ménage a Trois (a wine-maker who became famous for blending three different grapes to make its white and red wines).
In Europe, it’s location, location, location. Where wine is grown is so important that wine-makers make sure their wines fit the regional classification requirements.
The Sancerre we know is wine from France. This means just France, specifically Sancerre, France and it is made from only Sauvignon Blanc grapes. You could steal the grapes and grow them in your backyard, but the wine wouldn’t count. It’s so Mean Girls, but this is true of all French wine. Just think of it as France’s serious quality control, better known as appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system. So, the price tag that you see for Sancerre is partially based on people’s willingness to pay for wine based on the supply and reputation. This also means that if the region suddenly stopped growing Sauvignon Blanc and replaced it, the name wouldn’t change. Shocking, I know. Do you know what is crazier? This has already happened.
Sancerre wine used to be associated with Burgundy, which is south of Sancerre. What did they grow? Pinot Noir and Gamay—aka red wine. Strangely, due to the cooler climate in Sancerre, the wine didn’t quite measure up to the rest of Burgundy. Then, an extremely unfortunate epidemic struck Sancerre in the late 1800s. We are referring to microscopic sap-sucking insects that feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines, better known as Phylloxera. These bugs damage and expose grapevines to infections. Sadly, there is no cure, so Sancerre lost whole plantations and had to graft American phylloxera-resistant grapes with French grapes. Basically, the winemakers got a do-over and they decided they wanted a makeover instead. Enter Sauvignon Blanc. Why? Sauvignon Blanc actually does better in cooler climates, so they were hoping to pick a grape that would fare better than Pinot Noir and Gamay, both of which were already having trouble with the grafting. Fortunately for wine-obsessed sippers like me, it worked.
Sancerre became famous in Paris as the wine that paired well with good company or good food. Usually, everyone preferred all three.
What set Sancerre apart? Compared to other Sauvignon Blancs, you are going to get a more subtle and complex flavor from Sancerre’s terroir. The terroir or “soil” is the taste and flavor that is infused into a wine by the environment in which it is produced. Terroir, the reason behind the AOC system, helps to articulate a region’s specific influence on its grapes. In Sancerre, flint gives the wine a mineral quality, gravel gives it citrus, chalk adds floral notes, and limestone and clay add an herbal richness to round out the flavor. These attributes make Sancerre one of the most ideal iterations of Sauvignon Blanc in the world. There are many other popular regions that grow Sauvignon Blanc, such as California, New Zealand, and South Africa, but many people love Sancerre for its consistent depth and complexity. Also, it is really hard to find haters of this wine to spite the popularity.
Thus, Sancerre’s greatest recommendation is the lack of hater-ation out there. People just love it and it’s a fabulous addition to your dinner table. The citrus will pair perfectly with poultry and fish, the herbaceous quality will enliven spices, and it keeps your veggies tasting fresh. Feeling parched and ready to nibble? Well, let’s think of some things that will help you enjoy your next glass.
Sancerre is actually highly acidic, so it helps to pair it with a creamy cheese. You can be a purist and get one cheese; or, you can simply try everything all at once through this epic cheese ball recipe. Get our The Turducken of Cheese Balls recipe.
Goat cheese is traditionally a favorite with Sancerre. The tangy and gamy quality in the cheese, however, can be overpowering. This changes with a little Sancerre. The wine counters goat cheese’s harsher qualities and makes the combined experience more palatable. Why not enjoy it over lunch with a little fig and goat cheese pizza? Get our Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza recipe.
Want to have a bougie, best-y brunch? Grab a bottle of Sancerre—or, as many as you feel necessary (no judging here)—and try out this herbaceous goat cheese omelet. Sancerre will intensify your favorite herbs and the complexities of the wine will open up as it brings out a saltiness in the cheese. Get our Goat Cheese and Fresh Herb Omelet recipe.
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