The Loire Valley might be world famous for its renaissance history and châteaux, but being a huge fan of Sancerre it has been high on my hit list. A few weeks ago I got the chance to visit. Generally when people talk about Sancerre they are talking about Sauvignon Blanc, but you’ll also find some Pinot Noir grown here. The Loire Valley as a whole is also famous for wines made from Chenin Blanc, as well as Cabernet Franc. The history here will blow you away. Winemaking can be traced back to the 1st Century in this region. Like the names on the labels of most French wines, Sancerre is also a place. And, as we discovered, it’s a picturesque village perched on a hilltop surrounded by sweeping vineyards. The view from the village of Sancerre also includes another famous wine region – Burgundy! Chablis is right next door.
Not knowing that much about the region (aside from loving Sancerre wines) I reached out to Laure at Vinitour Center-Loire for a half day tour. Tapping local wine tour guides I’ve found is definitely the best way to quickly get your head around the region.
First, let’s talk about the wines. Laure went into great detail showing us the soil types. We discovered that Sancerre has three different soil types; flint, limestone and clay. Each of these give a lovely minerality and are quite different, as she proved to us in a side by side tasting of wine made from grapes from each. This area was once under the sea and what you’ll also find is fossilized oyster shells in the soil. (No wonder Sancerre goes so well with oysters!)
Our first tasting was at Vignobles Berthier, a producer of wines from Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Coteaux du Giennois. What, where? Lesser known in the US, Coteaux du Giennois is another region right next door to Sancerre which has fabulous (and lower priced wines). While the Sauvignon Blanc was lovely, the rosés made from Pinot Noir were equally fabulous. As was the price tag. At about 6 Euro a bottle we started to plan how much was realistic to stock the car with.
One of the highlights of this visit was certainly the goat cheese. Laure took us to the top “affineur”, Dubois-Boulay, for a tasting. Located in a tiny village next door to Sancerre called Chavignol, these cheeses, known as “Crottin de Chavignol” are famous in France, and while they have been made here since the 16th century, they have been listed by the AOC (Appellation d’ Origine Contrôlée) since 1976. We tasted three cheeses of different ages and there were all amazing.
Back in the quaint village of Sancerre, Laure was able to give us a peek inside the cellar at Joseph Mellot which dates back to the 12th Century. Mellot is the most famous name here with both Joseph Mellot and Alphonse Mellot producing the most prestigious wines. The ancient cellar is off limits to most visitors so we were lucky Laure was able to set this up. We visited the tasting room at Mellot and of course were buying wines yet again – this time La Grande Châtelaine, a rich, complex Sauvignon Blanc. Joseph Mellot also has a nice restaurant across the road – definitely worth a visit.
While you are in the Loire of course visiting the châteaus is a must. We loved our visit to Chambord, the largest château in the Loire Valley which like most of them dates back to the 1500s. We also visited Château de Chenonceau which is also fabulous and is built over the river Cher. Visiting in August is not really the ideal time to visit – it was jammed with people and I’d recommend either going at another time, or going early in the day. They are both stunning and just two of several famous castles in the region.
The Loire Valley is an easy train ride from Paris. It will take about 1.5 hours to Tours or you can connect like we did to Amboise. We rented a car from there to get around.
Wineries & tours:
I always get so much out of a half day tour with a guide and I thought Laure was excellent. You get a local perspective and also it’s a quick way of getting an overview of the region before venturing out on your own. While we just focused on Sancerre on this trip, the Loire Valley is vast and you’ll find towns all along the valley with different wines (Muscadet, Chinon, Vouvray)
Laure Juvet, VINITOUR Centre-Loire
Vignobles Berthier, Sancerre
Joseph Mellot, Sancerre
Dubois-Boulay, Chavignol (goat cheese)
Where to stay:
We stayed a little way away from Sancerre closer to the town of Amboise. This is a small hotel with a fabulous restaurant. I’d also suggest that Sancerre would be a great place to stay in.
Have you visited the Loire? What wineries do you recommend?