2009 Château de Sancerre Rouge
Available at Bedford Wine Merchants
Retail price: approximately $30
French Wines: The Pinot Noir Experience
Lovers of French wine often have a special place in their hearts for pinot noir. Some even consider the pursuit of the ultimate pinot to be the wine equivalent of the pursuit of the holy grail. Why do the true believers obsess about this particular grape? At its best, pinot noir creates elegant wines with breathtaking red fruit aromas that evolve over time to more complex earth, smoke, violet, truffle and game, causing many to feel it is in a league of its own. But the fundamental truth of pinot is that it is profoundly sensitive, and that quality is both its gift and its curse.
Its sensitivity makes it notoriously difficult to cultivate and vinify (it is much less tolerant of challenging vineyard conditions than cabernet sauvignon or syrah), and at the same time it is the reason this varietal, perhaps better than any other, is able to so clearly translate terroir, or convey a meaningful sense of place. This ability is responsible for much of the mystery and allure of pinot, leading the influential winemaker and consultant André Tchelistcheff to declare: “God made cabernet sauvignon whereas the Devil made pinot noir.”
Within the broad spectrum of flavors, textures and impressions that pinot noir can produce, if you want to crack the code you’ll need to begin by defining your field, and that means exploring its outer edges. In the case of the 2009 Château de Sancerre Rouge from the Loire Valley, we have an extreme version of what cool-climate conditions yield in the personality of the wine. Château de Sancerre Rouge is 100 percent pinot noir, using low yields, manual harvests and unfiltered bottling to produce a complex wine that accurately reflects its geography.
The 2009 is a highly focused, chiseled example of pure pinot characteristics, from its racy acidity to the slightly underripe red-cherry flavors to the clean white-pepper finish. Here we are getting a crash course in one end of the spectrum of pinot. The lightness of the wine in terms of color and weight carries an understated elegance and is entirely natural, as pinot noir has less coloring matter in its skin than other red varieties.
On the other end of the spectrum, from New World producers in warmer climates, we see an emerging style highlighting a more powerful, fruit-forward and darker wine that is so far from the cool-climate expression that it begins to suggest a different grape entirely, something closer to malbec.
As only about 10 percent of Sancerre’s production is dedicated to pinot, Sancerre rouge is fairly uncommon, but it is a wine that all true pinot lovers must experience for themselves.
Try it with grilled branzino, pea soup with lardoons and a touch of crème fraîche, and savory vegetable quiches.
Editor’s note: Food and wine lovers heading to Paris might want to try one of the Girls’ Guide’s favorite cooking classes in Paris.