Andrew Jefford on Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé – all things are not equal
There is a very good post (Sancerre and friends) by Andrew Jefford published on decanter.com on Monday 18th December 2017. Not a surprise that Andrew’s article is good. No the surprise is that this was the first time that such a long established wine writer has visited Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and the other Central Loire appellations. Andrew has been covering wine for over 30 years now and starting before areas like Argentina, Australia, Chile and South Africa have risen to prominence.
Whatever – it is clear from Andrew’s photos that he visited Sancerre during the autumn. Hopefully he enjoyed the often magnificent show of autumn colours that this most picturesque and spectacular Loire provides.
As ever Andrew’s observations are acute noting that good whites from here do not have the obvious Sauvignon Blanc characteristics, the differences in terroir between Pouilly and Sancerre as well as the Kimmeridgian Crescent that starts in Champagne passes through Pouilly, Sancerre, Menetou-Salon and is below ground by the time it reaches Quincy.
The cross above Chavignol with the town of Sancerre in the background
The differences between Sancerre and Pouilly? Taste-wise not at all easy. I suspect in a blend tasting it would be more down to pot-luck for me. The differences that are most apparent are geographical and topographical. Sancerre clearly has a bigger area that is suitable for vines. More importantly, I think, it has in the town of Sancerre a real focus and centre that Pouilly sorely lacks. A very significant proportion of Appellation Sancerre faces Sancerre town.
In contrast the vineyards of Pouilly run north to south. This probably wouldn’t matter if the appellation had a recognisable centre. After all Burgundy’s Côte d’Or also runs north to south but has lively Beaune to provide a focus for both the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. Pouilly-sur-Loire is very sadly moribund and increasingly so. This is in very stark contrast to the lively and thriving town of Sancerre. The glory days of Pouilly-sur-Loire, when it was a staging post on the Route Nationale 7 – the road southwards to the sunshine and immortalised by Charles Trenet – are very long gone.
Pouilly-sur-Loire suffers from the curse of the Autoroute 77, which by-passes the town, and has gradually drained away its lifeblood. My guess is that most residents do their shopping in supermarkets of Cosne or in La Charité.
Sancerre is also well ahead when it comes to wine tourism. I have already noted that the little town of Pouilly-sur-Loire is sadly moribund. Of course you can visit its producers. But after the visit there is little to do – perhaps a stroll by the Loire and looking at the bridge that marks the halfway point on the Loire’s long journey – 1000 kilometres – to the Atlantic. Otherwise the visitor may well return to bustling Sancerre.
Nor does the Pouilly appellation have villages like Chavignol or Bué – lively villages with a large number of producers but also cafés and restaurants, especially in Chavignol, which also has the very good La Côte des Monts Damnés hotel and restaurant. In terms of concentration of producers the small, picturesque hamlet of Les Loges and around Saint-Andelain is the closest. However, neither has a café or a restaurant.
Pouilly, however, does have like Sancerre its share of dynamic producers who continue to be keen to improve their wines. I am always impressed that the top producers in both appellations have this ambition and will to invest. After all given the commercial success it would be very tempting just to sit back and let the money roll in.
Sancerre has also been blessed with a series of dynamic producers and leaders, who from the 1950s have travelled to sell their wines. Initially they went to Paris and then more recently have spread out around the globe. These include the Mellots, the Bourgeois, Vacherons, Jean-Max Roger, Vincent Pinard and others
Once again, in contrast, Pouilly has few obvious leaders. Certainly the late Didier Dagueneau had a strong personality with equally strong views but was really a rebel with a cause – as likely to chastise his colleagues as to lead them. Baron Patrick de Ladoucette is Pouilly’s leading producer in terms of vines planted. He appears a distant aristocratic figure. In just under 30 years I have met him once – a rather strained visit and meeting with the great man at Château de Nozet.
It is surely significant that when the Bureau du Central Loire was founded, Pouilly preferred for a number of years not to join the organisation. The Pouilly producers have, however, got together for their wine centre – La Tour du Pouilly-Fumé. Sancerre has its Maison des Sancerre.
Finally in the Anglophone world Sancerre is much easier to pronounce than Pouilly-Fumé.
In 2018 Andrew will be writing more about his visit to the Loire’s Central Vineyards – I look forward to reading them.