Tasting T1.20 Sancerre & Pouilly-Fume

I cannot remember when I first tasted a Sauvignon Blanc or indeed my first Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume’s. I do, however, remember a wine trip that Kim and I took with a couple of friends in spring 1991.

One of the stops was at a hotel called Le Castel in a pretty little village called Mailly-le-Chateau. Using Mailly-le-Chateau as our base we were able to head across to Sancerre & Pouilly-Fume and later north to Chablis.

As is often the way with me, tasting wine in the place where it is made helps to crystalise the place in your mind. It also helps to give you a feel for the location and more often than not the gastronomy. Once you have returned to the UK, each time you open a bottle from that particular place, you are figuratively transported back to that moment and location. Be it the cellar of a local winemaker or the table at a local restaurant, or just the view over the valley from the hotel terrace.

Sancerre lies on the left bank of the Loire River in the department of Cher. The town lies on an outcrop of the chalk that runs from the white cliffs of Dover down through Champagne and Chablis. There are a series of small valleys cutting through the chalk each with their own soils and microclimates, to the east are the ‘flints’ that make minerally, long-lived wines. Between Sancerre and Verdigny the marl and gravel of ‘les Caillottes’ produces fruity, well-balanced wines. In the southwest, away from the river the chalky ‘terres blanches’ produces weightier wines. Most, but not all of the Sauvignon Blancs are unoaked. 

Pouilly-Sur-Loire lies on the right bank of the Loire River in the department of Nievre. The Sauvignon Blanc wines made here have a smoky ‘gun-flint’ aroma which is why the appellation names it as  Poullly-Fume. Not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuisse a chardonnay wine from the Maconnaise.

There are some wines known as Pouilly-Sur-Loire, which are made from a different grape variety called Chasselas which we are not tasting.

Sancerre received its AOC in 1936 and Pouilly-Fume a year later in 1937. These two wines are both 100% Sauvignon Blanc and indeed are the best and original examples of the variety. A variety that is now widely cultivated in many wine producing countries around the world.

In terms of food these wines are great for Goats cheese, Asparagus, Fish for example.

I suppose we could argue that the whole concept of the 60 tastings for my 60 years is something of an indulgence. However, some of the wines in some of the tastings typify that more than others. In this case it is the wines of Didier Dagueneau that captured mine and the wine world’s attention in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Didier Dagueneau born in 1956 raced motorcycles on the international circuit between 1978 and 1982. He then returned to his family home in St Andelain and acquired his first 1.2 hectares of vines and began to vinify wine under his own label, ‘En Chailloux’. In 1985 he added ‘Silex’ and in 1988 ‘Pur Sang’.

Dagueneau’s wines are not necessarily typical of Pouilly-Fume, for starter’s his wines have always been aged in some oak. This is not usual in the area, but his methods and fastidiousness in the vineyard were then matched by his extensive experimentation in the winery.

Sadly, Didier died in 2008 at the age of 52 in an ultralight plane crash in the Cognac region of France. He was survived by his son and daughter, Louis-Benjamin and Charlotte. Benjamin had worked with his father for some years in both the vineyards and cellar. The wines are apparently continuing in terms of quality and perhaps benefitting from the many years of work that both generations have put in.

To only talk about Didier Dagueneau would be to ignore some incredibly good other winemakers from the area that I have long enjoyed drinking and we taste a few of them tonight in this tasting, but there are many, many more.

To the Domaines….

Claude Riffault

The 4th generation, Stephane Riffault is a rising star of Sancerre. He trained with Olivier Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet and his influence is there. Precise, mineral and carefully crafted wines. He has approximately 15 hectares under vine of which 12 are Sauvignon Blanc and the balance Pinot Noir.

Jonathan Pabiot

The 5th generation, Jonathan started in 2005 and moved to organic farming in 2006 and biodynamic in 2016. Looking after 20 hectares in all, Jonathan has an attention to detail to get the best out of their microclimate and the natural balance of the vineyard.

Pascal Jolivet

The Jolivet family Louis and his son Lucien were involved in wine as cellar masters of Chateau de Tracy until 1926 when they established Jolivet and Son wine merchants. In 1982 Jacques (Lucien’s son) founded Les Grands Vins du Val de Loire and encouraged his son pascal (then 22) to work for Maison Pommery. In 1987 Pascal the fourth generation set up Pascal Jolivet and in 1990 builds a brand-new winery. In 1993 he purchases from his cousins 6 hecatres of prime vineyards in Sancerre and in 1995 he purchased 6.5 hectares of Pouilly-Fume vineyards in Tracy-sur-Loire.

Francois Cotat

The two fathers, Francis and Paul produced a single cuvee in the same cellar from the 1940’s but bottled it under two separate labels. When they retired in the early 90’s they passed the Domaine to their two respective sons Francois and Pascal. Francois’s vineyards are in the top rated area of Chavignol, where they lie on the chalky, mineral and steep slopes of the legendary ‘Mont Damnes’.

Didier Dagueneau

I think I said enough above regarding this Domaine, except to say that tonight will be the first time I have actually tasted any of his wines as they are not cheap to say the least and I just couldn’t justify it… until now.

This evenings tasting will be conducted by myself and Harry, with able (or not) assistance lent by Kim, Jen and Luke.

To the wines…

1st up is…

Claude Riffault – Sancerre Les Denisottes 2020

Based on fruit from 41 to 54 year old vines on extremely shallow Kimmeridgian soils.

Nose: Pale straw colour on first viewing. Aromas of gooseberry, citrus and mango. Grapefruit coming through as well.

Palate: Lovely light wine and very easy to drink. Citrus and exotic fruits coming through. Gooseberry and grapefruit coming through towards the finish. Medium bodied wine with moderate acidity and short – medium length finish. A lovely wine to start off, extremely well represented.

Jonathan Pabiot – Pouilly-Fume Luminance 2020

Once named Predilection, Luminance is a single vineyard wine from an old vine parcel on Kimmeridgian soil.

Nose: Pale straw colour on first viewing. Rich and creamy, lovely aromas of grass and grapefruit. Immediately different from the Sancerre that was just tasted above. Minerality and smokey hints coming through as well.

Palate: Apples, pears and white fleshed fruit coming through on the palate. Beautiful texture, body and structure is extremely good. Minerality really coming through and the smoke ever so slightly present and not overpowering. Medium bodied wine with moderate to full acidity and great medium – full length finish.  

Pascal Jolivet -  Sancerre Sauvage 2017

Carefully selected fruit from 2 hectares of old vines on limestone vineyards go into making this wine pure and expressive.

Nose: Pale straw colour on first viewing. Gooseberry and grass immediately on the nose, extremely intense nose. A little tart with limes coming through as well.

Palate: Limes, grapefruit and gooseberry really coming through on the palate. A luscious and thick wine in the mouth. Body, structure and minerality are all excellent. Smashing wine! Full bodied, with high acidity and a full finish. This wine will age for many a moon and will get even better.

Francois Cotat – Sancerre les Monts Damnes 2018

A long lived but fresh and vibrant example of Sancerre. The steep slopes of Mont Damnes make tending the vines a gruelling and manual job.

Nose: Pale straw colour on first viewing. Once opened (it took a few hours) white fruits, gooseberry and beautiful aromas of grapefruit were apparent.

Palate: Gorgeous on the palate with all of the fruits above coming to the fore. This really took us by surprise, it was extremely closed at the beginning. After a while though it absolutely blew our socks off. Amazing aromas of lichi and exotic fruits as well. Medium bodied with full acidity and an extremely long finish. This was very good indeed.

Didier Dageuneau – Pouilly-Fume Pur Sang 2018

The most powerful and hedonistic of the Dagueneau wines. It comes from a single clay rich parcel in Saint-Laurent

Nose: Pale straw colour on first viewing. Incredibly clean on the nose, white fruits and very mineral. Beautiful aromas.

Palate: Extremely smooth on the palate, hints of gooseberry, white fruits and slight notes of smoke on the end. This wine is absolutely extraordinary. Medium bodied with full acidity and a very long finish. This wine is £100 a bottle but it really does justify the price. This was truly incredible and everyone around the table was amazed at what we had just tasted. Pure brilliance.

Didier Dageuneau – Pouilly-Fume Silex 2014

Named after the flint-clay soil of Pouilly-Fume, this comes from a single parcel of biodynamic vines on the Saint-Andlaint hill, hand harvested with low yields. The fruit is harvested fully ripe to produce age-worthy grand cru level wines.

Nose: Pale straw colour on first viewing. Asparagus, vegetation and wet leaves came to mind, weirdly two of us got Edam cheese as well… a rather interesting note I agree.

Palate: Intense flavours of vegetation, green bell peppers and floral notes. This was again an incredible wine. Medium – full bodied wine with moderate – full acidity. A lovely long finish to round of the last two incredible wines. This is very expensive clocking at £165 a bottle… I do think it was worth it, however. Just to taste it once…


Sauvignon Blanc for me is a very different beast to other white grape varieties. For a start it is not my go to wine. Therefore I was filled with a mixture of angst and interest for this tasting. I also find that I prefer Sauvignon Blanc from other countries rather than France. This is just my personal preference obviously.

So when we did finish this tasting I was extremely happy with the wines that we had tasted. I would still say that Sauvignon Blanc is not my go to white wine. However, I have definitely found a new appreciation for this grape variety, as I have seen what it is like when it is done extremely well. A particular shout out to the Denisottes… at £35 a bottle I would say it is a bargain for anyone wishing to see how good Sauvignon Blanc can be!

The scores:

Les Denisottes 2020 – 90 Points

Luminance 2020 – 90 Points

Sauvage 2017 – 93 Points

Les Monts Damnes 2018 – 91 Points

Pur Sang 2018 – 98 Points

Silex 2014 – 97 Points

I think… Dageuneau wins… I think…? It's not actually a competition in all fairness, we are merely tasting wines to asses their quality. Not to taste against each other. Having said that, Dageuneau is regarded as one of the best (if not the best) producer of Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire valley. These two wines truly are pure brilliance. If you have the money to spend I would highly recommend purchasing either of them.

An absolutely brilliant ending to an awesome tasting. All wines are minimum outstanding and that is a testament to these Domaines. Long may they continue to produce incredible wines.

Thank you for reading again and see you next time 😊

David & Harry

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