Monday, June 09, 2008
¡ Que viva Sancerre !
Saturday morning, we set out for Sancerre in a tomato-red Smart we'd rented - which, curiously, came with Spanish license plates. It was pretty odd, and we mused about whether on driving back into Paris after the finals of the French Open we might be stoned by a throng of irate Swiss people if Roger Federer lost.
But aside from a gas station attendant outside of Gien who spoke to me in Spanish, there were no dire consequences to speak of. And the trip went perfectly. Who would have thought a Smart could hold nine cases of wine? And go 150km/h with all that in the trunk? (Yes, quick calculation: 150km/h is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90mph.)
After stopping in Briare to see the 19th century "Canal-Bridge" - which is a canal that overpasses a river, with big pompous streetlamps in all their glory - and have a bite to eat, washed down with a bottle of Coteaux du Giennois (simple, frank gamay served chilled), we took tiny country roads down to Chavignol.
Pascal Thomas greeted us at his cellar, and we set about tasting the 2007s, which were (especially the Réserve Spéciale) very aromatic for what I had imagined was a pretty feeble vintage. We talked about the different ups and downs of the vine and France's wine politics, and we tasted an interesting cuvée called "Bois Perdu" (a 2004, the last time he made that particular one, to date), which is pretty atypical, hard to define, made from old vines and partially aged in old oak barrels: a wine it'll be fun to have friends taste blind.
After our tasting - and drinking a few more glasses of Bois Perdu - with Pascal Thomas, we loaded our bottles into the back of the Smart and headed up the hillside toward Verdigny, where we had an appointment to taste with Paul Prieur.
Amusingly enough, I've been drinking Prieur's wines for almost ten years now, but despite the fact that I've been to Sancerre a good handful of times, I'd never set foot in Verdigny, which is a tiny hamlet maybe three kilometers away, and just "a flea's jump" from Chavignol.
We walked into the tasting room, and I got an immediate sense of friendliness from the easygoing, generous attitude of M. Prieur, who went to get some artisanal chèvre to go with our tasting.
So, first off, we tasted the range of his latest wines. He makes one of each color, full-stop. No parcelling, no special cuvées. Just traditional Sancerre, in rosé, white and red. And the ones we tasted - 2007s for the rosé and white, 2006 for the red - were model Sancerres. The rosé was fleshy but bone-dry; it was beautifully balanced. The white blew me away: harmonious, suave, rich but not brawny in the way of those Rafael Nadal wines, the overextracted, tiny-yield monsters you sometimes encounter these days, where you feel like the juice has been squeezed out of the only grape on a twisted, 120-year-old vine. No, this was classic, limpid and refreshing, extraordinarily classy Sancerre.
The 2006 red was, for me - ever the skeptic about red Sancerre (nb: that did get me roped into a delicious blind tasting of a 1993 red at Arnaud's parents' place, but I think I've already written about that here) - for me, usually skeptical about Sancerre reds, this Paul Prieur red was excellent. A very different expression of Pinot Noir than you would find in Burgundy (yet Sancerre practically rubs up against the western part of that region, though it's cordoned off by the Loire), it was a serious wine with good structure. It clearly will age well - and we got proof of this soon after.
Seeing our interest and enthusiasm, M. Prieur was eager to show us the cellars and taste the 2007 from barrel. Still cloudy and a little carbonic, it nonetheless was already quite straight on the attack, with good material. It will be a nice wine in a year.
Then, acrobatically climbing up on a metal cage full of older bottles, our host plucked out a bottle of red - then repeated the exploit further on for a white. We went back up to the tasting room to open them.
2004 Paul Prieur Sancerre (white) - Hm! This was a delicious, absolutely harmonious wine. After some recent experiences with white Sancerres going a little sugary with time, tasting this one showed me that they can in fact remain light, flinty, with body but no lashings of residual sugar. Excellent.
And the surprise red: a 1996.
1996 Paul Prieur Sancerre (red) - Wow! Right from the start, it had a dark, brooding, expressive nose. On the palate, the wine was dense and complex, with a striking youthfulness and serious, well-constructed matter. Earth, cherries, stones... It was like a Burgundy from the Côte de Nuits...
And as we kept up the banter and talk, it grew later and started to rain on the flowers in M. Prieur's garden. Fortunately, there was enough room in the back of our little Spanish Smart to hold several cases of his Sancerre - which may help console me for my idol Roger Federer losing the Open... alas...