On the Trail

Sancerre for the Summer

David Driscoll

Along the sultry banks of the Loire River during summer, you'll find any number of quaint restaurants and cafés serving cold, clean, and refreshing local white wines. A glass of Muscadet is almost mandatory before lunch. A bottle of Vouvray, with its richer chenin blanc flavors, might be opened to pair with heartier meals. But for that zippy, zingy, mineral-driven core of bright acidity with mouthwatering notes of citrus and stones, it would be hard to best Sancerre when looking to beat the summer heat. I once spent a lazy August evening wandering the banks with an open bottle of Sancerre in my hand, taking pulls along the way as I snapped a few photos (like the one above). The Loire Valley appellation is renowned as the spiritual home of sauvignon blanc and with its limestone-rich soils, the grapes grown upon it retain their acidity and yield a very special character some liken to crushed rocks or wet river stones. The first bottle of wine I ever purchased from K&L back in 2007 was a bottle of Sancerre and, for me, it was a transformative experience. Not because it was the best wine I had ever tasted, mind you, but because it was the first time I could actually taste what I had been reading in my studies. Sancerre is straightforward, yet exhilarating. When people say the wines have "minerality," it only takes one sip to figure out exactly what that means. 

With the weather heating up this week in California, I've been eyeing the selection of Loire Valley whites in the store, getting my supply together to bolster my weekend drinking needs (who am I kidding—for my everyday needs). After tasting through our container of direct import purchases from France, there was one wine that immediately jumped out at me, mainly because I knew of the producer and had no idea we had begun buying his wines directly: Anthony Girard's Domaine la Clef du Récit. I had just read a review in Decanter about his little side project, and supposedly the 2015 offering was quite the stunner. While Anthony grew up in his family's Sancerre winery, he spent a number of years learning about production all over the world before returning home to continue working with sauvignon blanc. Continuing to help with the namesake family Girard label, he wanted to do something on his own as well—to make wine his way—and eventually purchased a small plot of pristine real estate near the town of Récy with primo Sancerre limestone soils. After acquiring the vines he was given a large key as a symbolic gesture of new ownership, or a "clef du récit," which became the name of the estate.

While the heavy limestone content helps the fruit to retain bright acidity, a portion of the vineyard is planted in flintier grounds, which adds minerality to the finish. Anthony's wines have been renowned for their freshness and zip, in true Sancerre fashion. I tasted the wine earlier this morning and it is exactly as advertised: fresh, lively, with subtle citrus, and plenty of that textbook Sancerre minerality on the finish. There's a flintiness that stays with you for a few minutes should you choose to savor it, but personally I can't really imagine waiting more than ten seconds or so to take another  swig. This is exactly the type of wine I want to be drinking during the warm months of spring and summer. It reminds me of that heady time in the Loire Valley years ago, and it also harkens back to what first excited me about wine in the first place. Good thing we're bringing this in directly because I'll need a bargain price to justify buying volume.

-David Driscoll