For Sancerre Lovers! What does a '72 Sancerre Taste Like?
My friend Benoit Roumet (former director of the Wines of the Cenrtre-Loire) recently wrote about an enchanting tasting at Domaine Jean-Max Roger on his Sake Loire blog HERE. It is in French - my translation below (apologies for any errors). Be sure to see the pics on his post. Enjoy the virtual visit! Domaine Jean-Max Roger: Suspended in Time Benoit Roumet - sakeloire.com
Nestled in the heart of the village of Bué in the Sancerrois, a visit to the domaine Jean-Max Roger is a moment out of time, first because we are in a dead zone so no phone calls, texts or other electronics disturb the visit and tasting, but also because the estate sells its wines, both reds and whites, only after two, three or potentially many more years of aging.
Accompanied by Bertrand Daulny, former director de SICAVAC (interprofessional laboratory of the Central Loire), Christian Renard, former vineyard manager at Veuve Cliquot, et Juli Roumet, Japanese sommelier (with whom I have had the opportunity to share my life), I had the privilege to spend a long time in the cellars of the estate.
A little history
Jean Mark moved in following his parents in 1972 (we will return to this year again). At first, having no press, they shared one with a neighboring wine maker. Little by little, the estate grew, even going beyond the Sancerrois to plant in Menetou-Salon. Today, it covers 34 hectares, 28 in the Sancerre appellation and 6 in Menetou-Salon, managed by Thibault and Etienne who joined the estate in 2004.
On the ground, some silex for Sancerre rosé near Bannon (in the commune de Vinon in the south of the Sancerre appellation), some kimméridgien in Menetou-Salon (Morogues commune) and for white Sancerre 70% limestone pebbles and 30% ‘terres blanches’ (clay and limestone).
A little viticulture
In the vineyard, work is continuously ongoing to increase sustainability, trying new techniques to avoid the negative impacts of over working the soil such as the use of green fertilizers and grasses. Pruning is Guyot-Poussard (more beneficial for sap transport pathways), updated by François DAL of SICAVAC, which is practiced on vines planted at a density of 7,000 to 8,000 feet per hectare (minimum in Sancerre: 6,500 feet/ha).
For harvest, 60% is done by machine, with built in sorting, 40% is harvested by hand, especially the reds, which are grown on inaccessible slopes.
A little winemaking
No conveyers or pumps, all the grapes arrive in large crates that are mounted and emptied in the presses for the rosés and the whites or in the destemmer for the reds.
For the whites, after cold settling 48 – 72 hours, fermentation begins thanks to indigenous yeasts, ensuring most of the sugar converts to alcohol. Selected yeasts finish the fermentation, in recent years there has been an increase in the alcohol level of the region’s wines. For Thibaut is has been necessary to adapt to these new conditions, keeping fermentations long but retaining aromatic sharpness. After fermentation, the wine rests on lees as long as necessary “because in this estate we take the time to wait for the wines”. The Menetou-Salon Blanc, sold in 2022, is the result of the 2018 vintage and the Sancerre Rouge comes from 2014.
The pinot noir dedicated for the red wine is sorted once at the vineyard then a second time before destemming and being placed in vats. After 24 to 72 hours of cold maceration, fermentation occurs naturally or is induced depending on the year. The "malolactic" fermentation usually takes place in the spring. The reds (and Lieux-Dits whites) are aged in 400 liter barrels, the vast majority from local coopers (Lacroix, Gauthier, Centre France, Meyrieux). The tasting
A small tour in a cellar a little less full than usual because of the frost of 2021, gave us a good idea about this vintage, said to be more «classic».
With the Menetou-Salon and the Genesis cuvée (Sancerre caillottes terroir in Bué), it is indeed the freshness that dominates with notes of citrus zest with a round mouthfeel and very nice length.
We continue with the Cuvée Caillottes (vineyards of Amigny and Sancerre) and the cuvée Vieilles Vignes aged half in wood. The mouthfeel is fleshy and the tasting suggests superb potential.
With the ‘Lieu-Dits’ We discover the 2020 Sancerre Grand Chemarin (on limestone pebbles) and the Côte de Bué, a wine that has been deceiving me since the first vintage. It is on Kimmeridgian marls with a massale selection of sauvignon made by SICAVAC. As early as 2014, at the first harvest, we had the impression of tasting a wine from old vines. We find in 2020 this richness and complexity resulting from a great terroir magnified by the hand of man. A future great bottle.
Sancerre cannot age? No way!
We then had the chance to taste older vintages. Starting with the Sancerre Vieilles Vignes 2020 that will be available in October, we went through a cuvée Marnes et Caillottes 2019 a real beauty, a Menetou-Salon 2018 that presents an amazing freshness on a vintage generally considered more opulent. I would mention 1996, which I was able to taste during another visit and which had the smell of white truffles. As a bonus, an unreleased white «harvest forgotten» from 1989. For the reds, a Sancerre Cuvée de la Grange Dimière 2015, Vieilles Vignes 2012 and two «mystery» wines that turned out to be 1985 and 1990. One word: extraordinary! And above all, far from being the remnants of the Sancerrois viticultural archaeology, wines that, beyond their age, are to be drunk and not only to be tasted.
1972: always dashing!
For those less than 50 years old, who do not know the oldest vintages in Sancerrois, 1972 has remained in our memory and for good reason. A vintage in which the grapes simply did not ripen, some vines having even experienced frost before the harvest that often ended on November 11 (and not leaving the grapes to make sweet wine). For Christian and Jean-Max, “when the grapes fell into the baskets, you’d think you were dumping stones.” History will also show that in that year, the usual values of the sugar and acidity levels were reversed. What is fascinating is that the winemakers are always ready to taste a 72, to verify that the style (very green hay aromas, very marked acidity) has not changed despite the passing years.
Jean-Max offered to taste one, which we all agreed to. Frankly, it is certainly most agreeable I have tasted, even if all the tasters agreed that with regards to the evolution of the vintage in aromatic terms (transition from hay to vegetal notes in a little less than 50 years), we should certainly arrive at the floral aromas around 2052 or 2072.
In any case, a historical ending for a very nice tasting and a great time spent at an estate to not to be missed.
Click here to visit Jean-Mark Roger estate