• Dona Stewart

In the cellar at...Domaine Sautereau

It’s a blistering hot August day in Crézancy en Sancerre, a commune in the Sancerre appellation, the 2022 harvest is a few weeks out. Though it’s just before closing, and I’ve arrived without an appointment, David Sautereau graciously welcomes me. A tenth-generation vigneron, David’s winemaking approach integrates new techniques alongside tradition.

I had planned a quick tasting of his Les Vignoble des Sarrottes 2020, but soon enjoyed a masterclass in the maturation and blending of Sancerre. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes for des Sarrottes are grown on a small (1.5 ha) parcel of terre blanches, a mixture of limestone and clay soil. Nicknamed ‘white soil’, the chalky Kimmeridgian marl, often containing fossilized sea creatures, turns white in dry periods. One of the three major soils in the Sancerre AOC, it produces fruit with high acid and long aging potential.

Last year, 2021, was challenging for Sancerre’s wine growers. As in other parts of France a severe Spring frost caused significant damage. In contrast to this year’s intense heat and dryness, the weather was cooler and often rainy. Despite decreased yields, the overall quality of the harvest was thought to be very good.

We start with Sauvignon Blanc that has been matured, on fine lees, in stainless steel. This is how most Sancerre is made, in neutral vessels to highlight the fruit flavors. Here the classic Sancerre aromas and flavors of citrus, stone fruits and a bracing minerality shine through.

Next, we try the same wine, but matured in concrete eggs. The biscuity flavor of lees is more pronounced, a result of the convention currents that form inside the vessel. The wine is a little rounder, with some floral and dried herb notes.

Tucked in the corner of the cellar, large amphoras held our next taste. Commonly used in ancient winemaking, these clay vessels are naturally porous, the exposure to oxygen adding texture and body to the wine. Indeed, this wine is rounder than that matured in either the stainless or concrete. It is also more aromatic, with pronounced stone fruit (apricot) aromas. There is the slightest hint of salt.

It was fascinating to taste how maturation in three different vessels impacted the flavor of the Sauvignon Blanc. But what about the Les Vignoble des Sarrottes I had come to try?

David grabbed a beaker and darted between the stainless tank, concrete egg and clay amphora, measuring carefully. This is the first blending of the 2021 Les Vignoble des Sarrottes! His inspiration for the blend is to “produce a cuvée that best expresses the characteristics of the terres blanche, a fantastic terroir that imparts a saline finish.” Indeed, the resulting blend is complex, a little round, with a distinct saline finish. The French word iodé (iodine), which attributes this taste to the maritime nature of the soil, fits well here.

Little Sancerre is aged in anything other than stainless steel, still less is blended. Having tasted each of the component parts of Les Vignoble des Sarrottes, I can truly say the interplay in the final blend creates a wine that is more than the sum of its parts.

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