How to Find the Best Sancerre Wine (2021 Recommendations)
How to Find the Best Sancerre Wine (2021 Recommendations)

What is Sancerre?

The short answer: wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes in a specific area of France’s Loire Valley.

Now for the long answer.

Claimed by many to be “the ultimate Sauvignon Blanc,” Sancerre hails from a tiny area in the Eastern region of Loire Valley, France.

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Why is Sancerre only produced in France?

The Loire Valley of France is the prime spot for growing Sauvignon Blanc vines. (Though they are grown to great success all over the world.) The Loire is full of rolling limestone hills and cooler climates with hot and (hopefully) dry summers.

Vineyards plant nearly entirely Sauvignon Blanc vines. The only notable exception is Pinot Noir vines.

Growing grapes is a complicated art. But climate and geography, two of the simplest concepts, are the ones that have the greatest impact on Sancerre.

Climate

Sauvignon Blanc grapes require lots of light but low heat.

The Loire is located at a higher altitude than New Zealand and therefore has longer growing season days. Which leads to longer periods of light, but less physical heat. Perfect for these little green grapes to flourish! Really all they have to worry about is rain.

Terroir

In terms of geography, Loire can’t be beaten.

What makes this region truly special is the three types of soil, or terroir, local to the region.

  • Chalk/Limestone soils (“Caillottes”) produce an excellently balanced floral flavor
  • Clay soils (“Terres Blance”) produce a fruity flavor and a full-bodied wine
  • Flint soils (“Silex”) produce a gun smoke flavor and mineral quality

All grown from the same region, the various permutations of these flavor combinations create complex varieties of wine.

The varied and impressive flavors surpass many of the shallower varieties of Sauvignon Blanc that focus on vegetable characteristics.

BTW: No other region that uses Sauvignon Blanc grapes can claim the title of Sancerre on their wine. The label only originates from the specific Sancerre region in France. For more information on French regions, their AOC designations, and geographical protections… check out this article!

Sancerre is usually aged in stainless steel, so the true flavors of the terroir shine through. A good Sancerre is complex enough without adding oak.

However, a few producers do oak their wines, adding in flavors like brioche, shortbread, and toast.

BTW: The Sancerre region of Loire also produces several reds and rosés from Pinot Noir. These are typically medium-bodied and fairly dry. They are harder to come by than blancs.

History of the Sancerre Region

Location of Sancerre in the Loire Valley

If you traveled to Sancerre, you’d feel you were in an iconic French village. It is located smack-dab in the center of France and has a long history of French patriotism.

A number of resistance groups have taken up residence over the centuries. Religious rebels during the Protest reformation, royalist rebels during the French Revolution, and even the French Resistance during the German occupation in WWII…all fled to and set up command in Sancerre!

But since those days, Sancerre has experienced a change of its own.

The region originally grew Burgundy wines like Pinot Noir and Gamay. Unfortunately, in the 1800s those vines were destroyed by an insect invasion, Phylloxera.

Phylloxera infection on a grapevine

Phylloxera is an insect that sucks sap from the roots and leaves of grapevines. This causes damage that leaves the vine open to infection. And slowly starves the plant of water and nutrients. There is no cure or pesticide that stops them.

Entire plantations were destroyed and had to be replanted. Since the climate and terroir weren’t particularly favorable for Burgundy vines, to begin with, producers decided to replant with a more favorable grape instead.

Enter the Sauvignon Blanc!

Since then, wine producers have worked to create the exceptional Sancerre Sauvignon Blancs we know and love today!

BTW: American strains of Sauvignon Blanc are actually Phylloxera resistant. Producers in Sancerre opted to graft in these resistant strains. Grafting in a resistant strain of vine is the only way to protect future grapes from an infection.

What does Sancerre Taste Like?

Sancerre producers try to avoid the vegetable flavors that make up a classic Sauvignon Blanc from other regions.

They focus on mineral and fruit notes. The flavors are wide and varied, ranging from ripe lychee to white flowers to limestone to flint and gravel.

The goal is to make a sleek, smooth, elegant dry white wine that bursts with fruit but doesn’t lose any of its bracing acidity.

Typical flavors and aromas in a Sancerre:

  1. Gooseberry
  2. Basil
  3. Tarragon
  4. Flinty-smoke
  5. Limestone
  6. Chalk
  7. Lychee
  8. Pear
  9. Lime
  10. White flowers

If you are someone who generally avoids “green” wines like Sauvignon Blanc, try a Sancerre instead! The fruit and mineral combination makes you feel like you’re sipping something exotic.

Food that Pairs with Sancerre

Sancerre has strong acidity, which makes it perfect to pair with food.

(Many people claim it has too much minerality to be sipped alone, but I disagree.)

Entrees

  • Roast Chicken with Zucchini
  • Lightly seasoned pork chop with summer squashes
  • Roast Turkey breast with potatoes and roasted cauliflower
  • Poached Salmon with asparagus
  • Whitefishes like grilled trout or seared bass
  • Artichokes
  • Fish tacos with avocado, tomato, and cucumber
  • Cheeses

Goat Cheese is the most classic pairing.

Also try:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Farmer’s Cheese
  • Mascarpone
  • Feta
  • Gruyere
  • Monterey Jack

Appetizers

  • Ceviche
  • Oysters
  • Shellfish
  • Guacamole
  • Caesar Salad

Herbs

Most “green” spices like:

  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Tarragon
  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Chervil

On the Spicer End:

  • White Pepper
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Shallots
  • Ginger
  • Horseradish
  • Wasabi

Desserts

  • Lemon Custard
  • Pavlova with tropical fruits
  • Lemon Cake
  • Key Lime Pie

The Difference Between Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc

Location. Location. Location.

As Dr. Vinny from WineSpectator says,

All Sancerres are Sauvignon Blancs. But not all Sauvignon Blancs are Sancerres.

The Sauvignon Blanc grape is the foundation for both wines. However, Sancerre wines are only produced in the Loire Valley of France.

Sauvignon Blanc is a variety of grape. It can be produced in many countries and the wine from its fruits can come from grapes grown anywhere.

Most Sauvignon Blancs have a green, vegetable character.

But Sancerre wines originate only in Loire, France and are more complex and contain minerals and fruit combinations that aren’t found anywhere else.

Loire, France

What to look for in a good Sancerre Wine?

It is hard to find a bad bottle of Sancerre, so you’re relatively safe picking up almost anything on the shelves.But of course, some bottles are heavier on minerals and others are heavier on fruit.

Fruitier examples would be bottles from Domaine Fouassier or “Les Montes Damnés” from Roger and Christopher Moreux.

More mineral examples would be Pascal Jolivet or Lucien Crochet bottles.

How much does Sancerre Cost?

By now, you’ve probably guessed that Sancerre is one of the top Sauvignon Blanc varieties you can find.

Considered the purest form of the grape, you’ll be hard pressed to find any bottle under around $25.

A top-notch Sancerre can cost upwards of $60-70, and the majority hang out around $34-50.

However, there are very good young Sancerres to be found in the $25-30 range!

The Best Sancerre Under $50

2015 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Jadis

Buy this and hold on to it for another year or so. It’s still young and has some green hints to it. But there is even now a strong citrus acidity with delicious herbs and spice like ginger. Green mangos, gooseberry, and faint cut grass on the nose. It is slightly reminiscent of a New World Sauvignon Blanc but with Sancerre’s classic mineral and gunflint notes to balance out the green.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Jadis | Vivino

White wine from Sancerre · France

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2017 Pascal Jolivet Le Chêne Marchand Sancerre

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Le Chene Marchand | Vivino

White wine from Sancerre · France

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Bué is one of the few communes in France allowed to produce Sancerre. And after drinking this bottle, you’ll see why they get the honor! Pascal Jolivet is one of the top vineyards in the area. They produce rich ripe fruit that creates strong tropical flavors like guava, passionfruit, melon, and lime. The fruit is pure and there is very little “green” or grassy about this wine. The distinct minerality of Loire touches in the back palate with hints of chalk. Elegant. Refined. Delicious.

2015 Domaine Bernard Fleuriet et Fils Tradition Sancerre

Domaine Bernard Fleuriet & Fils Tradition Sancerre | Vivino

White wine from Sancerre · France

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An entry-level Sancerre that should be consumed now. There are a strong structure and a pleasant texture. Very restrained mango and grapefruit with an added touch of creamy peach and pear. This is a very mineral-driven wine with notes of flint, limestone, and gooseberry on the nose. And excellent wine if you’re wanting to try out your first high-priced Sancerre.

The Best Sancerre Under $30

2017 Philippe Raimbault Les Fossiles Sancerre 

Philippe Raimbault Les Fossiles Sancerre | Vivino

White wine from Sancerre · France

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A classic example of the Loire Valley terroir. The acidity is bright and strong, while the classic chalky minerality shines through. Citrus and white fruit are strong on the nose with delicious notes of grapefruit and lemon. The combination of flint and fruit is exquisite.

2017 Lucien Crochet Sancerre 

Lucien Crochet Sancerre Blanc | Vivino

White wine from Sancerre · France

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A fresh and delicious wine are full of minerality and citrus acidity. The subtle fruit notes of green apple, gooseberry, and lemon blend beautifully with flinty minerals and limestone finish. There is a faint hint of smoke that deepens the complexity. An absolutely fresh wine that bursts with flavors.

2017 Domaine du Nozay Sancerre Blanc 

Full of very green apples and a tiny hint of pineapple, this vintage is heavier on the fruit than many Sancerre bottles. The slightly grassy and floral notes stop it from becoming overpowering and instead create a well-balanced bottle with excellent acidity. The flinty aroma is only an afterthought but it adds a complex minerality that blends seamlessly.

Domaine du Nozay Sancerre Blanc | Vivino

White wine from Sancerre · France

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Why is Sancerre so expensive?

It is difficult to find Sancerre wines under $20.

In essence, you are paying for the label. Or, more specifically, you are paying for the guarantee of quality.

Sancerre producers are experts in combining different grapes from different terroirs to craft a unique wine with subtle and complex flavors. They are a step above most Sauvignon Blancs.

Not only that, but demand has been skyrocketing since the difference is obvious to even casual wine drinkers.

The only real downside to Sancerre is the high acidity. This can make it hard to sip alone and often requires food as a softener. But I’ve personally never found a bottle I didn’t enjoy sipping!

All combined, Sancerre doesn’t come cheap.

The combination of fruit, florals, minerals, bright acidity, and full-body is hard to beat.

However, there are some wines from other areas of the Loire Valley, and even some from other parts of the world, that have a “Sancerre-Like” quality. The upside is they usually have a lower price tag!

The Best Alternatives to Sancerre

Here are some of the top wines, French and not, that resemble Sancerre…but won’t break your bank!

Touraine

Touraine is also grown in the Loire Valley of France. It is a mixed appellation, producing both dry whites and rich reds. Their Sauvignon Blancs are varied just like their soil: flint, clay, limestone, chalk, sand, and gravel are all located in Touraine. The nose of Touraine Sauvignon Blancs tends to be fruitier and sweeter, though the taste is the classic dry white with crisp refreshing acidity.

The difference from Sancerre:

  • A more varied terroir and climate
  • Sweeter nose
  • Notes of Honeysuckle

Pouilly-Fumé

Located right across the Loire river from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé (pronounced “poo-YEE foo-MAY”) is its main competitor. Pouilly-Fumé is a 100% white appellation, meaning the region only grows white grapes! It stays about 6-8 months on lees (Sancerre only stays about 3-4 months) to provide more depth and toasty flavors. The terroir is very similar in the two regions, but Pouilly-Fumé has a fruitier quality.

Differences from Sancerre:

  • Longer aging
  • Terroir is Kimmeridgian, made from fossilized oyster shells
  • Wines tend to be a tiny bit darker
  • More exotic fruit flavors

Sauvignon Blanc

As you might have guessed, a good ol’ Sauvignon Blanc will serve as a Sancerre substitute in a pinch. Of course, finding one that is Sancerre-like can be difficult. You’ll need to look for one that is grown in a similar terroir. You’ll want similar climate: cooler, but with short, hot, and dry summers and long days of sunlight. You’ll also want similar soils: flint or limestone. The Finger Lakes of New York, occasionally New Zealand, Chile, and some other areas of France are all good bets.

The difference from Sancerre:

  • Can come from all over the world
  • Tend to focus on the green, vegetable flavors
  • Tend to be shallower and lack complexity
  • Fewer flint notes, wetter stone

The Best Sancerre Alternatives Under $20

2018 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, M. Plouzeau

Grown in gravel soil near the river, strong notes of fruit filter in. Strong lime acidity mixed with green apples and honeysuckle. There are no hint of green vegetables, just strong minerality and delicious fruits. With an appetizing limestone finish, this is very similar to a Sancerre.

M Plouzeau Touraine Sauvignon | Vivino

White wine from Touraine · France

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Philippe Raimbault Pouilly-Fumé Les Lumeaux

Philippe Raimbault Les Lumeaux Pouilly-Fumé | Vivino

White wine from Pouilly-Fumé · France

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A sweet citrus nose that smooths into elderflower and passionfruit. This is sweeter than most Sancerre wines but high acidity and medium body keep it from drifting too far. There is a creamy pear, peach, and lychee palate with hints of grass. Minerality is not quite strong here. This is a good bet if you enjoy a Chardonnay.

2017 Fournier Père et Fils Sauvignon Blanc

Domaine Fournier Père et Fils Sauvignon Blanc | Vivino

White wine from Vin de France · France

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Domaine Fournier has vineyards in all major Sauvignon Blanc regions of France. This allows them to bottle lovely bargain steals like this Sauvignon Blanc vintage…made in the same vineyard as Sancerre. Now, what’s better than that! Notes of green herbs and green apple on the nose. The palate is full of green apple, lemon zest, and gooseberry with hints of white pepper and delicious minerality. It finishes on citrus and just a hint of flint. This is a clean, citrusy wine, perfect for summer picnics or walks by the beach!

The Best Years for Sancerre

Recent years have been good for Sancerre – 2017 through 2015. They’ve all produced impressive bottles with complex and full flavors.

2016 was particularly good for Sancerre, these vintages have high acidity

2015 was the first really stellar year since 2010. The growing season was hot and dry, so the grapes ripened well.

Further back, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2002 all had consistent growing seasons that produced pure wines with signature bright acidity.

In general, more floral wines should be enjoyed around 3-5 years after bottling. While fruit heavy Sancerre can be enjoyed as long as 10 years after the vintage!

However, there are some “entry level” Sancerres made from combinations of vineyards and soils. These can be consumed more quickly and give you a good head start in understanding the complexities of Sancerre!

General Sancerre FAQs

Is Sancerre sweet or dry?

Dry! There are some wines that may have a sweeter edge to them, but they are by no means classified as sweet wines.

Should you age Sancerre?

Yes and no. Many bottles of Sancerre are actually best with a little aging, though these tend to be top-tier bottles.

Should you decant Sancerre?

Decanting Sancerre isn’t necessary. But a younger Sancerre is one of the few white wines that does benefit from decanting!
Because Sancerre is so complex, decanting the wine and allowing the oxygenation process to begin actually brings out the subtler flavors and makes for a more complex wine. Just don’t decant it too long before serving or you’ll lose some of that fresh acidity. No more than 30 minutes before serving.

Should Sancerre be served cold?

Yes. In general, most white wines should be served chilled. Sancerre is included in that list. However, Sancerre shouldn’t be served too cold, as it is a complex wine. You’ll risk diluting the aromas and more subtle flavors of the fruit.
Take it out of the fridge about 20 to 30 minutes before you serve.

What is the difference between Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé?

Pouilly-Fumé is also made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. However, according to France’s AOC designations, because it is grown in a different region they cannot claim the Sancerre name.
Pouilly-Fumé is typically denser and muskier and heavy on citrus.
Pouilly-Fuissé (pronounced “poo-yYEE fwee-SAY”) is made in Burgundy, France only from Chardonnay grapes. It’s a totally different wine!

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Summarize It for Me

Sancerre has gotten a reputation as “The Fancy Sauvignon Blanc.” And with good reason!

Originating from the Loire Valley of France, the three soils of the region create some of the sleekest and most complex white wines on the market.

Sancerre wines are rich in minerality, citrus, fruits, and acidity.

If you’re willing to spend the money, you’ll get the chance to taste one of the purest varieties of Sauvignon Blanc known to man.

If you’re budget just won’t allow you to spring for a bottle, try a Touraine or Pouilly-Fumé from regions near Sancerre. Some of their bottles are just as good.

Sit back. Relax. And get ready for a truly delicious treat!

Kathryn Loveless

Kathryn Loveless is a freelance writer for hire who delights in all things delectable. You can find her perfecting a roast chicken recipe, hunting down a new bottle of scotch, or hosting a wine and cheese soirée somewhere in New York.