(But first, the preamble.)
Back home, when I told people that I was going to live in Sancerre, a common reaction that I got was "the wine is amazing!" Then, they would grab my arm firmly, look into my eyes, and begin to wax poetic about all of the Sancerre wines they had had in the past. I admit, I had not heard of Sancerre wines before, so I'd smile and nod (a combination that has proven invaluable here.)
But now that I'm here, I get it. My first night in Sancerre I was in a bit of a daze (or haze?)—I had taken the red eye from Boston (on which I slept very little) and got in at 10am to Paris, and then had had a full day's travel to Sancerre (metro to another metro to the most hellish train station imagineable, to the train to Cosne, then a cab to Sancerre), all with a suitcase packed for two months' travel, and while I was recovering from a cold. I got to my appartment at around 4:30pm and everything of import was immediately explained to me in French. I understood enough to know that I had about 45 minutes to look presentable before heading over to the school for a welcoming reception.
When I got there, all I could do was nod and say "oui, merci!" to everything as I tried to keep both my eyes open the same amount so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. Luckily, one of those things I unwittingly agreed to was a glass of wine. Even I, whose senses were dulled by exhaustion and whose nose was stuffy and who generally classifies wine into the categories of "I'd drink this again" and "I wouldn't drink this again", could tell that this was a seriously good wine. And now, whenever someone asks about the wine here, I grab their arms, look into their eyes, and tell them about this wine that I had on my first night in Sancerre.
Pouilly-Fumé - Domaine des Rabichattes
Since then, I've gone on two wine tours. The first was last Friday, to Pouilly-Fumé (across the Loire from Sancerre, so not a Sancerre wine but rather another A.O.C. wine), with a wine tour company run by the completely charming and knowledgeable Laure. The tour was mainly in French, with some English when we needed it. First, she drove us around the area, showed us some chateaus that produce wine, and talked about the different types of soil. At several points she had us down in the dirt, pawing around at the roots of some vines. She quizzed us on what kind of soil it was and at the time I was thinking that I didn't think I paid for a geology lesson. But later we tasted wines made with the same grapes (sauvignon blanc) but in different soil, and they were astonishingly different, and I was so glad that she'd stressed the importance of the soil beforehand (terroir, and all that.)
Throughout the tour I learned so much, and then I promptly forgot most of it (they say you're supposed to spit out the wine after tasting it, but that seems like such a waste.) I think there was something about a fungus that killed off a lot of the grapes in the late 1800s, and I did understand that Chesselas is a grape grown here that was a table grape that they now turn into wine, though mostly for novelty purposes it seems. Honestly, if you want to know more about this you should look it up elsewhere, as any information you'll get here has been distorted by translation and the effects of mild inebriation. Look, here's a website that seems to know what it's talking about.
I do remember we swung by the village of Pouilly-sur-Loire and saw a bunch of really adorable and lucky sheep whose job it is to travel up and down the Loire and graze.
It was a heavenly spot, and it's right on the Loire bike path (stay tuned for a future post about that!) so I fully intend to return on bike and spend a few hours there, relaxing on the side of the river.
After touring the vineyards, we went to Domaine des Rabichattes, a small family-run winery in the village of Tracy (I think? I apologize for the unreliable narration.) We saw where they actually ferment and bottle the wine, and then we went up to the tasting room, which was in a room with old stone walls and warm afternoon sunlight streaming in.
We tasted around six wines, and all were lovely! I ended up getting a bottle and after opening it a few days ago I've been having a glass every night with dinner (when in Rome...or Sancerre...whatever, the point is that everyone here does it.)
Sancerre - Henri Bourgeois
Yesterday, I went another tour, this time to one of the more famous wineries in Sancerre (and for good reason.) This tour was hosted by Gerard, and we once again got to ride around in his amazing car. Here was our group: Gerard on the left, Darren in the middle, and Hristofor on the right.
Like last time, I learned a bunch of stuff that I forgot. One thing that I do remember is that because these vineyards are so old, and often have been in the family for generations and thus are divided amongst the children who sometimes start different wineries, there aren't a ton of places there there is a huge vineyard that belongs to one winery. Instead, it's more of a patchwork, so that on the same hill you can have vineyards belonging to many different wineries. The photo below is one such example. In fact, this is considered the best place to make wine in all of Sancerre, because it's on the south side of a hill, so that it not only gets good sun, but it also protected by the northern wind.
This winery (Henri Bourgeois) is much bigger than the one before, and there were many people buzzing around inside—moving crates of bottles, doing custom engravings on labels, etc. I love the machines that cork and add the labels, they remind me of the Rube Goldberg machine that used to be at Logan airport, except with a purpose other than to entertain me (though this one, too, entertained me.) One of the machines can put four different types of labels on four different bottles at once (labels in French, in English, in Swedish, etc.)
This time, up in the (less charming and more chic) tasting room, we proceeded to taste 12 wines! Unlike most wine tastings, the tasting went from red to white (because the Sancerre whites are so amazing and aromatic, tasting the red afterwards makes all the reds taste like nothing.) Now, Gerard and Hristofor both know their stuff (Gerard makes his own wine and runs tours, and Hristofor owns 2,000 bottles of wine, and has already bought sixty from Sancerre that he is shipping back to his home country of Bulgaria), which was great, because I learned a lot. Meanwhile, Darren and I provided the comic relief.
Once again, I was totally blown away by the variety of flavors and aromas that can all come from a single grape variety (in Sancerre it's the Sauvignon Blanc for white, Pinot Noir for red). And in a pattern that repeats itself in almost all areas of my life, I found myself really feeling a connection with the more expensive bottles. I ended up buying an incredible rosé, and a really special late harvest white from 2008. The latter is called "Vendange de la Saint-Charles", meaning it was harvested on November 4 (Saint Charles day)—perhaps a month later than a regular harvest, which (in oenophile terms) makes it extra delicious and different-tasting. But both bottles are amazing. Maybe, had I not made a resolution to not let a single drop of this delicious, delicious wine go to waste, I wouldn't have splurged on them, but now I am glad that I did.
I don't know if I'll go on any more tours. Hristofor was going on another one today but I opted out because I'm feeling a bit under the weather. But I told him if he finds anything really amazing under 20 euro, he should pick me up a bottle (he's rubbing off on me!) That way, I could bring the number of bottles I have in my apartment up to a nice even, round (or should I say square?) four.