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What does Sancerre wine taste of? Ask Decanter

Sancerre is today a Sauvignon Blanc stronghold in France's Loire Valley, known for delicious dry white wines that can marry citrus, green fruit and grassy flavours with beautiful texture and refreshing acidity.

Sancerre wine is best known today for its top-drawer Sauvignon Blanc, although this Loire Valley appellation also allows reds and rosés made from Pinot Noir.

Where does Sancerre wine come from?

Sancerre lies on the left bank of the Loire river and sits opposite another famed Sauvignon Blanc appellation, Pouilly-Fumé.

It’s a relatively cool and continental climate.

Sauvignon Blanc prefers cooler, temperate weather on the whole, and these conditions in the Loire Valley help to preserve the variety’s natural acidity.

‘There are three different types of soil in the Sancerre region – caillottes (pure limestone), terres blanches (clay limestone) and silex (flint),’ wrote Jim Budd, regional chair for the Loire at the Decanter World Wine Awards, in a previous Decanter article.

‘The caillottes and terres blanches each account for 40%.’

Sancerre wine flavours

Look out for citrus, elderflower, grassy aromas and some gooseberry notes in your Sancerre dry white wine, depending on the producer and specific bottle.

Many wines show a lovely mineral character and the best examples are known for delicious, multi-layered texture on the palate.

According to Decanter‘s Tasting Notes Decoded, ‘Flint, flinty or even gunflint are terms used to describe the minerality note that is found in dry, austere white wines, notably Chablis and Sancerre.’

Although Chablis is made from Chardonnay in Burgundy, this mineral character is found in both wines.

Andrew Jefford has previously called Sancerre and Chablis ‘climate-and-soil twins, which just happen to find themselves growing different grape varieties’.

Sancerre vs New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: What’s the difference?

There are great wines in both camps, and it’s very hard to generalise in the wine world.

Yet Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic grape variety and classic varietal wines from Marlborough in New Zealand might deliver more pronounced aromas in your glass – perhaps with more gooseberry or passion fruit notes coming to the fore.

Rebecca Gibb MW wrote in this article for Decanter in 2020, ‘Instead of the flamboyant aromatics you’d find in a stereotypical Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, for example, white Sancerre focuses on structure and texture derived from its origins.’

Jim Budd wrote in this Decanter article about how Sancerre styles vary depending on vineyard site, referring to the soil types cited above.

You can find more examples of Loire Sauvignon Blanc wines in this panel tasting from 2020.

Can Sancerre wine age?

Many of the wines are ready to be opened while still young, but there are also ageworthy examples.

‘You can enjoy Sancerre when it’s young and fresh, but if you buy a top Sancerre you will get additional complexity with 10 or 15 years in the cellar that you couldn’t find in other Sauvignon Blancs,’ said Budd following a Decanter panel tasting in 2016.

What food goes well with Sancerre wine?

A classic match with Sancerre white wine would be goat’s cheese.

This could be one to try on a spring picnic in 2021, yet the late, great sommelier Gérard Basset OBE MW MS once told Decanter that it’s better to steer clear of more mature goat’s cheeses, because the strong flavour could be an issue.

Seafood would be another food pairing avenue to explore with Sancerre.

A note on Sancerre red wines

Sancerre chiefly produced red wine from Pinot Noir and Gamay until the arrival of phylloxera in the second half of the 19th century.

Today in the Sancerre appellation Sauvignon Blanc now accounts for approximately 80% of production, with Pinot Noir just 20%.

Yet red wines – and rosés – from the Sancerre AOP are well worth seeking out.

For example, Decanter contributor Yohan Castaing recently tasted this ‘entry level’ Sancerre Pinot Noir from Vincent Pinard, praising its ‘fresh and lively nose with griottes, flowers, and blackcurrant aromas’.

Article first published in 2019 and updated in March 2021. 

You may also like: 

Loire vs Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Tasting the difference

Great Sancerre wines to seek out (2020)

How to choose Sancerre wine: An in-depth report

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