Sancerre produces some of the most delicious white wines that are available to buy in UK supermarkets. Everyone knows that; it’s a fact.
But what about reds? Well, I dimly recall once drinking a lovely, zippy, bone-dry rosé from Sancerre; that was pink. But I’d never even seen a red until recently.
It stands to reason they’d make red; but many of these French regions are so well-known for their colour (be it red or white) that the opposite grapes are grown in a pretty low yield. Indeed, just 20% of Sancerre’s production is given over to the red-wine grape we know and love as Pinot Noir.
Nevertheless; here it is. A bottle made its way to my house via Marks & Spencer, at the pretty typical (for a big-name-region French wine) price of about £15. It’s Sancerre and it’s Pinot Noir, so that’s not expensive exactly, but it is more than most people would pay for a bottle of wine. I think that’s fair to say.
The reviews on the M&S website tell an interesting story, and one can sympathise with all of them in a way. There are four glowing five-star reports proclaiming Hubert Brochard’s Cuvée 2010 Sancerre equally delicious in taste and tremendous in value; then there’s one that basically says it was watery so they threw it down the sink. The latter is headed with the in-no-way hyperbolic title: “Wost Purchase Ever”. Only successive full-stops could make it more amusing; but I don’t laugh at their expense, imagining myself far more capable of discerning the hidden quality in this medium-bodied (almost soft) French red. I sort of know what they mean.
I love a medium-bodied wine, especially a Pinot Noir; but I know many people who don’t, and I know I once didn’t. It’s not even like you’ll definitely “progress” to this finer style of wine. Nor is it a given that the lighter style is indeed “finer”; Robert Parker, the world’s most-listened-to wine bore, only drinks incredibly full-bodied wines that you can clean paint brushes with. And even then he does not swallow, but spits tar-black mouthfuls at his hated pet cat André, whom he keeps tied up in a rudimentary zorb constructed of dismantled wire coat-hangers.
In my view different wines suit different occasions – and no, I’m not claiming for one moment to have invented this notion. This Sancerre wouldn’t be too hot with a Sunday dinner: it’s too subtle to face up to all the flavours on show. Or certainly it would be too subtle to fight back and to win.
We drank it with steak and roast veg, with a blue cheese sauce. It was certainly not the ideal wine for the occasion, but it fared perfectly adequately, and was nice and supple before and after, having a little more chance to impart its tart, red fruit flavours and subtly spiced aroma. You would not blame your bow saw for being rubbish at extracting screws from wall plugs, so really you shouldn’t rubbish this for being a less-than-ideal food wine.
But then, neither would you French-kiss your hearth brush for adequately sweeping cooled ashes from your empty fireplace into a waiting pan; so neither should you uniformly acclaim the qualities of this wine and shower it indiscriminately with five-star ratings. It is a typical French Pinot Noir, and not by any means a bad one, but it does not truly live up to the luxuriant possibilities suggested by its place of birth and its progenitor.
In the interests of comparison and competition, you’ll get a more interesting wine than this for the same price if you move along the shelf to the part that says “New Zealand“.
And shall we go as far as to say “better”? Yes I think we shall.