I visited Domaine Vacheron in 2008. Having successfully negotiated Sancerre’s impossibly narrow, snickety streets, you’ll find the winery (and tasting room) in the very heart of Sancerre, while their extensive vineyards are spread around this pretty town.
Cultivated biodynamically (and certified organic by the National Organic Program USDA in 2010), the vineyards are planted on three different soils – flint, chalk and pebbles (cailloux). The wines are among Sancerre’s best.
As always, I caught up with cousins Jean Louis and Jean Dominique Vacheron at the Loire Salon who, together with their fathers Denis and Jean-Laurent, run the domaine (pictured, Les Quatre Mousquetaires). The pair excitedly introduced me to two new lieux-dits wines, Le Paradis and Les Grands Champs, both white. As Jean-Dominique Vacheron (pictured right) explained, “we like the Burgundy philosophy of terroir and developing a system of parcels.”
Previously, these grapes went into the regular Sancerre which Vacheron said “is our first priority.” Now the vines are sufficiently mature (Le Paradis was planted 15 year ago and Les Grands Champs 20 years ago) the time was ripe to make the lieux-dits wines. Ripe indeed because both these powerful wines were made in the rich and ripe 2009 vintage.
Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2010
Grapes for the regular cuvee, benchmark Sancerre, are grown on roughly 50:50 limestone and flint soils. From this vintage it’s been 100% naturally fermented and has good texture and sweetness to its ripe but juicy fruit. Lovely – a great concentrated but balanced example of this classic vintage.
Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Le Paradis 2009
This is the first of the new lieux-dits wines and, for Jean-Dominique, it’s the “Grand Cru.” Le Paradis is an elevated, south-facing, steep site on limestone with very fine sandstone. In this ripe vintage it’s a powerful wine, yellow in hue with ripe stone and tropical fruits and honey most artfully balanced by beautifully integrated acidity. 13% abv.
Domaine Vacheron Les Grands Champs 2009
And the second lieut-dit Les Grands Champs is based on richer, redder clay and limestone soils which translate into an ample yet animated peachy (white peach) wine with lovely mouthfeel and length. 13% abv
Domaine Vacheron Les Romains 2009
Les Romains vineyard’s old vines and flinty, heat-retaining soils produce a very concentrated wine, again good ampleur in this ripe vintage but though richly fruity it finishes long and mineral – as Jean-Dominique puts it, “tonique.” Terrific. Click here for a video of Jean Louis and Jean Dominique Vacheron discussing Les Romains’ special attributes in the vineyard. 14%
Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge 2008
When I visited the domaine in 2008, the cousins told me that they’d changed tack with the reds and Jean-Dominique reminded me of this, explaining “a few years ago, it was very important to make big wines for the journalists to show them that we can do it, but these days we’re more relaxed and the wines are more elegant.” This, the regular red cuvee is indeed elegant – very perfumed, sweet fruited and scented (red and black) but very drinkable – for Jean-Dominique “more Sancerre than a style of Burgundy,” which is surely how it should be!
Domaine Vacheron Belle Dame Sancerre 2007
While the 2006 vintage spent 1 year in oak, of which 20% was new, this wine has seen no new oak. It spent a year in barrel and was then transferred to foudres for a second year. From flinty soils, Jean-Dominique says you tend to get quite closed aggressive tannins so the shift in philosophy has been key to more elegant tannins, especially in a classic year like 2007. It shows a spicy nose and palate with dark fruits, black cherry and fine powdery tannins. Broachable yet still youthful. Impressive.
Domaine Vacheron Belle Dame Sancerre 2008
No pump overs for this wine, just a long maceration and punch downs - “infusion not extraction” says Jean-Dominique. This is a step up from the 2007 – delightfully fresh and elegant with ripe but mineral-sluiced red fruits. A beautiful wine – so much the better for embracing its Loire-ness and not being wannabe Burgundy. Result!