Was it the endless confusion between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé that led Loire producer Pascal Jolivet to change the name of his Sauvignon Blanc to Blanc Fumé for the UK market? Or was it because Blanc Fumé is the more common term by which Sauvignon Blanc used to be known? Victor Smart hears first hand from Jolivet as well as tastes the new 2020 vintage of the wine alongside three older vintages (2013, 2018, 2019) of Jolivet’s premium Sancerre Blanc “Sauvage”.
“The 2020 harvest has produced the best vintage for maybe the last ten years,” Jolivet declares. “The evidence of global warming is evident but this was a vintage that was comparatively easy to manage and is generous and rich.”
What’s in a name? In the wine world, a lot. Especially when posh French names like ‘Pouilly’ are involved. The Chardonnay fan can quaff Pouilly-Vinzelles or Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy while the Sauvignon Blanc fan can savour Pouilly-Fumé, a wholly unrelated white produced miles away in the Loire.
Muddles seem inevitable. And when I first heard that Pascal Jolivet, one of the most recognisible brands in the Loire, was to rename its signature Pouilly-Fumé to Blanc Fumé for the UK market, it did occur to me that the hand of French officialdom might be at work. Perhaps instruction had come from on high as part of a national simplification of appellations? But, no. It was in fact Pascal Jolivet, the man who set up the eponymous producer in 1987, who decided that, with the launch of the 2020 vintage, his customers would need to order Blanc and not Pouilly Fumé
For those whose geography is a bit rusty, the wine previously known as Pouilly-Fumé (and remains Pouilly-Fumé from an appellation point of view) hails from vineyards adjacent to Sancerre, the Loire’s great white wine popular particularly among Brits. Jolivet now has 120 hectares of vines straddling the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (plus some in Touraine).
In our remote tasting, Jolivet reminds us that the varietal Sauvignon Blanc was once called Blanc Fumé. But his rationale for the name switch seems primarily about the avoidance of confusion. He cites the Vinzelles/Fuissé/Fumé farrago and recalls that at one prestigious Formula-1 event a delivery of his wine failed to turn up after an unfortunate switcheroo. Plus he’s confident that Blanc Fumé, which translates into English as “smoky-white”, will pique the curiosity of imbibers looking for an alternative to Sancerre.
For us drinkers it’s the flavours not the names that matter of course. Here the news is good. The 2020 harvest has produced the best vintage for maybe the last ten years, Jolivet declares. The evidence of global warming is evident but this was a vintage that was comparatively easy to manage and is generous and rich.
We are to taste three years of Sancerre Blanc “Sauvage”. But we kick off with the newly rechristened Blanc-Fumé and then the Sancerre from 2020. The Blanc Fumé (ABV 13.5 %) is very much what you would expect with saltiness and some roundness and with notes of white flowers. But it is the Sancerre (ABV 13.5%), the firm’s flagship, which stands out. Though the acidity is less marked, it remains elegant, and there is an excellent freshness and balance. (As Jolivet reminds us, he is not trying to make heavy wines, but looking for “great drinkability”).
We then move on to the pricier Sancerre Blanc “Sauvage”. The oldest from 2013 (ABV 12.5%) shows the ageing process beginning to add to the wine’s complexity. Yet to my mind it’s the younger wines that deliver most. The 2018 (AVB 13%) is very fresh with good fruit and acidity. And the 2019 (ABV 13%) really hits the spot. Very ripe and very round with a beautiful creamy texture it has a wonderful streak of acidity and oozes purity and clarity. Aching to be drunk on a hot summer’s day, it wins a coveted wowza award as an expression of the “pure delight in the enjoyment of things”.
The wines of Pascal Jolivet are imported into the UK by MMD. The RRPs are: Sancerre and Blanc Fumé £25.99; Sancerre Sauvage Blanc £46.99.