Nothing beats tasting a new vintage in the cellars of a domaine, in the presence of the winemaker. So it was with Vacheron 2020, the latest vintage of this superb family-run estate in the heart of Sancerre. Jean-Laurent Vacheron, one of two cousins running the domaine, presented Vacheron’s flagship white and red, plus six single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc cuvées and two Pinot Noirs, the Les Marnes from an earlier vintage and showing just how far these wines have come since these fourth generation winemakers have taken over the estate.
Domaine Vacheron 2020 is a new range of white and red Sancerre wines that are beautifully elegant, accessible and built for further ageing.
Formed in 1900, Domaine Vacheron has always been known for making wines of dazzling purity and elegance but, since this fourth generation pair of winemakers took over day-to-day operations, it has stepped up a gear to become one of a handful of the very best producers of red and white Sancerre, if not the best.
The pair have built on the estate’s success to date, acquiring vines in the most highly-coveted lieu-dits of the region, removing all synthetic material from the viticulture and winemaking process, farming organically and biodynamically since 1999 (certified 2005), using only homemade compost and brews from collected rainfall, picking everything by hand and dramatically reducing yields.
They apply a Burgundian fastidiousness to their winemaking, even though it is not consciously imitating it, with parcels being vinified by specific terroir – which was not commonly done here previously – and blends varying from year to year, a section of their old barrel room even made up of barrels sourced from Domaine Romanée Conti for their red cuvée Les Marnes.
All bar one of the wines we tasted in their cellars last November are from the 2020 vintage which, like the wines in Burgundy, are aromatic, fruity, a little more rounded than usual but with decent structure. All of the white single vineyard cuvées are fermented on indigenous yeasts in large, upright wooden fermentation tanks (from 25-36HL). Racked, then aged for one year in the same wooden tank.
Tasting the Vacheron 2020 range
Sancerre Blanc AOC, 2020
Vacheron’s flagship white is a blend that has a nervous edge and a juicy core of fruit.
The fruit is sourced from hillside vineyards around the town with an equal mix of chalk and flint (silex) soils and 10% coming from clay soils. About 10-20% of the blend is wine from a selection of single-vineyard plots, which gives more complexity (also some wood influence, as the domaine’s single-vineyard Sancerre Blanc wines are aged in large wooden casks). The vines range in age between 30-50 years, the wine is fermented in steel and cement tank and aged in tank.
The limestone soils bring white flowers and citrus, the flinty soils bring freshness and minerality. The elegant bouquet has a gunflint note and grapefruit, the palate is surprisingly complex, nicely balanced, with lemon, lime, sea salt and ripe pears. There’s an attractive green edge to the long finish.
Sancerre Blanc AOC, “Le Paradis” 2020
Classic Sancerre with racy acidity and a sea-salt finish.
‘Paradis’ is a steep south-facing slope, with poor, stony top soil covering a bedrock of 150 million year old Oxfordian Jurassic limestone. The family has trained these 20-54 year old vines’ roots specifically to reach deep into the subsoil. Hand-harvested.
Shy at first, the wine opened up with wild flowers and mineral notes, the palate has real finesse and elegance – clean and pure with a slight toasty note, the vintage’s warmth giving this a logely ripe fruit profile, held together by a nervy tension. Complex and sophisticated.
Sancerre Blanc AOC, “Chambrates” 2020
Broader, fruitier and easier to understand than Le Paradis.
Chambrates is a south-facing vineyard, on a low erosion plateau, the vines aged 12-28 years old. The top-soil is poor, a combination of clay and white stones, very rocky with pieces of decomposed, shattered limestone (Oxfordian Jurassic).
This is a richer, more expressive wine that shows off the influence of the clay soils’ aromatically the wine has notes of lemon curd and white flowers; the palate has a fleshy breadth, citrus fruit, a mineral and lovely chalky finish.
Sancerre Blanc AOC, “Guigne-Chèvres” 2020
A rich, refined and silky Sauvignon Blanc from a harsh location that produces a very low yield.
These 40 year old vines struggle in the wind on this North-East facing mild slope with clay soils overlaying limestone (Oxfordian Jurassic) and grow close to the ground.
This cuvée has more flesh on the bones, the bouquet is elegant but more powerful and fruity, offering yellow stone fruit, yellow Mirabelle plum, grapefruit zest; although you can almost smell the limestone the clay influence gives the wine a broader, powerful texture, with citrus and minerals and a truly astonishing length.
Sancerre Blanc AOC, “Le Romains” 2020
Powerful wine from a full South-facing steep slope with deep flinty soils (Eocene Tertiary).
‘Les Romains’ was one of the domaine’s first ‘single-vineyard’ bottlings (the first vintage was 1997). Pure flint (silex) soils, rich in fossilised material; such soils contribute a minerality and smokiness to the wine. The vines were planted 20-50 years ago.
Aromatically the wine normally shows white flowers and citrus, in this vintage these notes are joined by pure white peach, ripe orchard fruit with an flinty smokiness; on the palate the wine is detailed and precise – powerful, mineral with smoke and sea salt on the finish that has an attractive lick of cream on the tail.
Sancerre Blanc AOC, “Pavé” 2020
Elegant, refined, steely and precise Sauvignon Blanc from a cool, East-facing, slight slope of marl (Cenomanian Cretaceous limestone and clay), with the vines varying between 30 and 50 years in age. Like the other single vineyard wines it is fermented on indigenous yeasts in large, upright wooden fermentation tanks (from 25-36HL). Racked, then aged for one year in the same wooden tank.
Yellow with green reflections, the wine has long legs; the bouquet offers white orchard fruit, oyster shell, lemon zest; the palate is elegant, clean, poised with precise definition, even with this vintage’s ripeness. There’s a power and intensity to the wine also. Stunning.
Vin de France “L’Enclos des Remparts” 2020
The most exclusive and distinct of the cuvées, planted in 2007 on flint soils with ungrafted rootstock from a massal selection by the Vacheron cousins’ grandfather. Although this East/ South-east facing vineyard is the only one within the town walls, the 1936 AOC classification omitted ‘Sancerre-ville’, meaning this has to be labelled Vin de France and cannot be called Sancerre!
The wine has undeniable power and intensity with lemon zest, white peach and a smoky lift coming from the flinty soils, the palate dominated by ripe, plus lemon and lime flavours, a fimr minerality. The first vintage released of this astonishing wine was 2012 and you may find it more difficult to find.
Sancerre Rouge AOC, 2020
Like the Sancerre Blanc, the estate’s flagship red is a blend of various vineyards on a mix of flint and limestone soils (no marl soils), the vines varying in age between 30 and 50 years. The wine is fermented on indigenous yeasts and aged in a combination of foudre and older French barrique. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Semi-transparent, the bouquet offers a melange of red and black fruit (morello cherry, redcurrant, blackberry), candied orange, rose petals. Light and playful on the palate with bright acidity and flavours of ripe raspberries, pomegranate and a hint of spice. In youth this can be paired with white and red meats, duck breast and goat’s cheese, with age pair it with mature cheese, game and rich stews.
Sancerre Rouge AOC, “Belle Dame” 2020
A Grand Cru by any other name, this was the estate’s first single vineyard bottling introduced in 1995. Although the estate gives this outstanding single vineyard cuvée an ageing potential of 8-10 years, a 26-year-old Belle Dame was opened on site and was as fresh as a daisy. A recently tasted 2002 was also drinking beautifully. This is an example of the highest quality Pinot Noir from a South to South-East-facing medium slope overlooking the Loire with 32 year-old-vines planted flinty clay (Eocene Tertiary). Fermented in upright wooden fermenting casks on indigenous yeasts. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Deep ruby with semi-transparent edging; aromas and flavours of blackberries, black cherries, blackcurrant jelly, with a slight spicy/ blonde tobacco edge. The wine is fresh, full-bodied, micro-fine tannins, with a joyous light, smooth and tasty drinkability.
Sancerre Rouge AOC, “Les Marnes” 2015
A treat to finish the tasting with – and a stunning example of just how far these cousins are pushing the envelope.
Latest single vineyard cuvée delivers like a Grand Cru Burgundy – structured and textured and ticks all the boxes. The vines were planted in 1976 on this slight, South-East-facing site of exceptional quality – a mix of loamy, clay-rich soils riddled with seashells. Fermented whole cluster on indigenous yeasts in one-year French oak barrels obtained from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Aged for 18 months in barrel. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
To look at the wine is ruby red, with notes of red cherries, plums, bramble, peony, pepper and orange zest. The palate has the most power and texture of Vacheron’s red cuvées – structured with ample tannins and ripe red fruits, mineral and a wonderful freshness that keeps the register lively in the mouth. Outstanding powerhouse of a wine.
For a full report on the visit to taste the Vacheron 2020 vintage click here.
Pol Roger Portfolio, which distributes Vacheron in the UK is a supplier partner of The Buyer. For more about them click here.