I think of Sancerre and Chablis as sisters from another mister. Sure, Chablis is technically Burgundy, just as Sancerre is technically Loire, but they have far more in common with each other than they do with any of their regional peers. The very first time I tried a bottle of Chablis, I did a double take. It was flinty and sharply acidic, without so much as a hint of the creamy oak I was used to tasting in typical white Burgundy. I had a near-identical reaction when I tried Sancerre for the first time: the wine was steely and crisp, completely different from Loire’s long-lived sweet wines. When you look at a map of the best French wine regions, it’s easy to see why Sancerre and Chablis have near-identical qualities, since they’re practically sitting on top of one another. They represent that glorious grey area between regions, bleeding into one another to create an entirely new terroir.
Regional Labels Are More Complicated Than You Think
Like sports fans who obsess over their favorite teams, collectors can get overly attached to specific terroirs. I once knew a collector who hated white Burgundy because he thought it was too oaky; he would only buy cases of dry German Riesling instead, believing all other white wines were inferior. I would bet that if he ever tried Burgundy’s Chablis vintages, he’d have changed his mind. Located in northern France, Chablis is separated from the rest of Burgundy by the Moran Hills to the south, tucked between western Champagne and the easternmost edge of Loire Valley. This isolation makes it unlike any other white Burgundy, but what really makes this region stand out is its unique soil composition. Made of Kimmeridgean soil — a 180-million-year-old mix of limestone, oyster shells, and clay — Chablis has an intense, gunflint character that you can’t find anywhere else in Burgundy.
Sancerre and Chablis are two of the only terroirs in the world with Kimmeridgean soil, which is what makes them so similar. Like Chablis, Sancerre is an orphan, separated from the rest of its Loire Valley family by distance and hills. The kinship between these two regions proves that collecting wine is more complex than it appears. All of the best French wine regions have greater variety than they’re given credit for on the market, and when you take the time to separate specific terroirs from their regional parents, you make more informed choices about the wine you buy. Before you invest in that 20-year-old bottle of sweet Loire, or buy the same case of oaky white Cote de Beaune that virtually everyone else owns, think outside of regional stereotypes and invest in wines that defy all expectations. You’ll walk away with a more interesting cellar.
The Differences Between Sancerre and Chablis
Although Sancerre and Chablis share near-identical climates and soil, it’s easy to spot which wine is which, even in a blind tasting. That’s because Chablis is always 100 percent Chardonnay, whereas Sancerre is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. This gives collectors the perfect opportunity to test what effect the terroir and soil has on different grape varietals. I’ve found that even though Sauvignon Blanc is a lighter, crisper wine overall than Chardonnay, which is more full-bodied and fruity, when these grapes are grown in that grey area between Burgundy and Loire, they take on entirely new qualities. Sancerre is less herb-heavy than Sauvignon from New Zealand, and it’s flintier than the same grapes grown in California. Similarly, Chablis takes Chardonnay away from its rich, buttery overtones, injecting more steel and minerality into the palate. Jancis Robinson says, “This is an archetypally refreshing, long-lived style of white wine which very few wine regions, possibly none other than Chablis, can produce.”
Investing in the Best of Sancerre and Chablis
Sancerre and Chablis are the perfect gateway between two styles of grapes and two very different regions; they’re also some of the best French wine vintages for collectors. If you’re the type of collector who cares most about your bottom line, you’ll find that Chablis and Sancerre provide great value and provenance. A recent Grand Cru vintage of Chablis, like 2014 William Fevre Bougros, can sell for as much as $500, and age more than 20 years in a cellar. As with all Burgundy, the longer you hold onto these bottles, the more profit you’ll make later. Since Chablis is some of the longest-lived Chardonnay in the world, you’ll never go wrong investing in a quality vintage from any of the best French wine producers.
As for Sancerre, I’ve found that cult producers like Didier Dagueneau make some of the best wines for their value. These can sell for as little as $100 per bottle upon release, and increase in value by at least $400 as they approach maturity. You’ll also find wonderful wines just across the river from Sancerre, especially drinkable wines from Francis Blanchet. That is what makes Sancerre and Chablis the perfect choice for every collector: they’re profitable, but they also drink well in their youth and pair perfectly with a wide range of foods. To make the most out of these two regions, I recommend doing careful research on every vintage. Since these areas are landlocked and receive no cooling breeze from the ocean, quality fluctuates every year, even among the top producers. Go for vintages such as the 2014, 2009, and 2005 if you want to make the most out of your investment.
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