About this WINE
While you might not think it from his quiet and measured manner, Alban Roblin is one of the rising stars of Sancerre. Since 2010 he has been managing the family domaine in the small village of Sury-en-Vaux, just half a dozen kilometres from the town of Sancerre. The domaine comprises 12 hectares, of which 10 are planted to Sauvignon Blanc and the remaining two to Pinot Noir – the source of Alban’s excellent but very small-production Sancerre Rouge.
The vineyards are almost all located in Sury-en-Vaux and neighbouring Maimbray, where the soil type is around 80% terres blanches. These chalky clay soils suffer less from excessive heat or rain than other areas and have proven to be particularly successful in the unpredictable climatic conditions brought about by climate change. The remaining 20% of his vines are planted on caillottes soils which are rich in small limestone pebbles and provide finesse and elegance. In the vineyard, Alban works to a policy of minimal intervention, ploughing soils or allowing grass to grow between rows rather than using herbicides.
In the cellar, the winemaking is as fastidious and careful as the man himself. Depending on the cuveé, Alban carries out fermentation and lees ageing in either neutral stainless steel tanks or carefully selected barrels made from locally grown oak. The fermentation temperature is carefully managed to ensure purity and fruit expression, while a mix of indigenous and selected neutral yeasts are used depending on the circumstances. Alban is a strong advocate of lees ageing, arguing that he wants to give weight, body and power to his wines in order to differentiate them from mass-produced and early-bottled Sancerre.
While Pouilly-Fumé's vineyards are tightly clustered and homogeneous, Sancerre's 14 communes (including the great villages of Chavignol, Bué, Verdigny, Amigny and Ménétréol) are widely dispersed, covering nearly 3,000 hectares over vertiginous valleys at up to 350 metres above sea level, and three distinct soil types: silex, a white flint found around Sancerre and Ménétréol in particular, giving perfume and a fine structure; terres blanches, a calcareous clay soil that whitens as it dries (widely distributed), delivering a full, fruity richness; and caillottes, a Portlandian soil brimming with large limestones imparting both power and verve – as found in Sancerre, Chavignol and Bué.
A fourth soil type, griottes, tightly-packed with small limestones, has also been identified – as found near the village of Vosges. Kimmeridgean clay crops up less consistently than in Pouilly-Fumé and since most Sancerre, bar the single-vineyard wines, are a blend of soils the result is a richer, fuller and fleshier Sauvignon Blanc.
As with Pouilly-Fumé, an increasing number of (single-vineyard) wines are being raised in French oak, mostly 500-litre and demi-muids; little surprise in light of naturally higher alcohol levels due to global warming. Sancerre Rouge is also made from Pinot Noir, the quality of which is often compromised by bleeding some of the juice to make rosé – Vincent Pinard is a master nonetheless.
Top vineyards include: Les Monts Damnés, La Grande Côte, Le Cul de Beaujeu, Grand (and Petit) Chemarin, Chêne Marchand
Pinot Noir is probably the most frustrating, and at times infuriating, wine grape in the world. However when it is successful, it can produce some of the most sublime wines known to man. This thin-skinned grape which grows in small, tight bunches performs well on well-drained, deepish limestone based subsoils as are found on Burgundy's Côte d'Or.
Pinot Noir is more susceptible than other varieties to over cropping - concentration and varietal character disappear rapidly if yields are excessive and yields as little as 25hl/ha are the norm for some climats of the Côte d`Or.
Because of the thinness of the skins, Pinot Noir wines are lighter in colour, body and tannins. However the best wines have grip, complexity and an intensity of fruit seldom found in wine from other grapes. Young Pinot Noir can smell almost sweet, redolent with freshly crushed raspberries, cherries and redcurrants. When mature, the best wines develop a sensuous, silky mouth feel with the fruit flavours deepening and gamey "sous-bois" nuances emerging.
The best examples are still found in Burgundy, although Pinot Noir`s key role in Champagne should not be forgotten. It is grown throughout the world with notable success in the Carneros and Russian River Valley districts of California, and the Martinborough and Central Otago regions of New Zealand.