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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre

France (Loire)

sauvignon blanc

[no website]

Last week was spent in Chicago.  A striking city in so many ways.

Not least of which is its dynamic culinary scene. Lunch at Blackbird was a highlight, each dish exceptional, as was the wine we paired with them.

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2010.

A mild golden glow. An appealing, subtle zest on the nose. A crisp, lemon punch, the first sip juicy but showing definite edges. Laced with fresh minerals, displaying a bright energy. Sharply anticipating  the sturgeon, the octopus, the white asparagus.  $

Almost all, roughly 45 hectares, of Domaine Vacheron’s vineyards are to be found on the outskirts of the French village of Sancerre itself. The Vacheron family has had a wine presence here for generations, and is one of the few remaining family domaines to still be centred in the town. Today it’s two brothers, Denis and Jean-Louis, and increasingly their two sons, Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique, who run the estate. In many ways their methods are those of the winemakers who have gone before them — hand harvesting, hoeing of the soils, low-pressure pressing. But today it is not out of necessity, but because the estate has embraced biodynamics, an initiative of the two cousins. They have stepped up the game at Domaine Vacheron and the estate’s wine have never been better.

Domaine Vacheron works wonders with pinot noir, particularly its Belle Dame cuvée, and also produces a single-vineyard sancerre, the heady “Les Romains”. But fully three-quarters of the vineyards are devoted to their regular sancerre, what Jean-Dominique calls their “first priority.” It is a polished blending across their terroir , and as the domaine’s starting point it sets the bar high.

The soil in which it grows is an even combination of limestone and flint. The yields are restricted, and there are several returns to the vineyards through September so only fruit at its optimum level of ripeness is picked. There it is sorted before being transported inside in small crates. Following pressing, the juice is gravity-fed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. It is aged for 8 months before bottling.

The major influences on winemaking at Vacheron are Burgundian. There is movement towards vinifying the best parcels within the vineyards separately, of aging these wines in both tank and large wooden barrels, as well as varying the blending of the regular cuvées from year to year. As Jean-Dominique contends, their best work with sauvignon blanc is yet to come.

Leaving the restaurant with the empty bottle I had in mind a spot that reflects the wine’s steely polish, its bright future.  What else — Anish Kapoor’s famed sculpture Cloud Gate, “The Bean”.

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