The Ultimate Guide to Sancerre, Part 3: Kimmeridgian Limestone

The Ultimate Guide to Sancerre, Part 3: Kimmeridgian Limestone

Perhaps no other soil holds as much appeal to terroir-focused wine drinkers as Kimmeridgian limestone. It's a key ingredient in all the Grands Crus of Chablis and many of the greatest Champagnes of the Côtes des Blancs. You also find it in Sancerre. 

 

What is Kimmeridgian Soil?

Kimmeridgian limestone is actually a mix of limestone and clay, and so it is sometimes called argilo-calcaire, though the more popular alias in the vicinity of Sancerre is terres blanches. Age-wise, it's from the Jurassic era which makes it between 157 and 152 million years old. Kimmeridgian is younger than Oxfordian limestone (which is found in many parts of Sancerre and will be the subject of the next installment), and older than Tithonian limestone. 

 It is probably most well known for its seashell quality, primarily small curled oyster shells, this is one of the main features that comes through in the wines.  There's a lot that could be said about the soil in far greater detail, but for everyone's sanity I'll refrain; it's more practical (and fun) to speak here of the wines which come from this soil, and which surely rank among the greatest and most powerful in all Sancerre.

 

How does it affect the taste of wines?

It seems to imbue its wines with exceptional density and structure, as well as the ability age decades, and I find it interesting that the soil is filled with fossilized oysters and other marine life; there's often a flavor in these wines that reminds me of the sea

 

Where, in Sancerre, you find it?

Kimmeridgian soil is particularly (though not exclusively) found in the vineyards surrounding Chavignol. 

 

What’s the deal with Chavignol?

As mentioned earlier, Chavignol is a small hamlet known for these soils, and often cited as the source of the region's best wines (though you can make a good argument for the flintier soils nearer the Loire River, for the likes of Vacheron and Mellot). If there was a system of vineyard classification in Sancerre like that of Burgundy, it seems likely that Chavignol would be the village richest in Grand Crus. 

 

Which Vineyards are in Chavignol? 

The vineyards of Chavignol (which also include those near the village of Amigny) are generally very steep, some parts so much that workers must slide downhill on a cushion to get around!  

  • It's unsurprising, then, that one of its steepest (and best) sites is called Les Monts Damnes ("The Damned Mountains"). Quite a few producers make wine bearing the name of this vineyard on the label. Here are some of the ripest and most muscular iterations of Sancerre. They can make other Sauvignon Blanc wines seem feeble by comparison. Top expressions, which require at least a few years to hit their stride, can be found from Gérard Boulay and both Pascal and François Cotat. Thomas-Labaille makes a very good bottling, too. Any bottling from this site is sure to make an impression. 
  • And then there's the nearby vineyard of Culs de Beaujeu (sometimes called Clos de Beaujeu), which is a very ancient and renowned parcel that's been in existence since 1328. Again, Boulay and the cousins Cotat make exceptional wines from this site, which is slightly cooler than Monts Damnes. This may be my favorite cuvée from Boulay, a complex mélange of herbal and tropical flavors with great definition and depth. It ages effortlessly. 
  • The Cotats and Boulay also make wine from the a site known as the Côte d'Amigny. Boulay's is called "La Côte", while each Cotat bottling bears the name "La Grand Côte." Though even cooler than Culs de Beaujeu, this site nonetheless brings a lot of power and minerality to its wines, even if there is also a high degree of finesse and aromatic brightness. Age is definitely required, however.

 

Any other notable places?

The marvelous Kimmeridgian soils are not limited to Chavignol, and it should be noted that Alphonse Mellot's extraordinary Cuvée Edmond is one of the most compelling examples of Sancerre made from this limestone I've tried. It comes from the south-facing vineyard in the Sancerre commune, near the west-reaching arm of the forest known as Les Garennes. The wine is a bit more upright and tense than the wine of Chavignol, and shows more mint and citrus on the nose, but it still has the intensity and substance that betrays its geologic origins.

 

What should I drink?

Gerard Boulay, Sancerre Comtesse, 2018 

750mL Available in NYC.

1.5L Available in NYC.

 

Gerard Boulay, Sancerre Monts Damnes, 2018

750mL Available in NYC.

1.5L Available in NYC.

 

Gerard Boulay, Sancerre La Cote, 2018

750mL  Available in NYC.

1.5L Available in NYC. 

750mL Available in SF. (2017 Vintage)

 

Gerard Boulay, Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu, 2018

750mL Available in NYC.

1.5L Available in NYC.

 

Gerard Boulay, Sancerre Sybille Rose, 2018

750mL Available in NYC.

 

Pascal Cotat, Sancerre Chavignol "Mont Damnes", 2018

750mL Available in NYC.

750mL Available in SF. 

 

Pascal Cotat, Sancerre Chavignol "La Grande Cote", 2018

750mL Available in NYC.

 

Pascal Cotat, Sancerre Chavignol Rose, 2018

750mL Available in NYC.

 

Francois Cotat, Sancerre Chavignol Les Culs de Beaujeu, 2017

750mL Available in NYC.

 

Francois Cotat, Sancerre Le Grande Cote, 2018

750mL Available in SF.

 

Cotat, Boulay, Who else? 

Lucien Crochet, Sancerre "Chene Marchand", 2017

Available in NYC.

 

Claude Riffault, Sancerre "Les Boucauds", 2018

Available in NYC.