Serious Grape: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé

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Check out that rocky soil! [Photographs: Vineyard Brands]

As connoisseurs of Sauvignon Blanc, we're not just seeking out wines with the name of the grape on the bottle. While that works for New World wines—zippy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, gorgeous versions from South Africa—in the Old World, most wine is named by region. So to track down Sauvignon Blanc from France, you gotta know an AOC or two.

If a French white wine says Sancerre, you've hit pay dirt. Limestone-filled, gravelly dirt, that is. Sancerre was actually planted with red-grape vineyards until the 20th century, when phylloxera wiped out the vines. Much of the Pinot Noir was replaced with Sauvignon Blanc, and our dear grape marries beautifully with the mineral-rich flavors of Sancerre soil. A certain editor we know would probably choose Sancerre over all other white wines in the world.

Across the Loire river from Sancerre, there's another Sauvignon Blanc to be sampled: Pouilly Fumé is also 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and the wines tend to be a little denser, more potent, citrusy, and sometimes musky. (Don't confuse these wines with Pouilly-Fuissé, which is Chardonnay from the Mâconnais district of Burgundy.)

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Sensational Sancerre

Even if you're not a huge fan of oysters, a glass of the Patient Cottat Sancerre Vielles Vignes (2008) will have you craving some raw bivalves for sure. This wine has a nose of guava and peach, and the fruit flavors follow through, buoyed by beautiful pearly minerals. The balance is perfectly in tune, gently weighing delicate grapefruit notes with creamy, briny seawater. An immediate favorite among our tasters. Find this wine, around $23.

We'd go swimming in the 2008 Domaine Cherrier et Fils Sancerre; it's silky and mineral, enlivened with splashes of green apple and cantaloupe. It's a focused, charming wine, and a great value for $18 to 20. The Cherrier family also makes goat cheese, Crottin de Chavignol, and goat cheese is a great pairing for this wine. Find this wine.

If you're looking for something a little more tart and taut, the Domaine Vincent Delaporte Chavignol Sancerre (2008) is a crisp, bright choice, perfect for serving with fish fillets (or grilled whole fish) or shrimp. We tasted hints of lemon tea, green herbs, and tart apples in this pure, focused Sancerre, though quite not as much limestone as we'd hoped for. Find this wine, around $25.

Though the Michel Picard 2007 Sancerre wasn't quite as mineral-driven as the others, we enjoyed its spritz of lemon and hints of apricot, honey, and lavender. The finish was lingering, mouthwatering—serve this with halibut or a chicken sandwich. It's not quite the classic Sancerre flavor we yearn for, but enjoyable just the same. Find this wine, around $23.

Pouilly Fumé

Our favorite of the Pouilly Fumés we tried was the Régis Minet Vieilles Vignes (2008) It's a little musky and savory, with some delicate minerality behind the fruit. We tasted Meyer lemon, fallen apples, and caramelized pear in this full, rich wine. It's pretty pungent, but well balanced, and it definitely needs food. Try serving it with pork chops. Find this wine, $18-22.

The pungent Marc Deschamps Vinealis Pouilly Fumé (2006) had hints of evergreen and pineapple. It's a spicy wine, with a little ginger, thyme, golden raisin, crisp apple cider in the flavor. This one packs a punch; some people will love its racy intensity, while others will find it just too potent. Find this wine, around $30.

Perhaps it needs a little more time to mellow out, but we were a bit overwhelmed by the nervy Domaine du Bouchot Pouilly Fumé Prestige (2007). The scent is earthy and a little vegetal. We tasted chalk, asian pear, quinine, hints of mint and melon, and a whisper of lighter fluid. Try it with smoked fish; it's a little funky on its own. Find this wine, $20-25.

Disclosure: All wines were provided as samples for review.

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