As a preparation for my upcoming trip to France, I’ve been drinking some of the local wines. This past weekend I did a side by side comparison of two Loire Valley wines—one Sancerre and one Pouilly-Fumé. I have enjoyed both of these wines before, especially Pouilly-Fumé, which is one of my all-time favorite wines.
Before I get to the tasting, consider the facts. Both wines are 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Both are grown in the far eastern Loire Valley. The towns are only 20 minute drive from each other (I checked). So, we know the grapes are being exposed to the same amount of sunshine & rain, experiencing the same daily temperature. Sancerre is a little to the north and on the left bank of the Loire. The town of Pouilly-sur-Loire (one of a handful of villages that produces Pouilly-Fumé) is a little further south and on the right bank.
All things considered, you would think that these two wines taste pretty similar. Well, think again. It really amazed me to taste each of them side by side. The Pouilly-Fumé is a bigger wine—more fruit, more intensity, more of the interesting characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc, the fresh cut grass, the zest of grapefruit, although it was far more restrained than the way these flavors show up in a New Zealand SB. In contrast, the Sancerre had more of a perfumed, floral nose. It was all elegance on the palate: crisp acidity and lighter fruit. The Pouilly-Fumé is still my favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Sancerre as well, and I can see instances in which the more restrained Sancerre might be easier to match with food.
My side by side tasting demonstrated to me, as nothing else could, that terroir is more than just a fancy French word that wine geeks like to throw around. The soil in which these grapes are grown and the microclimate of the vineyards produced very different wines, despite all the other similarities.