On my way down to Bordeaux from Paris last week, I stopped off in Sancerre to visit an old friend.
I’ve sold his wines for 12 years, so it was about time I paid a visit!
Sancerre, which is just two hours south of Paris, is the holy grail of Sauvignon Blanc.
Winemakers all over the world - from New Zealand through to South Africa and Chile - try (and nearly always fail) to emulate it.
What makes this part of the world special is its soils.
Especially Terres Blanches, a similar Kimmeridgian clay-limestone soil that you find in Chablis and parts of Champagne.
These soils give the Sauvignon grapes a kaleidoscope of mouth-watering flavours that you just don’t get anywhere else.
And right beside Sancerre, you’ll find Pouilly Fumé and Menetou-Salon. Definitely less famous, but equally capable of producing world-class Sauvignon.
These are all tiny regions - Sancerre is one-tenth the size of Bordeaux. The wines have been in high demand for decades, especially as they pair so well with the finest gastronomy.
But as the old saying goes - to make a small fortune in the wine business, you must start with a large one.
And that’s exactly what Joost de Villebois did twenty years ago, when he fell in love with the Loire on holidays and bought a vineyard.
As the former chairman of the Dutch Stock Exchange, he was obviously a smart business operator.
But succeeding in wine is a different beast, and a few years later he came to my last company, Naked Wines in the UK, to work together.
The wines and prices were great, but as with so many other producers, he found the selling part difficult. The bit that was easy for us!
So together we helped each other grow, and by the time I left Naked ten years later, I was buying and selling over half a million bottles of Villebois per year.
As his business went from strength to strength, Joost bought another local business in 2015, called Fournier Père et Fils.
This helped him seriously ramp up capacity and volumes, while maintaining his sky-high quality.
And included in the deal were a handful of tiny and prestigious estates dotted around Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Menetou-Salon.
It’s Sauvignon Blanc but not as you know it.
As soon as I told Joost I was starting WineSpark, he sent me over samples from these small estates to try.
And I was blown away - the wines were on another level to what I’d ever tried from him before.
So fresh off my visit to Sancerre, the new 2022 vintages are here so you can taste some of the Loire’s finest whites for yourself.
- Domaine de St Romble Sancerre 2022 - from the famous Terres Blanches soils which give a gloriously wide spectrum of flavour to the Sauvignon grapes - everything from tropical, herbaceous to cassis flavours. This is classic Sancerre at an amazing price
- Domaine de St Romble Sancerre Vieilles Vignes 2022 - made in the same way as the regular Sancerre, but the vines here are up to 90 years old, giving more concentration and power to the wine
- Domaine des Berthiers Pouilly Fumé 2022 - the vineyards are based on silex (flint), which is the most coveted soil in Pouilly Fumé. This brings out a piercing, mineral and almost smoky expression of Sauvignon Blanc - you don’t get this anywhere else in the world!
- Domaine du Grand Brussy Menetou-Salon 2022 - one of the Loire’s best-kept secrets, you don’t find much of it outside of France. You get the elegance and sophistication of a Sancerre, but the clay you find here gives it a much richer and more tropical flavour. Menetou is the white by-the-glass option in nearly every single Parisian restaurant - and it’s easy to see why!
These may be Sauvignon Blanc by name - but they’re a million miles from the overly-intense grassy style you’ll often find from places like New Zealand these days.
It was a proud moment - but the real winner is you.
Seeing how slick and impressive Joost’s operation had become, and knowing the not insignificant part I’d played in it, was a good feeling last week.
But an even better feeling is how this benefits you.
Joost gives me exclusive access to tiny and prestigious estate wines, usually sold on tight allocations to the finest restaurants.
At prices that are only possible from a bigger company - which I happily pass on to you.
As you know by now, that’s the deal around here!