A Study of Sancerre – Two wineries, same village, two very different styles
2019 Famile Thomas Sancerre $30 per bottle
2020 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre $39 per bottle
For Tim’s Pick Tuesday I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast my two favorite Sancerre producers, Julien Thomas and Hippolyte Reverdy. They are very different examples of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The wild thing is their vineyards are located in the same Sancerre village, Verdigny.
The vineyards surrounding the village of Verdigny lie on rolling hills that look snow covered due to the thick layer of limestone that dominates the soil. In fact, as you wander the streets of this little town you will see piles of white fossils of the prehistoric critters whose calcium rich shells created the soil. This gives the wines the classic minerality and sheer edge that makes Sancerre such a distinctive wine. While not inexpensive, it is well worth your time to try both bottles to experience how two masters can work with the same material and achieve very different results. Editorial note, our Instagram post says they are the same vintage but I forgot the Thomas Sancerre is a vintage older. My apologies for the oversight.
Famile Thomas Sancerre
This winery holds a special place in my heart as it was the first stop on my initial visit to France in 1993 with importer Bobby Kacher. At the time I did not know the estate, then bottled as Lucien Thomas, but boy did I get a lesson. In those days we could carry bottles of wine on an airplane, so my boss Dexter and I drank the whole way over the pond. When we landed in Paris the journey to the village of Sancerre is roughly 2 1/2 hours, and we slept the whole way!
Once in the village we were surprised to learn we would head straight to our first appointment, Lucien Thomas. I figured it would be a short visit as most producers only make one or two wines. Little did I know we would be with the Thomas family for many hours, tasting multiple vintages, vineyards, tanks and styles in their vast cellar. Then we were treated to an amazing dinner, which involved more than 2 bottles of wine person. Finally, as a group we wondered the tiny village of Verdigny looking for cellars or garages where the lights were on, a sign someone may be working with their wines late into the night. Finally sometime after 2 am we made it to our hotels, for a quick nap before the next day would begin.
Despite the somewhat hazy recollection, the wines from the Thomas family have remained favorites of mine for almost 30 years. Today the estate is run by Julien, the 13th generation to man the helm of this ship. In fact, they began as growers in the town of Verdigny in 1670! To say the least they know this terroir well.
The family farms 39 acres of vines planted in three distinct soil types. All of the vines are farmed using biodynamic practices, with each block harvested by hand and separately by soil type. Each block is then fermented separately in stainless steel, with the final blend made after 6 months of lees contact. Unlike Reverdy, which produces wines of intense focus, the Thomas Sancerre is richer, denser and much longer, with a gorgeous expression of ripe fruit framed by ingrained minerality.
Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre
The Reverdy’s have been in the region since the 1600’s and started bottling wine under their own label in early 1970’s. Importer Kermit Lynch began buying the wines in 1983, shortly after the death of Hippolyte and two of his sons. That was when his only surviving son, Michel, assumed control of the domaine.
It is not a big property, only 35 acres, scattered across 20 different parcels. Michel is entirely focused on farming, spending seven days a week on his tractor and rarely taking a day off. In the cellar he is minimalist, pressing the grapes and allowing the juice to settle for 36 hours, then starting fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Once dry the wine is allowed to stay on the lees for 3 to 4 months, with minimal stirring, then bottled. The lack of manipulation allows for the almost crystalline nature of this wine to shine through.
This wine shows the penetrating, sheer edge of limestone throughout the grapefruit, gooseberry, tomatillo flavors. It also is extremely delicate and lifting, with a purity of flavor that defines Sancerre to me.