Sancerre is arguably the most well known white wine of France's Loire Valley, the benchmark sauvignon blanc appellation by which other examples of the variety in France - and throughout the world - are judged.
New Zealand has made a splash in the last decade or so with its racy, citrusy sauvignons; Chile is heavily promoting similar, slightly de-tuned renditions; California is exploding with sauvignon offerings that range from steroidal, oak-infused wines made in a plump chardonnay style, to lean, crisp wines that find their inspiration more in the sauvignons of the Loire.
And that just begins to describe the sauvignon blanc landscape.
But none of them quite approach the wines of the Loire, which are almost always made without oak.
So it was with a good deal of anticipation that I recently attended a superb dinner called "Sancerre and Friends," the friends being the nearby appellations of Pouilly-Fume, Quincy, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly in the so-called Center Loire, as well as the larger Touraine appellation to the west.
The wines are known for their distinctive minerality, a product of the soils in which the grapes grow (primarily chalk and flint for Sancerre, limestone, flint and clay for Pouilly-Fume, for example).
This gives them a signature, an originality, that is achieved nowhere else.
I tasted a dozen wines at The Modern, a restaurant attached to the Museum of Modern Art, which, in just a few years or so, has become a landmark on the New York restaurant scene.
The dinner was built around fish because these wines are in their element with seafood. The pairings were, for the most part, right on target, especially the two centerpieces, a Maine lobster salad with roasted beets, black truffles and goat cheese followed by a gorgeous "dorade royale" with a nasturtium flower broth and Swiss chard.
The latter was one of the more exciting fish dishes I've had in recent months, the subtle broth, golden in color, providing a perfect accompaniment to the mild and beautifully textured fillet, which should boost the status of the American porgy, a dorade relative.
As for the wines, I'll stipulate that the last two in the tasting were the top contenders, as well they should be at $65 and $120 respectively.
The first was Domaine Vacheron's 2007 Sancerre "Les Romains," a wine of beautiful balance and great length with citrus, apple and vanilla notes.
The second was Didier Dagueneau's 2007 "Silex" Pouilly-Fume, which showed extraordinary fruit, notably apple and apricot with a rich, round mouthfeel.
Other winners were: Domaine de Chatenoy's 2008 Menetou-Salon, $20, which won the prize as the evening's most unusual offering - an elegant and zesty wine with orange, grapefruit and green apple tastes and a flinty backdrop; Gerard Boulay's Sancerre 'Les Monts Damnes," $41, a generous, rounded wine with layers of spicy pear and vanilla; Domaine des Caves du Prieure's 2008 Sancerre, $23, a classic Sancerre with lots of minerals and notes of green apple and a touch of brown sugar on its long finish.
Also notable were Claude Lafond's 2008 Reuilly "Clos Fussay," $19, which is on the simpler side with lemon and lime notes that almost demanded a dozen oysters or clams; and the bargain of the evening, Domaine Duret's 2009 Quincy, $13, elegant and reserved with minerals, tropical fruit and lime.
These wines reminded me that when it comes to sauvignon blanc, there is the Loire Valley and then all the rest. The wines, with their distinctive terroirs and varied styles, are unique and compelling and, without doubt, the most interesting sauvignon blancs in the world.