Pierre Morin Sancerre Rouge Bellechaume 2012
I haven't paid much attention to Sancerre in the past few months, having instead been looking to Loire curiosities such as Saint Pourçain and IGP Pinot Noir from the hinterland between the vineyards of Muscadet and Anjou. Or on occasion that holy grail, wine from Bordeaux that is both affordable and interesting. This wine sets right that wrong, although I suppose this is true only of you don't also consider red Sancerre to be another Loire Valley curiosity.
To really get under the skin of this wine I suspect you could do worse than look to Burgundy, and specifically to the work of Jacques Seysses and his children, principally Jeremy Seysses. Jacques started out at Domaine Dujac in 1968, having acquired the domaine the preceding year, and in time he developed a reputation for quality. He also became known as a leading advocate for the use of stems in the fermentation of Pinot Noir. Stems bring many potential advantages, including reducing damage to the fruit during the destemming process (which is nearly always mechanical), quicker and more complete fermentations, better regulation of fermentation temperature, easier pressing, inhibiting the action of moulds as well as beneficial influences on the texture, aroma and flavour of the wine. Of course this only works if the stems are ripe, which explains why it isn't a universal practice, and is restricted to certain varieties, vignerons and domaines.
Of what relevance is this to the wines of Pierre Morin in Sancerre? The answer to this question is obvious if you know Pierre's story. After studying in Burgundy (but before he headed off to gain some experience in Australia), Pierre worked at Domaine Dujac for a while, and his time with Jeremy Seysses was I think instrumental in determining his approach to the vinification of Pinot Noir. A few of Pierre's peers in Sancerre are experimenting with including stems, perhaps adding a percentage to the vat along withthe destemmed fruit, or introducing one stem-inclusion cuvée to their portfolio of wines, but Pierre Morin is working with 100% stems, depending on the exact character of the vintage of course. The red wines, I think, are some of the best in the region (and the whites are pretty smart as well). They have a little touch of the Dujac magic, perhaps?
There are two cuvées, an entry-level wine and an upmarket cuvée Bellechaume, named for the lieu-dit of origin. This is a southwest-facing slope in Bué, with Kimmeridgian terres blanches soils. The fruit is picked by hand and fermented partly in cuve and partly in barrel, and after élevage in same for at least a year it is blended in tank, where it rests for six months before bottling, without filtration. The 2012 vintage was an excellent one for early-ripening varieties in the Loire Valley (making it the best of recent vintages for white Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Muscadet and the like in my opinion), while it was more difficult for later-ripening grapes such as Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Pinot Noir comes between the two of course, but the examples I have come across from better domaines suggest it is certainly an interesting vintage. The 2012 Pierre Morin Sancerre Bellechaume has in the glass a dark but translucent hue. The nose is full of sweet and smoky black-cherry fruit, laced with scents of tobacco and liquorice. It suggests a quite taut character, and the fruit shows a slightly sour edge I've not noticed before. The palate is very confident, showing the taut acidity of the vintage, with a slightly flinty reductive seam running through it. This is underpinned by a ripe tannic structure, supported by a bright cleansing acidity in the finish. Finely textured too, with a silky-cottony feel to it. The finish seems long, pithy, quite grippy even. 17.5/20
This is delicious wine, brimming with potential, and it shows what real potential there is in this region for this variety. Did I raise the possibility red Sancerre was nothing more than a Loire curiosity? Not in my opinion. (20/3/17)