The town of Sancerre in the eastern Loire perches high on its dramatic hilltop and the view from the ramparts surveys the course of the river Loire to the east and the rolling vineyards of the appellation to the west. It is an attractive town with no shortage of interesting cafés and restaurants in which to sample the local wine or taste the famous goat’s cheese.
The countryside here is a delight of rolling, vine-clad hills linked by steep zig-zag narrow roads that lead you from one tiny valley to the next and our vineyard is in the pretty hamlet of Verdigny to the northwest of the town. Verdigny is an ancient vineyard that can trace its history back to the 12th century. Today it is the Sauvignon Blanc grape that produces the world-famous white wine, but the locals consider the much rarer red Sancerre to be just as good.
The Riffault family has been making wine here for generations, and it is Bertrand Riffault, Pierre’s son, who is now learning to manage the domaine under his father’s expert guidance. Pierre Riffault has 20 acres scattered over some dozen parcels of land, including Les Caillottes, the stony, limestone slopes renowned for producing fresh, fruity, aromatic wine. Pierre has a small patch of old vines in this prestigious part of the appellation, and each year since 1995 he has been vinifying a unique cuvée just for us.
The grape is, of course, the Sauvignon Blanc and Pierre’s winemaking bears the stamp of traditional husbandry and modern technology. Temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks help to produce a white wine that is fresh and clean-cut with the tastes and aromas of blackcurrant and gooseberry. This wine is a unique example of the appellation, delicious when young but developing a more complex flavour when kept for a couple of years.
Having asked Pierre which foods to match with our Cuvée Caillottes, he replied with one of those immortal French phrases that so often apply to food and wine, and which, perhaps, would lose something in the translation: “Il peut accompagner tous les grands moments de la gastronomie.” However, from our own experience we can tell you that this incredibly versatile wine will accompany foods as diverse as creamy fish dishes, shellfish, pork with apple sauce, summer salads, oriental dishes and, of course, the local goat’s cheese, crottin de Chavignol.
The Riffaults are a charming family who will give you a warm welcome whenever you visit, but for those who wish to remain a little longer and explore this delightful area, it may be possible to stay in one of their gîtes which are opposite their own house, just beside the chai.