As I travel to the north of France I find myself passing through wine country again and decide to visit the towns of Saint Pourcain and Sancerre to try some of their local white wine.
Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule is a pleasant town offering a wine co-operative, an interesting historic centre and a popular, well-located aire next to the river. With plenty of other motorhomes around I feel quite happy to set off and explore the town, and the tourist information have a walking trail featuring the most interesting heritage sites. There is some very interesting architecture on the main street in the form of the Caisse d’Epargne, a neoclassical bank, and a Napoleon III style bandstand. However, the oldest buildings are to be found around the 12th century Ste Croix church with its 15th century clock tower. Inside are some fabulous stained-glass windows and intricately-carved, wooden choir stalls.
I’m always interested in the local food as well as the wine and, on the main street, I find a glamorous shop selling all kinds of produce, including cheese, chocolate, very expensive speciality nougat and pigeons cooked in prune sauce, as well as bottles of the local wine. At the wine co-operative, I am able to taste several different wines. The white Domaine de Chiniere is mostly made from the Chardonnay grape but also includes 30% of Tressallier, a local grape variety that gives the wine a sharp acidic taste. The red wines are made with Gamay and Pinot Noir giving aromas of blackcurrant and spices. Unfortunately I fail to find a wine to my taste and leave empty handed.
150kms further north, I stop at town of Sancerre, perched on a hill 150m above the River Loire which snakes along the valley below. It is surrounded by vineyards which thrive on the complex mineral soils offering a variety of interesting wines. Nearby are Pouilly and Menetou-Salon which also offer crisp, dry whites and the small village of Chavignol where local farms produce a tasty goat’s cheese. There are several places where I could stay the night and the first one I visit is La Ferme des Chapotons, a goat farm, where Emily offers me tastings of their crottin de Chavignol which comes in various stages of maturity giving different strengths of taste. There is the young creamy cheese which is good for cooking and the mould-coated, stronger tasting cheese which rather overpowers the glass of Sancerre that Emily has poured for me. Behind the farm shop, the goats are bleating contentedly while they queue to be milked.
I move on to Gaec de la Vauvise, a cattle farm and vineyard in a low valley outside the village of Menetou-Ratel. The owner’s wife is tending her beautiful garden and suggests I take a walk around the farm while I wait for her son to arrive and open up the wine shop so I can do some tasting. There are lots of caramel-brown cows in large stalls, some clearly pregnant and some with youngsters tugging at their udders. I also find a clutch of large white eggs under a bush that belong to the resident ducks, which don’t seem to be very interested in sitting on them. The wine shop turns out to resemble a bar and I am joined by a local bank manager and friend of the family, who has just popped in for a drink. Mathieu offers me all of the white Sancerre wines that are produced on the farm, explaining the difference in the soil structures that gives the subtle changes in taste. I prefer the younger wines which are also the cheaper ones. But even a cheap bottle of Sancerre sets me back €9.