Warm Nights + Oysters + This Crisp White
Domaine du Petit Clocher’s 2017 Sauvignon Blanc is the electrifying under-$20 Loire Valley stunner you’ve been looking for to ring in the summer. The fourth-generation estate, whose wines have appeared on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys list, is known for its award-winning Chenin Blancs and Cabernet Franc. But their Sauvignon Blanc—planted on a whim, and representing just five percent of their vineyard holdings—has become one of their biggest hits. No wonder: With fabulous stony minerality thanks to dark schist soils, this pale golden beauty offers the vibrancy of a Sancerre at a fraction of the price. For $15 a bottle—a Wine Access exclusive!—it’s a surefire case-buy, just the thing for warm nights when a platter of oysters, caviar, or halibut is on the menu.
Tucked away in the center of the Loire Valley, Cléré-sur-Layon is a sleepy, ancient village that most travelers would only notice in passing through the car window while on their way to Muscadet or Touraine. The population hovers just above 300. Attractions are limited to forbidding stone cathedrals and tiny bistros. And yet … a discerning geologist or oenologist might notice that the commune is blessed with one very valuable and highly covetable resource: Anjou noir, a dark schist soil that infuses wines with power, intensity, and vibrant wet-stone minerality.
Conceivably, Jules-Emile Denis knew the power of this soil when he founded his winery back in 1920 on a small 12-acre plot of land. As he passed the work onto his son Maurice, and Maurice onto his sons, and from them onto yet another generation of Denis men, Domaine du Petit Clocher gained a reputation as an estate that paid serious respect to tradition. Much of the back-breaking work is still done by hand. The family didn’t even own a tractor until 1959.
Some innovations—a sorting table, a pneumatic press—have been admitted through the years, endowing the old-school Loire wines with the kind of quality that has netted their Chenin Blancs and Anjou Rouges multiple gold medals at the Concours General Agricole Paris Wine Competition. One such innovation was introduced by one of the youngest members of the clan, Stéphane, who ventured to plant a little under three acres of Sauvignon Blanc on their Anjou estate, and to label the finished wine as a “Sauvignon.” A risky move, since AOC wine laws in the area do not permit a single-variety Sauvignon Blanc wine, and therefore, the wine would be classified as a Vin de Pays. Yet the gamble paid off, demand exploded, and Stéphane found himself doubling the acreage dedicated to the grape.
The vines struggle in the dark schist soils, composed of quartz, volcanic rock, and sandstone, giving this wine its compression and density as well as a flinty minerality. The climate is near-perfect, a balance between oceanic and continental influences, making for mild winters and warm summers. The $15 pricetag speaks for itself. Don’t let this exclusive chance at the value Loire white of the summer pass you by.
- Wine Access Wine Team