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Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnes 2013
No one can doubt that winemaking runs in the blood of the Cotat family. On the slopes of the Monts Damnés in Chavignol, the family has tended both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir since the end of the second World War. It was only in the 1990s when two brothers, Paul and Francis, handed over the family domaine to their sons, François and Pascal, respectively. Today there are two Cotat domaines—one in Chavignol, headed by François, and one in Sancerre, run by Pascal. What sets these cousins apart is less important than what they share—a passion for natural winemaking and a truly amazing touch with Sauvignon Blanc.
Pascal believes in natural winemaking—the vast majority of his plots are cared for organically, often combining seaweed and other natural preparations to fertilize his vines. Harvest is never rushed; in fact, Pascal (as does his cousin François) harvests more than a week after every other winery in the region. Needless to say, extra maturity on the vine means extra body and complexity in the wine. Vineyards are located on very steep slopes, requiring a hand harvest that has become a bit of a pilgrimage for Cotat devotees. The steepest plots can only be worked by sliding down with a cushion tied to your rear while you hold the bucket in front of you. The cousins invented this amusing system, and pickers come from all over Europe every year to volunteer for the harvest.
Grapes from each vineyard plot are vinified separately. The Cotat family pioneered single-vineyard bottlings in Sancerre, and each terroir—whether “Les Monts Damnés” or “Grande Côte”—has its own unique personality. Soils share the same chalky heart as do those in Chablis. In general Pascal wines show a more luxurious, plush mouthfeel in combination with this balanced acidity. (François wines, in comparison, often show more flinty, Chablis-like notes.) Wines are always bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Cotat’s wines truly benefit from age. While these wines are irresistible when they are young, one of the unique pleasures of putting down a few bottles is to later discover a rich, custard-like Sancerre that defies everything you would expect from racy Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
Praised for its stately Renaissance-era chateaux, the picturesque Loire valley produces pleasant wines of just about every style. Just south of Paris, the appellation lies along the river of the same name and stretches from the Atlantic coast to the center of France.
The Loire can be divided into three main growing areas, from west to east: the Lower Loire, Middle Loire, and Upper/Central Loire. The Pay Nantais region of the Lower Loire—farthest west and closest to the Atlantic—has a maritime climate and focuses on the Melon de Bourgogne variety, which makes refreshing, crisp, aromatic whites.
The Middle Loire contains Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. In Anjou, Chenin Blanc produces some of, if not the most, outstanding dry and sweet wines with a sleek, mineral edge and characteristics of crisp apple, pear and honeysuckle. Cabernet Franc dominates red and rosé production here, supported often by Grolleau and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sparkling Crémant de Loire is a specialty of Saumur. Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc are common in Touraine as well, along with Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec (known locally as Côt).
The Upper Loire, with a warm, continental climate, is Sauvignon Blanc country, home to the world-renowned appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Pinot Noir and Gamay produce bright, easy-drinking red wines here.
A crisp, refreshing variety that equally reflects both terroir and varietal character, Sauvignon blanc is responsible for a vast array of wine styles. However, a couple of commonalities always exist—namely, zesty acidity and intense aromatics. The variety is of French provenance, and is most important in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. It also shines in New Zealand, California, Australia and parts of northeastern Italy. Chile and South Africa are excellent sources of high-quality, value-priced Sauvignon blanc.
In the Glass
From its homeland In Bordeaux, winemakers prefer to blend it with Sémillon to produce a softer, richer style. In the Loire Valley, it expresses citrus, flint and smoky flavors, especially from in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Marlborough, New Zealand often produces a pungent and racy version, reminiscent of cut grass, gooseberry and grapefruit. California's style is fruit-driven, in either a soft and oak-aged or snappy and fresh version.
The freshness of Sauvignon blanc’s flavor lends it to a range of light, summery dishes including salad, seafood and mild Asian cuisine. Sauvignon Blanc settles in comfortably at the table with notoriously difficult foods like artichokes or asparagus. When combined with Sémillon (and perhaps some oak), it matches well with complex seafood and chicken dishes.
Along with Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon blanc is a proud parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. That green bell pepper aroma that all three varieties share is no coincidence—it comes from a high concentration of pyrazines (herbaceous aromatic compounds) inherent to each member of the family.