Before there was New Zealand sauvignon blanc, there was French Sancerre. But with its intense varietal character, the in-your-face Kiwi style grabbed the attention of the wine world. While the sauvignon blanc vineyards of France's Loire Valley can create powerful, perfumed wines, they are typically more reserved. Both are marked by gooseberry, grapefruit and/or melon flavors, but the New Zealand version often has an aroma that can best be described as kitty litter. Sancerre was once the darling of top sommeliers, and with its delicious flavors and exceptional balance, it's back in vogue. Here are the top picks, including a California ringer.
2012 Domaine de la Perriere Sancerre, $23
La Perriere is headed by the Saget brothers, who represent that family's ninth generation in the Loire. This wine's aromas are lightly herbaceous with sour apple, pineapple, grass, wet stone and mineral. There's a light saline quality to the palate, where tangy apple and lime flavors dominate, along with subtle grapefruit. This wine is deliciously different.
2012 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, $24
Founded in 1987, this domaine is a relative newcomer to Sancerre, but it has quickly become one of its most respected. This is classic Loire sauvignon blanc, offering light melon, gooseberry, nettle and green olive aromas. It shows exceptional balance in the mouth, with ripe honeydew melon balanced by zesty lemon and lime. A touch of chalk and mineral adds interest on the long finish.
2013 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc, $11.99
Named for a Malaysian fruit that purports to be the predecessor to the grapefruit, the name is appropriate: Grapefruit figures into both the aromas and flavors of this wine, along with pineapple, tart apple, pear and quince on the nose. The creamy stone fruit flavors are round and ripe, but with a touch of grass and mineral. This wine was the panel's overall favorite.