06 May 2015

Sancerre and other things, like stoves

Here are a few more photos of the Sancerre area, two hours east of Saint-Aignan and two hours south of Paris by car. We drove through there last October and spent some time looking at the scenery. The Sancerre vineyards and villages don't look that much different from the Loire Valley (Touraine) vineyards, except for one thing: it's much hillier over there.

As I've mentioned, Sancerre's white wines are the standard for fine Sauvignon Blanc wines in France and even worldwide. A lot of Sauvignon grapes are grown around the eastern Loire Valley (Touraine) and a lot of good Sauvignon Blanc wine is made here. If you order a white wine in a Paris café, you'll probably get a  Sauvignon made in Touraine. And the standard for what that should taste like is Sancerre wine.

But don't get the idea that Sancerre (or Touraine, or even Champagne) is a prettied-up, pristine environment. Grape-growing and wine-making are rural activities, and the atmosphere in wine regions might be more rural than you think. It's farming. Expect to see scenes like the one below. And also scenes like the others shown in this post. It's pretty but real.

The little town of Sancerre sits on a hilltop (below), with views over the surrounding vineyards and countryside. We didn't go up into the town this time, because we were on our way home and eager to get here. We've been to Sancerre several times before — once 25 years ago, and again about 15 years ago. And as I said, the area, which is on the banks of the Loire River but not really in what is called Le Val de Loire, where the châteaux are, isn't all that different from where we live except for the hilly terrain.

Oh, about stoves — yesterday we visited two places that sell and install wood stoves, one in Saint-Aignan and the other across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher. The first place is sending out a man to examine our current stove and chimney, and to measure the house, to see what stove he might recommend for our situation. I predict that his estimate of the cost will match or exceed the 2,500 € estimate we got from Invicta.

Maybe a stove like this one would be nice in our fireplace.
Or this one.

By the way, when we asked if this vendor deals in Invicta stoves, the answer was « Surtout pas ! » — "God no!" They are cheap stoves made with very thin cast iron that is manufactured in and imported from China, the woman said with a certain amount of disdain. Invicta stoves are of poor quality even though they are assembled in France, and they don't give off a lot of heat. So there.

The second shop we went to is the one where we bought our first stove back in 2006 and paid, yes, 2,500 € for, all included. Clés en main, as they say. The question we asked there is if they think we need to tear out the existing insulation and chimney liner. No, we were told. The existing 9-year-old insulation and liner should be just fine. They'll send somebody out to examine the installation and the house before the end of May and work up a bid.

05 May 2015

Zipping through Sancerre

Sancerre is only about 130 km (80 miles) from Saint-Aignan, but it's not that easy to get there. The mapping sites usually send you on long detours, sticking to main roads either through Bourges to the south or Orléans to the north. Meanwhile, the most direct route goes on narrow lanes through the forested Sologne region from one tiny village to another — Mennetou-sur-Cher, Theillay, Neuvy-sur-Barangeon, Méry-ès-Bois, Henrichemont, etc. — all of which feel remote, rural, and lost in time. It's easy to take a wrong turn.

It's worth the trip though. Last October, on our way back from Burgundy, we drove through the Sancerre vineyards. A blog reader in America had told Walt that he'd bought a bottle of fine Sancerre wine, and we thought we'd go find the winery where it was made. We did find it, after much searching — enjoying the scenery — but it was noontime and the place was closed. We drove on, stopping in a supermarket just below Sancerre itself to buy sandwiches for a roadside picnic and a few bottles of the local wine to take home.

The most famous wines of Sancerre are very dry, steely Sauvignon Blanc whites. It's just across the river from Pouilly-sur-Loire. At this point, the Loire is flowing north before taking the big bend that puts it on its course westward through Orléans, Blois, Tours, Saumur, and Nantes. Pouilly also makes Sauvignon Blanc. "Its character is often described as gunflint...", Hugh Johnson writes of both wines in his Worldwide Atlas of Wine, "...it is smoky, sightly green, slightly spicy and appeals to most people intensely at first with its summery style." The vignerons of Sancerre also make red and rosé wines from the Pinot Noir grape. Our local Touraine wine-makers work hard to make white wines that have the excellent qualities of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé whites.

The photo above shows the main intersection in the village called Sury-en-Vaux, just north of the town of Sancerre (pop. 1,500 — not a typo). Sury is in the center of one of the prime local grape-growing areas. The word vaux in its name means "valleys" and you can see them in a couple of my photos.

Yesterday I read a blog written by a woman from Boston who recently spent a few weeks at a language school in Sancerre. Here's a link to her blog, Truffles and Tribulations.

04 May 2015

Two local landmarks

When you see the Château de Saint-Aignan from behind, as in the banner photo of it with the town's church as well, you'd never guess that it might look like this on the other side. It's not open to the public, though you can go up to the terrace and have a look around. (You can enlarge the photo by clicking or tapping on it.)

Just a few minutes' drive southeast of Saint-Aignan is the village of Châteauvieux, which is picturesque. It's know for its wines. The château there is occupied by a retirement home.

I reached back nine years to find these photos. We had a rainy day yesterday, and it's not supposed to be much better today. Planting the garden has to be postponed until the ground can dry out again. This happens a lot of years.