Return of the Jedi

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Winery owner Claude Fournier was recently in Cambodia showcasing some of his extraordinary wines from the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, in the Loire Valley of France.

The area is best known for its unique Sauvignon Blanc but Sancerre also produces dry, complex, light to medium bodied Pinot Noir. Domaine Fournier turns out some of the very finest wines from these two varieties, made anywhere in the world.

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Sancerre and Pouilly Fume vineyards rise along the gentle slopes leading up from the banks of the Loire River, Sancerre on the rising left bank, Pouilly Fume on the flatter right. The two regions are just sixty kilometres south west of Chablis and (along with Champagne), are all in the Paris Basin. The basin is an ancient sea bed whose chalky soils run all the way to the White Cliffs of Dover in the British Isles. It is these soils that are extremely important to the wines produced here; the chalk, limestone, schist and flint all lending distinctive characters and flavours to the finished wines.

To understand what makes these white wines special think of a light sabre from the Star Wars movies; all bright intensity and sharp, piercing focus. The wines have penetrating, forceful fruit flavours that are vibrant and animated; the acidity shows laser like sharpness and a wickedly delicious, mineral tang that lingers on the palate.

If the wines are like light sabres, Claude Fournier is the oenological equivalent of a Jedi Master.  Domaine Fournier has vineyards on each of the three main soil types, (chalk, flint and limestone) on either side of the river and his single vineyard wines masterfully display the characters of their geology and environment, known in French as terroir.

The east end of the Sancerre appellation has flinty soils which give the wines a mineral driven steely character. Toward the centre and southwest, the soils are more chalky which gives the wines lovely aromatics and a talc like finish. In the west and north, the soils have more gravel and marl which gives the wines more of a fruit driven profile on the palate. Many of the best vineyards are steep and full of shattered rock.

The Pouilly Fume wines have more depth and power, less purity and finesse but, they also have that distinct, unmistakable smoky character.

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Claude Fournier returns regularly to Cambodia and is a great believer in his wines suitability to the local cuisine. Sancerre wines pair very well with fish and other seafood dishes and can handle a bit of spicy heat as well as sourness and bitterness. Pouilly Fume and Khmer, smoked eggplant together is a revelation. Another perfect pairing for these wines is goat’s cheese, also made in the Loire region; the creamy texture of the cheese and the biting acidity of the wine are perfect foils, fencing for attention all along the palate, a sublime gastronomic experience that I urge everyone to try for themselves.

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These are unique and special wines; there are many regions and countries that produce Sauvignon Blanc and several of them are world famous. However, none are quite like Sancerre or Pouilly Fume and few are better than those made by Claude Fournier; may the force be with him for a long time to come.

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