The Pouilly-Fumé appellation has a longstanding reputation as one of the top areas in the world for Sauvignon Blanc. The natural flavors of the grape are bitter and austere, such as green fruit, lemon, and minerals. But in Pouilly-Fumé, Sauvignon's best qualities are mastered and concentrated into powerful, flavorful, striking wines that have just the right amount of acidity.
Confusingly, many Pouilly-Fumé vineyards are located within the large village of Pouilly-sur-Loire. The Pouilly-sur-Loire appellation itself, though, is unrelated to Pouilly-Fumé. Boisgibault, St-Andelain, and Tracy-sur-Loire are the other three communes that contain Pouilly-Fumé's vineyards. The appellation encompasses 2,100 acres of planted land, which produces about 500,000 cases a year of white wine.
Across the river from Pouilly-Fumé lies its main competitor, Sancerre. Though New Zealand Sauvignons are becoming increasingly good, these two appellations are still regarded as the best for classical Sauvignon. They bitterly compete for the top spot; critics are increasingly favoring Sancerre nowadays, but Pouilly-Fumé remains popular in the world markets. The flavors of the two regions' wines are quite distinct, and Pouilly's wines have an unusual smoky overtone that Sancerres lack.
Pouilly-Fumé doesn't have a particularly long history. The appellation quickly became popular once producers cultivated the distinct flavors that Sauvignon Blanc has here. In 1937 the region became an AOC.
Climate and Viticulture
Located right across the Loire river from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé has a perfect location for Sauvignon Blanc production. The vineyards' proximity to the river, in combination with the general weather, makes climatic conditions excellent, and the drainage near the river is also good.
But once again the soil is the secret ingredient here. Pouilly-Fumé is one of the few white wine appellations in the world that is made up almost entirely of limestone-based soils. Usually it is red wines that are made from vineyards with limestone soils, but in this case the limestone gives Sauvignon intense but light-bodied flavor character. The Sancerre soils are similar.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc is grown here for varietal purposes. Only in the Loire does Sauvignon reach such an intense, developed, ripe, and powerfully smoky character. The best examples, not counting the more aristocratic top cuvées, show ripe, straightforward flavors of light citrus fruit, lemongrass, stony herbs, and acacia blossoms as well as other floral scents. Some of the wines are more sweet, light and gentle, while others are thick, oily, and unctuous. All of them have an overtone of intense, minerally smoke, a mysterious factor in the wines' greatness that comes from a combination of the soil and producers' efforts. While the wines can be too strong to drink in the first two or three years, after about 5-10 they should be developed perfectly. Prices are generally around $20-$30, but a few top cuvées in the area have sold for much more.
We selected a total of 11 producers whose wines offer good quality in relation to price.
- Domaine Berthiers: This producer makes light, ripe and round Pouilly-Fumés, though they are amply smoky on the finish.
- Francis Blanchet: Good wines one and all; but the best is the $20 Cuvée Silice, which is made, as you might guess, from grapes from vineyards with silica soils. Powerfully smoky, with flavors of honeyed golden fruit and stony minerality, plus thin, flinty lemongrass and herb aromas, this wine is an essence of the appellation.
- Henri Bourgeois: Bourgeois, which is better-known in Sancerre, nonetheless makes one of the best Pouilly-Fumés. Called La Demoiselle de Bourgeois, it has notoriously precise, powerful citrus fruit flavors. Peppery and nervy, with a strong mineral undertone, the wine is strongly smoky. The En Travertin is less complex, but sweet, fresh, and a pleasant drink.
- Domaine A. Cailbourdin: The Les Cris cuvée is around $20, with yellow fruit flavors and powerful floral scents. Smoky, earthy, but not too powerful or overwhelming, this domaine's wines strike a good balance overall.
- Jean-Claude Chatelain: There is nothing wrong with the basic Pouilly-Fumé here; in fact, it's a light, fun essence of the appellation. But the Les Chailloux cuvée is more unusual, with fresh exotic fruit flavors and powerful minerality.
- Didier Dagueneau: Didier Dagueneau, a long-haired, bearded biker with no formal wine education, revolutionized the way Pouilly-Fumé wine was made and will be remembered as one of the best Sauvignon Blanc makers in history. Dagueneau took his ordinary estate in Pouilly-Fumé and made it into an international sensation, charging cult-wine collectors outrageous prices and, best of all, making his wines absolutely worth them. Dagueneau took the time to make his wines top-notch with tiny selections, manual harvesting, and revolutionary techniques in vinification. Just the basic Pouilly-Fumé here is around $70, but it has pure, floral, citrussy flavors that can develop over 10-20 years. The Silex cuvée is exotic and smoky, with powerfully thick peach and apple flavors that, if anything, taste like they come from a top Burgundy or Chablis. But the wines masterfully combine these Chardonnay flavors with the classic Pouilly minerality. The cuvée Buisson Renard is grassy and herbal, with more Pouilly-like aromas and great concentration and thickness. The Les Montes Damnes also has flavors of powerful herbs and a bit of exotic spice, but the stony minerality is evident. The Pur Sang (pure blood) is considered the top cuvée, with an astounding bouquet of smoky exotic fruit, citrus, and minerality. Tragically, Mr. Dagueneau died in an ultralight plane crash in 2008; he will be missed, but he is survived by his great wines.
- Marc Deschamps: Les Vignes de Berge is one of the best wines here, with floral and herbal scents in addition to the vibrant, concentrated citrus fruit flavors. The old-vine Les Champs de Cri is fresh and intriguing, with colorful, powerful fruit and herbal flavors, as well as the definitive smoky minerality. This cuvée costs around $30, but is much more complex than the average Pouilly-Fumé.
- Pascal Jolivet: This large producer reaches high levels of quality in the Pouilly-Fumé appellation, despite having only arrived on the Loire scene a few decades ago. Earthy, citrussy, more stony than smoky, the basic Pouilly is light and bitter in typical Sauvignon style. La Grande Cuvée and Griottes are two distinct but excellent cuvée styles; the first is surprisingly rich and exotic, and the latter has greener fruit flavors that typify Sauvignon. The Indigene is ultra-expensive for the region (over $60) but smooth, deep, and powerful, with concentrated smoky herbal flavors and a delicate exotic fruit bouquet.
- Ladoucette: A producer that has successfully followed Dagueneau into the small but growing market for cult Sauvignon Blanc. Even the basic Pouilly is around $40, but its vivid flavors of citrus and minerals are far more concentrated and delineated than most other offerings here. The Baron de L costs over $100, but it is unlike any other Sauvignon Blanc: honeyed and rich with chewy, thick citrus fruit and herb flavors. These wines are often compared to Chardonnay.
- Domaine Tinel Blondelet: Two cuvées make the list here: Genetin and Buffatte. The first is subtle and complex, but very minerally and smoky, while the second is more straightforward and flavorful but has less obvious minerality.
- Château de Tracy: The basic wine here is brisk and minty, with smoky fruit flavors. Two limited-production cuvées are harder to find, but they're worth the trouble: the ripe, complex, powerfully herbal Haute Densite, and the floral, scented Les 101 Rangs.
Pouilly-Fumé has no officially designated subregions. The majority of the wines are not named by vineyard, although some of the top-end cuvées from Dagueneau are titled with vineyard names.
Pouilly-Fumé's sister appellation, located right across the river, is Sancerre.