With an evocative account of her experience in Sancerre, Regine Lee does her bit to help the indies.
Picture Sancerre in July and the compact medieval stone city perched amongst rolling Loire valley hills, surrounded by a cloudless blue sky. With the midsummer weather scorching the city's cobbled streets, it feels as if Hades himself pulled the sun closer to the earth.
This was the Sancerre that my friends and I experienced on a short trip to the region, and we scuttled around all day from car to restaurant to church in search of any sort of respite from the heat. Motivated by the possibility of air conditioning, we were in a wilted state when we decided to check out a tiny wine shop on a steep street by the town's centre – L'Aronde Sancerroise. What luck we had! Not only was it cool inside then, but it was (and still is) run by a tour-de-force woman named Brigitte Denizot whose vibrant enthusiasm was not dampened by the heat or by us tourists and our sheepish lack of French language skills. Although I have only been there once on that trip several years ago, her simple, cozy shop still remains one of my favourite wine merchants of anywhere, because it is a reflection of the unforgettable merchant herself.
What her range lacks in overt luxury or breadth, it more than makes up for in extreme depth and the passion with which it was selected. Her shop is crammed with wine only from Sancerre, each of which she can speak to at length about. What her shop lacks in plushness of environment, it makes up for in charm. Its walls are plastered with wine region maps and posters. The inner side of its main door is covered with sticky notes, some laminated and some exposed to the elements, each with a single phrase written on it, so one could be plucked out and stuck to the front to indicate any state of business trading to passers-by: "Ouvert à 10h30", "Ouvert à 11h00", "Fermé à 17h30", "Fermé à 18h30", "Fermé le jeudi"…and on. It is as if her fleeting comings and goings have been jotted down for an unexpected posterity.
Brigitte guided us expertly in explaining her range and how to understand the differences in the Sancerre climats, and told us stories gleaned from her conversations with the winemakers themselves. In full force, she energetically and somewhat alarmingly, smacked two very large pieces of sharp, grey flint under our noses so we could really understand what 'silex' is and how important it is to Sancerre's terroir. With Brigitte's generous hand in constant pouring motion, we tasted several wines from across the region and ended up buying more bottles than we initially intended, a result that probably is a true indication of how good a wine shop is. We gave her our euro notes and she carefully counted each coin for our change and stacked them neatly into little piles, marvelling at the different designs on the reverse side of each one. We left her shop feeling giddy. And when we cracked open our Philippe Girard Sancerre Silex having returned to London after our trip, we remembered Brigitte's shop and felt smug about how we became cleverer and happier people after having gone into it.