A Sancerre substitute is more than suitable

White wines from Sancerre and its neighboring Loire River town of Pouilly, which gives us Pouilly Fume, have grown so popular that it is unusual to find a bottle from either for less than $20. Their appeal comes from a lively combination of minerality and zestiness derived from the sauvignon blanc grape grown on the region’s limestone soil.

As is often the case, increased demand and rising prices of one region’s wines stimulate winemakers and consumers to look to nearby locales for suitable substitutes. The town of Menetou-Salon, barely 20 miles southwest of Sancerre and Pouilly, has soil and climate similar to its more famous neighbors and, like them, makes mainly white wine from the same grape, sauvignon blanc.

But while Sancerre and Pouilly received governmental recognition (appellation contrôlée) for their wines in 1936 and 1937, respectively, it wasn’t until 1959 that Menetou-Salon received that accolade. And it’s been only in the last 25 years that the vineyards have been developed to produce serious white wines. Although Menetou-Salon produces less wine than Sancerre — it is only one-sixth the size — the prices are lower, in part because they lack Sancerre’s name recognition. That will undoubtedly change as consumers recognize their quality and value.

Roger Champault is best known as an excellent producer of Sancerre. He recently expanded by buying a small, 6-acre vineyard, Clos de la Cure, in Menetou-Salon that he planted with sauvignon blanc. Tasted without knowing its origin, Champault’s 2002 Menetou-Salon Clos de la Cure, from a great year in the Loire, would surprise all but the most experienced tasters that it wasn’t from Sancerre. It lacks a touch of Sancerre’s intensity, but has plenty of captivating minerality and verve. At its pleasing price ($12), it is a terrific buy.

Tom Schmeisser, the wine buyer at Marty’s, obviously thought so because he bought the remaining 35 cases from the distributor, so it’s only available at their two stores, 675 Washington St., Newton (617-332-1230) and 193 Harvard Ave., Allston (617-782-3250).

April 14, 2005.