First, let's define Sancerre for our friends who aren't fluent in Sauvignon Blanc, which is the grape most often used to make wines from the Sancerre region of France. There's a big difference between the $10 "New World" Sauvignon Blancs you buy from Chile, New Zealand, California, and the ones that come from "Old World" Europe.
Sauvignon Blanc hails from Bordeaux, where, according to DNA testing, it got together with Cabernet Franc to create the love child Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Sauv Blanc is better known as a product of the Loire Valley in northwest France. The climate, in general, tends to be cool, so the wines tend to be lighter in body than their New World brethren. The best of these wines hail from the Upper Loire, the east end of the valley, just south of Paris, specifically from the town of Sancerre. They tend to be distinguished by grassy, spicy aromas and lively, mouthwatering acidity. They are also typically characterized as being "bone dry," expressing distinct minerality ("steely" or "flinty" notes). And unlike many New World Sauv Blancs, they are rarely oaked, which is why they are downright magical with oysters splashed judiciously with classic mignonette.
When I became a sommelier 20 years ago they were priced under $20 and thought of as elegant table wines. Today they are considered pedigreed, and cost $40 or more when made by great producers (see: Alphonse Mellot; Pascal Cotat; Lucien Crochet; Didier Dagueneau; Hippolyte Reverdy; Vacheron—to name but a few).
To find wines that taste like Sancerre but don't cost as much, look to the villages and towns that surround the region. Ask your retailer or sommelier for recommendations from Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Quincy, and Reuilly. You shouldn't be surprised to find that some of that the best producers (mentioned above) also make excellent wines in these satellite areas. Pouilly-Fumé, for example, is just across the river from Sancerre proper. One of my favorites is Baron Patrick de Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé (pictured above, right), which retails for around $30. But if you're buying a bottle for me, do splurge on de Ladoucette's 'Baron de L' (pictured above, left), a zesty, citrusy beauty that boasts aromas and flavors ranging from grapefruit and pineapple to citrus pith and bitter nettles. It retails for around $75, and is worth every penny if you can find it.
—Follow Anthony Giglio on Twitter at @WineWiseGuy.
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