This year, the Loire Salon in Angers kicked off on a Sunday, a great virtue of which (for me at least) was that it was relatively relaxed. Usually it’s a bunfight to catch up with the wines of Alphonse Mellot, one of Sancerre’s finest, so I made it my first stop and was rewarded with plenty of elbow, tasting and spitting space – a first!
Like Vacheron (see my Salon report here), Alphonse Mellot tend the vines biodynamically and the winery is based in Sancerre town itself, where you’ll also find their very stylish shop (pictured). A century old tradition of winemaking is today perpetuated by Alphonse Mellot, father and son, the 18th and 19th generation to bear the name, though the wine connection goes back further -César Mellot was Wine Advisor to Louis XIV in 1698.
Alphonse Mellot junior (above) was on hand to dispense wine and wisdom. Here are my notes (wines tasted 30 January 2011):
Alphonse Mellot La Moussière White 2010 (Sancerre)
The entry-level cuvee comes from La Moussière – a South-facing 30 hectare site on kimmeridgien limestone, the marls of Saint Doulchard and chalky soil of Buzançais. Production was back to normal in 2010 after last year’s destructive hails and Mellot is pleased with the balance of the wines. Quite right too – this is classic Sancerre, fresh and crisp with good line and animated nettle notes as well as chalky minerals. Benchmark stuff.
Alphonse Mellot La Demoiselle White 2010 (Sancerre)
This sample (expected to be bottled in April) comes from silex (flint) and clay soils and is correspondingly tighter on nose and palate with steely grapefruit acidity and powerfully focused blackcurrant bud fruit. Very good – impressive drive. Keep a couple of years before broaching.
Alphonse Mellot Les Romains White 2008 (Sancerre)
This is the second vintage from a little over 1 hectare of Les Romains vineyard’s higher slopes, which comprise flinty soils. It’s filled out since I tasted it the previous year - precocious, heat-retaining soils have produced a rich weight of ripe mandarin fruit combined with firm but juicy underlying acidity. Delicious already.
Alphonse Mellot En Satellite 2008 (Sancerre)
This relatively new addition to the range comes from further afield – the steep south/southeast facing slopes of Chavignol. Its propitious aspect, together with terres blanches (clay-limestone) soils and aged vines, account for its great power and weight. Generally broader and seemingly leesier than the other cuvees it’s aged in 60% new oak (300l barrels) and older, larger oak vats which support and gently season. A lively seam of mineral acidity brings balance, persistence/length. Deeply satisfying.
Alphonse Mellot Génération XIX 2009 (Sancerre)
Génération XIX is an old (87 years old) vine selection from La Moussière which is vinified and aged on the lees in 900l wooden vats. 2009 was dry and hot which produced a fuller bodied style of Sauvignon – not my preferred style. This comes in at 15.6% abv!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Clearly I was so taken aback that, other than to remark this was “quite broad,” I didn’t write anything else down….
Alphonse Mellot Edmond 2009 (Sancerre)
Edmond is yet to be bottled and weighs in at a “mere” 15% abv. From 40 to 87 years’ old vines but the primary difference from Génération XIX is the vinification process. This wine is fermented and aged in small format (228 l- 320 l) barrels, 60% of which are new. There’s a smoky oak note to nose and palate – attractive. But is it the oak that grooms and corsets the palate which seems fresher, chalkier/more mineral and generally better focused than Génération XIX? Perhaps just earlier picking letting the terroir show, which would also explain the slightly lower alcohol. Very good.
Les Pénitents Chardonnay 2008 (VdP des Coteaux Charitois)
Just 35 km from Sancerre, Domaine des Pénitents is a relatively new venture. This 18 ha limestone rich south-facing vineyard is planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and, from this vintage, the domaine’s labels have been redesigned in the Mellot house style. Like a rich Chablis, this has a hint of dried honey and flowers to its gentle stony fruits. Good tang too. Well done.
Alphonse Mellot Rosé 2010 (Sancerre)
Fermented and aged in 20% new oak, the balance in wooden vats, this Pinot Noir is surprisingly pale and pretty. The controlled oxygenation via wood is beautifully judged and brings savoury depth and texture, with delightful mineral/oyster shell notes. Very good indeed.
Les Pénitents Pinot Noir 2008 (VdP des Coteaux Charitois)
A deep colour with a dark, spicy nose of beetroot and cassis. It’s less fluid than the 2007 vintage, with more assertive clove-edged tannins so needs time. But there’s a good depth of fruit here, so give it a couple of years for the tannins to mellow and I reckon it’ll unravel and reward you with complex layers of fruit, spice and earth.
Alphonse Mellot La Demoiselle Red 2008 (Sancerre)
Like Les Pénitents, this has plenty of depth colour and flavourwise with intense dried spices threaded around its dark fruited core, well supported by ripe but firm tannins, A cool tang of clay (which I love to find in Pinot Noir) adds a complexing note to a long, deep finish. One for the long haul. Excellent.
Alphonse Mellot En Grands Champs Red 2008 (Sancerre)
En Grands Champs hails from a 1 ha pocket of Buzancais limestone at the top of La Moussière called Les Grands Champs which Mellots says accounts for its fine structure. A gorgeous, perfumed nose and palate is full of fruit, flowers and finesse. Long and seamless with silky tannins and rolling acidity it’s very fine and come hither compared with its stablemates. Fabulous charm.
Alphonse Mellot La Demoiselle Red 2008 (Sancerre)
This wine comes from two parcels on clay/limestone soils, Chambratte and Paradis and, despite similar vinification to En Grands Champs (with just over a year in new oak), could not be more different. It’s immensely powerful, dark and brooding, its frame of tannins rather than fruit to the fore. Ripe tannins though, with good sucrosity. Saying it’s similar to the 2002 which is drinking well now, Mellot reckons its needs 5-6 years bottle age to really emerge from its shell. Worth the wait I’d say.
UK stockists include H2Vin.