Alphonse Mellot


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  A taste of Sancerre to toast our affair
The Mail on Sunday - Extract - April 4, 2004

"There is everything to make a great wine here",exclaims vintner Alphonse Mellot. "The soil, the climate, the years of expertise..." It's mid-afternoon and I'm enjoying a late lunch outside the Cafe des Arts in Sancerre.
Naturally, wine-makers are passionate about their Sancerre. They are convinced they make the best white sauvignon in the world, and they shrug when asked about the New World wines.
Sancerre itself is a beautiful medieval hilltop town. For years wine enthusiasts have been coming here to stock up on their tipple. And with tourism developing in the region, more and more Britons are stopping off on their way to Burgundy or the South of France.
Not far from the chateau trail, and only two hours'drive from both Paris and Burgundy, the countryside and secluded B&Bs make for a perfect Loire Valley break. Fields and vineyards extend over magnificent hills and the area is studdedwith elegant manor houses belonging to Parisians or local bourgeoisie.
The wine is popular in the UK. Mellot explains: "There is a bond between Sancerre and the English, a love affair."
Of course, cellar tours are a must. And with more than 400 vintners, it's impossible to do them all. So it is best to start with Sancerre itself.
Mellot is the only wine-maker actually in the town and his "cave" is definitely worth a visit. The cellar, which extends under the family home, has been there since the 16th Century. Glass in hand, Mellot takes me through narrow passageways deep underground to the hundreds of barrels tucked away in small rooms.
He has three white sauvignon varieties, some from young vines and some from old, and they all have a distinctive taste at a high price -the average in the region is between £3 and £6 but his top-of-the-range sells for £13.
He boasts of how he does everything organically; how he is the onlyone still to hand-pick his grapes; and how the quality of the wine is all down to one man, the grower.
We naturaIly talk about the growing appeal of New World wines. Mellot explains that the climate and terrains don't produce a good grape and he condemns the growers for concentrating on money and volume rather than quality.
"They produce volume. They have a mediocre grape that they don't nurture. Then they pick the whole thing up and leave it to the wine specialist to turn it into a good wine."

By Solenne Singer


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