Alphonse Mellot


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  The masters of sauvignon
Tasting notes by Bettane & Desseauve 29/12/2003

Wine lovers and wine trade professionals across the world are sensing a change: chardonnay's absolute domination of the dry white wine market is beginning to crumble. Wine drinkers are tiring of the comfortable and stereotypical toasted oak and caramel (the famous butterscotch of American breakfasts) flavours which have been replicated on every continent, and are returning to the idea that a white wine can be allowed to be drinkable. The two varieties best able to respond to this expectation, whilst still permitting the sophisticated, diversified and complex expression of soil and climate, are undoubtedly riesling and sauvignon.
For years, fans of these varieties have remarked on the aromatic similarities which sometimes cause them to be mistaken for one another, even though the science of ampelography is still unable to describe the connections between them. One thing is certain: the most brilliant winemakers have made a lot of progress in the last ten years in the vinification of wines from these two grapes and have given them the vinosity and richness of character that made such a success of the chardonnay grape for Burgundy and subsequently for the producers on practically all the vineyards which adopted it. We felt it was time for an update on their most outstanding current examples.

We start with sauvignon in its inimitable fiefdom in the upper Loire Valley, on both sides of the river, as celebrated by three producers: Alphonse Mellot and the Vacheron family in the Sancerre appellation - in the very Sancerre commune where the terroir is incomparable for laying-down - and Didier Dagueneau in the Pouilly-Fumé appellation, where only he is undamaged by the winegrowing/making idealism. Antoine Gerbelle (responsible for the Loire in the guide Le classement des meilleurs vins de France) and I asked them to tell us their story of their winemaking careers: they sportingly played the game by opening a great many bottles, from their hesitant, and sometimes clumsy, beginnings to the triumph of the recent great vintages in which the generosity of the climate has sublimated their mastery of vineyard management and vinification.
We could never have imagined finding so many masterpieces! But the evidence has to be accepted: some of the most pure and most elegant contemporary white wines in the world are being produced on these familiar slopes, made so tragically ordinary by the routine approach of too many local producers. With the Sancerre, we could not resist publishing the tasting notes for the reds they also wanted us to try and which show that, if one knows how to grow it, pick it, vinify it and age it properly, a Sancerre pinot noir can rival the very best Burgundy!

After such moments of emotion which explain the proliferation of scores of 9 and above, we only hope for one thing: that all the ambitious and idealistic young winegrowers in the business would fight all the bad family habits and try to produce wines like this! And why not extend this wish to the whole Bordelais, also wallowing in those stereotypical expressions of the sauvignon grape which bear no relation to what we admired so much during these two days.


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