Alphonse Mellot


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  Alphonse Mellot, Domaine la Moussière, Sancerre 2004
Loire wines work magic at the table Critic's Note book

The Loire is France's longest river. From its source at 1,400 metres above 9 sea level on the slopes of the volcanic rock called Gerbier de Joncs, about 30 kilometres west of Valence in the Rhône Valley; it finally empties, 1000 kilometres away; into the Atlantic at Saint Nazaire at the northern end of the Bay of Biscay.
From its source the river heads almost due north, straight to Paris, but about 200 kilometres south of the city it decides it doesn't want to go there after all and starts a wide arc to the left, where it runs almost due west to the Atlantic.
1t is at the beginning of this arc that we find the hilltop town of Sancerre on the left bank, facing its smaller sister town of Pouilly sur Loire on the east bank.
It is here that wines made from the sauvignon blanc grape are found in the purest formas Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.
The wines have a citrus aroma and can have an intriguing hint of unripe greenness about them.
One of the most frequently quoted descriptions of the bouquet of the wine is "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush" but I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that.
It's 50 years since I even saw a gooseberry bush, and as for cats I rarely approach the front of the animal, never mind the back. Those wines that are made from grapes grown on the best of the limestone soils have the additional aroma and flavour of gunflint, hence the "fumé" in Pouilly Fumé.
But let's go and visit Alphonse MeIlot, since we're in Sancerre.
His family was already living here in 1513, when they were first mentioned in local archives.
The MeIlots diligently foIlowed the career of vigneron (grape grower and winemaker) as well as wine merchants. They must have been pretty good at what they did because Louis XIV appointed César Mellot as his wine consultant. In the 1800s the family founded an inn in Sancerre and in 1881 was granted a licence to sell its wines throughout France and abroad and that is what they have done ever since.
The family vineyards are located in the higher levels of the 400 metre hill that forms the appellation, and the best of these vineyards is their Domaine de la Moussière.
This vineyard of more than 30 hectares has the privilege of being the only one in the appellation to be able to style itself "hors concours" which in this case could be loosely transIated as "better than the others."
That is where today's wine of the week comes from.
In every generation, the eldest Mellot son has always been called Alphonse, and today Alphonse father and Alphonse son, the 18th and 19th to bear the name, are carryjng on the family tradilion.
The 2004 Sancerre, Domaine la Moussière, is a very young but superb example.
It is made, like all Sancerre, from l00-per-cent sauvignon blanc and you will not find fruit that is any purer than this.
It is rallier zingy-zippy-crisp at the moment in its youth, and quite sharp when tasted alone. But put it with a rainbow trout or, better still, oysters, and it will blow your mind if not your palate.
It is an excellent wine with an the citrus and mineral ingredients to make it even greater over the next three years.


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