Personality plus (Sancerre, France – Day One)

Any skill for organisation I may have developed on this trip seems to have abandoned me on my break, and the journey from Touraine to the Central Loire Valley was the victim. The first thing I realised was that Orleans, the city I had decided to stay in during my time in Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, was at least 90 minutes away. The problem was that I realised this the day I was set to check-in, and changing to a motel close to Pouilly cost me the first nights accommodation in Orleans. My second big error was that I had forgotten my initial plan, which was to stay in Tours an extra night and stop at a winery on the way to Sancerre, one which I had made an appointment with. The winery is located about 150 minutes away from Sancerre, and driving back for one appointment was not something I wanted to do. So due to my incompetence I then had to cancel this appointment, something I felt quite ashamed about and also disappointed. My mood picked up a lot and I managed to move on a little as I stopped at three chateaux in Touraine which were amazing. The castles in the Loire Valley are well known to be some of the most beautiful and grandiose in Europe, as most of them hark back to the Rennaisance period when the French monarchy was one of the most wealthy and influential.
The Sancerre Centre

The remaining appointments I had on my first day in Sancerre were both arranged quite last minute. The first one I had arranged was at Roland Tissier at 6:00pm (which is on the late side), and the other was with Alphonse Mellot. Alphonse had invited me to join some friends of his for lunch to then visit the cellars afterwards, but on the Sunday changed the invitation to dinner following the visit instead. Luckily I was able to postpone my visit to Tissier to the next day, and I was certainly glad I did because my visit to Domaine de Moussieres was one of the best of my time in France. It had taken me a long time to lock the Mellot family down as they had been incredibly busy following the vintage and I had almost given up hope. I had initially been talking to Emmanuel, Alphonse’s daughter and the commercial manager, but the past week I had been in contact with Alphonse himself. Alphonse’s emails were in French and thus I assumed he was reluctant or unable to speak English, and so I reciprocated with the assistance of Google Translate. I was delighted to find that both Emmanuel and Alphonse had excellent English, which was a relief after some difficult visits the week before in Chinon and Vouvray.

The entrance to the cellars of Alphonse Mellot

Alphonse is the 18th generation Mellot running the estate, and is the 4th generation Alphonse, his son being the 19th and 5th respectively. He is an icon in Sancerre and has a great if slightly eccentric reputation. It was quite fascinating being privy to the way he showed guests through the cellars and tasting, as he is both jovial, familiar and extremely humble. For example he stated that in 42 vintages he has only achieved the perfect balance in two vintages. His cellars are quite special and continue the trend within the Loire Valley, albeit with a lot more limestone in Sancerre. Currently there are parts of the cellars being renovated and extended, but there are many corners to it that cover quite an area under the village of Sancerre itself. The wines are fermented and aged in a variety of different ways depending on the terroir and the vintage, and there is a huge range of tank materials, sizes and shapes. The top quality white sancerre wines have a combination of 50% barrel and 50% cement tank fermentation, and many have some additional barrel ageing. The 2012 wines are exceptional, particularly in the white wines, and it happens that this is one of the vintages that Alphonse referred to.

One part of the cellars of Alphonse Mellot

After tasting through a range of 2012 wines in tank and barrel, we then adjourned to his private cellar where a range of topics were discussed that I only barely was able to follow. During this time we tasted various wines from bottle from different vintages, and it was clear to see that it takes a little bit longer for his wines to begin to show their true character. The vineyards are all tended bio-dynamically and the natural approach lends itself to character development. One of Alphonse’s other passions apart from wine and cuisine is aeronautics, and when I showed such interest in the model bi-plane in the cellar he invited me to join him flying the next time I visited. As he opened more of his own bottles he started to pick up various wines from others (some going back decades) and saying how good they were, but always speaking of his own wines with humility. With so many restaurants closing on Monday evenings this time of year we adjourned to the local inn for some very good simple regional food, which was significantly improved by the Chateau Cantemerle 1947 from Alphonse’s birth year. What an amazing evening I shared with Alphonse and his friends, capped off with a bottle to take with me to share with my parents when they arrive in three weeks. Click here to read my tasting notes.

One of Alphonse’s other loves

Click here to see more photos from my first day in Sancerre.

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