Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Génération XIX 2003
If there is one recent vintage in Europe I promised myself I would skip, certainly when it comes to white wines anyway, it is 2003. A flat and flabby William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2003 (the note doesn't seem to be in my Fèvre profile - I must have electronically mislaid it - I hate it when that happens) was the first indicator, that I recall at least, that the summer heat had caused real problems. I had a few samples that demonstrated some winemakers had made very drinkable if not the most refreshing wines, such as at Domaine Mattes-Sabran in Corbières, and also I noticed that some wines from lesser terroirs, such as the Chablis from William Fèvre again, or even the Petit Chablis from JM Brocard, had done well. But the usually grand wines were to be avoided; another blowsy example, the recently tasted Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg 2003, only seemed to confirm this.
But what of the northerly Loire? Although perhaps afforded some protection by their latitude, the vineyards and the vignerons here did not get off entirely free of consequences. The 2003 Cuvée Alexandre from Bernard Fouquet is stunning, yet not typical, and the same could be said of many of the wines from Vouvray. Muscadet-heads also write off their favourites as atypical; suckers for Sancerre don't find the acidity they usually crave. Are there any decent white wines at all?
Yes, there are. Now those hoarders of Sancerre who relish the rolling acidity it usually offers won't find it here, nevertheless this is a balanced and very finely composed wine, with no hint of the flabbiness that I feared. I bought it by mistake, in case you are wondering; I like the wines of Alphonse Mellot very much indeed, and with a momentary lapse in my 2003 flabby-wine-guard I had purloined this bottle before I realised what I was doing. Never mind; Sancerre always brings back fine memories of visiting the hill-top town, a memory spiced by the consumption of copious amounts of beer in one of the bars dotted around the town square, alongside some serious wine tasting as well. Sancerre was, for me, a revelation early on in my wine-drinking career; a realisation that there were wines out there that knocked everything on the high street into a cocked hat, and to really enjoy and understand wine you simply have to be a little more proactive than choosing your drinking from the wines on the shelves of the local supermarket. This wine, the Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Blanc Génération XIX 2003, is very much a wine in that vein. The nose offers up some clean, grassy elements, but there is a deep, enticing aroma alongside, which takes some time to characterise as it is a little atypical for Sancerre; the scent of honeyed minerals is a rich, opulent characteristic which reflects the heat and the vintage I feel. It is pervasive and yet subtle, so it adds to the wine rather than spoiling it, as it does not take it beyond the realms of Loire Sauvignon. The palate is full bodied and very attractive, and I'm glad to report there is some decent acidity here, and also some firm, grippy tannins, which are likely to be oak-derived (this is barrel fermented and aged in oak, although thankfully these practices don't otherwise manifest strongly on the palate). But most pleasingly there is a fine vinosity, the texture and structure combining to give a rounded, well-knit feel which suffuses the palate, only yielding to those tannins right at the end. This is very good, despite showing some elements of the vintage. That isn't to say, of course, that other vintages won't be much better; reports from the Loire suggest that 2005 has been a particularly dramatic success. One more reason not to buy any more 2003s, I suppose. 16.5/20. (7/8/06)