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Alphonse Mellot Les Pénitents 2015

Alphonse Mellot Les Pénitents 2015

The Loire Valley is a region rich in vinous curiosities, from rare grape varieties to far flung appellations some of which lie closer to Côte Rôtie and Chambertin than they do to any of the Loire Valley’s more recognised regions. One such curiosity is the Côtes de la Charité, a wine region which boasts an impressive history, the vineyards having been planted by religious acolytes who arrived here from Burgundy in 1059. On the banks of the Loire they built a huge religious settlement, including a monastery and a church which, at the time, was the second largest in the Christian world (the largest being the Benedictine church at Cluny from which they originated).

The vineyards grew to cover hundreds if not thousands of hectares, and despite the church and town being ravaged by fire during the Middle Ages when the 19th century arrived there were still 1,300 hectares planted, an area very close to that of modern-day Pouilly-Fumé. It was of course phylloxera that sent the region into decline, a vicious spiral the turning of which was reinforced by the two World Wars of the early 20th century; there was simply not the appetite, nor the manpower, to restore the vineyards to their once impressive expanse. It was not until the 1980s that the region saw some recovery, beginning life as the Vin de Pays des Coteaux Charitois, before under the new Indication Géographique Protégée system it morphed into the Côtes de la Charité.

Alphonse Mellot Côtes de la Charité Les Pénitents 2015

Planted on a slope of Bathonian limestone like that underfoot in Morey-Saint-Denis (which lies directly east of Charité-sur-Loire, at a distance of just 170 kilometres), and planted largely with Chardonnay (50% of the vineyard) and Pinot Noir (40%), the remaining 10% being Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris (known locally as Pinot Beurrot), it is a fascinating addition to the Ligérian vineyard, one which I investigated last year through this tasting of twenty wines from the region, as well as the publication of this guide to the Côtes de la Charité. Today there are still only 50-or-so hectares planted up here, but it is a region rich in potential, and it has attracted a number of growers particularly from Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre. One of the most noteworthy is, of course, Alphonse Mellot.

Alphonse Mellot was an early investor in the region; I recall first encountering the wines at a Biodyvin tasting nearly fifteen years ago. The wines of this domaine are also the strongest in the region, at least in my admittedly limited experience. The fruit is vinified and aged in the family’s extensive cellars which run beneath the streets of Sancerre, and I have tasted the wines there from barrel more times than I can remember. This particular bottle, however, I came across on my recent travels through the Loire Valley, and I was unable to resist the temptation to pick up a bottle. The 2015 Côtes de la Charité Les Pénitents from Alphonse Mellot is 100% Pinot Noir of course, and it shows an appropriate density and hue in the glass, with a good depth of colour with some touches of darker maturity to it. This is matched by an attractive nose, presenting degraded cherry fruit mixed with notes of tobacco and leather. It feels gently textured on the palate, showing a chalky and attractive backbone of well integrated tannins but also a fresh and vigorous backbone of acidity. It holds together well on the palate, with a charming substance, ripe but evolving flavours, and some sense of vivacity. All in all this is a composed style which is maturing well, and this wine does nothing to dissuade me that the Mellot family are making one of the better examples coming out of the Côtes de la Charité vineyard today. 92/100 (17/2/20)

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