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Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Blanc La Moussière 2013

Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Blanc La Moussière 2013

I continue my journey through the grape varieties of the Loire Valley now with that which is surely best associated with the region in the minds of most drinkers, Sauvignon Blanc. I imagine most readers will already feel more than familiar with this variety, love it or loathe it, but hopefully I will be able to pull something new out of my hat here.

One very apparent feature of Sauvignon Blanc is that, with roughly equal plantings of the variety in existence, both Bordeaux and the Loire Valley have at one point or another laid a claim as its birthplace. “The variety has always seemed to have its origins in Bordeaux”, writes Jancis Robinson in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine (Oxford Press, 2nd edition, 1999) while in Wine Grapes (Penguin, 2012) José Vouillamoz writes “Sauvignon Blanc is unlikely to come from the Bordeaux area….it is more likely to have originated from the Val de Loire”. The evidence for this is not genetic, as DNA analysis has not been wholly helpful in the case of Sauvignon Blanc, one parent most probably being the rather similar-looking Savagnin and the other unknown, but from historical texts. For this, not for the first time, we have François Rabelais to thank. In chapter XXV of La vie très horrifique du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel (usually just abbreviated to Gargantua, published circa 1534) Rabelais writes of the harvest in autumn, and of the joys of eating the Loire’s grapes alongside meat and pastries, and in doing so gives us a veritable catalogue of Loire Valley varieties:

“Car notez que cest viande celeste manger a desieuner raisins auec fouace fraische; mesmement des pineaulx, des fiers, des muscadeaulx, de la bicane, et des foyrars pour ceulx qui sont constipez du ventre”.

Sauvignon Blanc is mentioned here under the synonym Fiers, which has a similar derivation as Sauvignon; whereas the latter is derived from sauvage, the former is from ferus, French and Latin for ‘wild’ respectively. The Latin form is also the origin of Fié, as in Fié Gris, a synonym for the variety Sauvignon Gris in common usage in the Loire Valley. Rabelais also gives us tantalising mentions of Pineaulx (perhaps Pineau de la Loire) and Muscadeaulx (surely a reference to Muscadet) here, as well as some less familiar names. All of this was written several centuries before Sauvignon Blanc begins to pop up in documents pertaining to Bordeaux, the first references dating to the early years of the 18th century.

Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Blanc La Moussière 2013

Of course, the fact that Sauvignon Blanc so completely dominates the vineyards of Central France, in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, from here its influence stretching out westwards to Menetou-Salon (really just a continuation of the Sancerre vineyards), Quincy and Reuilly, north to the Coteaux du Giennois and east to St Bris close to Chablis, could also be taken as an indication that this is the region of origin. But, I hear you ask, isn’t that just a post-phylloxera thing, the variety only appearing in a wave of early-20th century planting, replacing the outgoing Pinot Noir? Not at all; writing in Histoire de la Ville de Sancerre (Chez Gourdet, 1826), Abraham Malfuson lists for us the best vineyards for white wines, surely Sauvignon Blanc, citing a number of familiar locations including the slopes of Chavignol and Chêne Marchand in Bué.

Sadly one vineyard that doesn’t receive a mention is La Moussière, a very expansive lieu-dit covering at least 35 hectares in many different parcels next to the main road between Sancerre and Bourges. The terroir here is largely Saint Doulchard marl, of Kimmeridgian origin, and there are a variety of favourable south and southwest-facing exposures. Alphonse Mellot own approximately 90% of the parcels in the Moussière vineyard, all managed using biodynamic methods, and it is a significant source of fruit, the harvest here contributing to the entry-level La Moussière cuvée, as well as Génération XIX and Cuvée Edmond, two of the domaine’s top wines. The most commonly encountered cuvée is most certainly La Moussière though, and this weekend’s top wine was the 2013 Sancerre La Moussière. This is not quite a gin-clear wine, but it certainly has a very pale hue. The nose is very typical of this cuvée, which always shows a very soft, rather feminine minerality. It calls to mind perfumed chalk touched with citrus leaves, tangerine zest, with a lemon-lime-sherbet edge. It is certainly minerally but also rather effusive in style, with a lightly bitter, pithy hint of fruit wrapped around it all. There follows a gentle and supple palate, with good sense of bitterness to the fruit as suggested by the nose, with some textured substance and grip around the edges. Plenty of firm acidity keeps it lively. A long and pithy wine, with good character, and a success in what was – in the final stages at least – a rather challenging vintage. 16/20 (12/1/15)

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