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Alphonse Mellot Les Herses Sancerre Rouge 2012
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
There is much controversy surrounding the origins of Sancerre. Certain historians attribute it to Julius Cesar, others to a Saxon settlement that is said to have been established during the reign of Charlemagne. It is however certain that its history goes back to the beginning of the Middle Ages, before the year 1000 and that a Castle was erected on this privileged site.
As far back as the XVI century, in 1513 to be exact, the local records mention the MELLOT family, whose life even at that time was governed by the seasons of the vine and the production of wines of excellent quality. The Mellot family, vinegrowers and wine merchants, was again mentioned during the siege of the town. They pursued their patient labours and continued to gain recognition because César Mellot was appointed as Wine Advisor to Louis XIV in 1698.
At the beginning of the XIX century, ALPHONSE MELLOT founded a tavern in Sancerre where one could savour the local wines and so began a flourishing trade that was to continue. In 1881 he was granted a licence to ship his wine throughout France and all over the World. This marked the beginning of a pacific conquest which has been pursued and developed by the family business from father to son ever since, with the eldest son continuing to bear the name of the Founder Alphonse.
Today, this century old winemaking tradition is perpetuated by Alphonse MELLOT, father and son, the 18th and 19th to bear the name.
Marked by its charming hilltop village in the easternmost territory of the Loire, Sancerre is famous for its racy, vivacious, citrus-dominant Sauvignon blanc. Its enormous popularity in 1970s French bistros led to its success as the go-to restaurant white around the globe in the 1980s.
While the region claims a continental climate, noted for short, hot summers and long, cold winters, variations in topography—rolling hills and steep slopes from about 600 to 1,300 feet in elevation—with great soil variations, contribute the variations in character in Sancerre Sauvignon blancs.
In the western part of the appellation, clay and limestone soils with Kimmeridgean marne, especially in Chavignol, produce powerful wines. Moving closer to the actual town of Sancerre, soils are gravel and limestone, producing especially delicate wines. Flint (silex) soils close to the village produce particularly perfumed and age-worthy wines.
About ten percent of the wines claiming the Sancerre appellation name are fresh and light red wines made from Pinot noir and to a lesser extent, rosés. While not typically exported in large amounts, they are well-made and attract a loyal French following.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Villages or Cru level wines.