Loire adventure: Melaric, Saumur

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It may have been May, but it felt like November as we arrived at Melaric in Saumur. It was cold, blustery and the rain beat down incessantly on the roof as we talked and tasted. This is the project of Mélanie and Aymeric Hilaire (above, in his cellar), two young vignerons whose fused names create the name of the domaine. We were hosted by Aymeric. His parents are from the region, and he returned here in 2005, doing vintage with Matthieu and Bernard Baudry.

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They started making wines in 2006, but in 2008 they bought vines: 4 hectares planted on nice terroir in the south of Saumur in Puy Notre Dame. Now they are half red and half white. ‘Here we are at the end of the massif Americain,’ says Aymeric. This is the bit of the Loire where the white chalk of the Paris basin yields to the schist of the western Loire.

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They have vineyards on a chalky slope, and he emphasised how useful the slope is here, because above 50 m you are less likely to get frosted. This year, a big frost year, they lost 10%. ‘We were very lucky.’

There are lots of interesting terroirs in Puy Notre Dame, but there aren’t many interesting wines because most of the grapes are being sold to large producers who specialize in producing sparkling wines. In Saumur Champigny a lot of the Chenin was removed 30 years ago because of the popularity of reds, but in Puy Notre Dame the whites were kept because of the sparkling wine production. So this is the only area in the region with white chalk soils and red and white grapes in equal proportion.

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Aymeric particularly likes Grolleau as a variety. Cabernet Franc, he says, is a very good grape for the region, but chalk soils are really needed. It’s a variety that doesn’t like hydric stress, and this can cause its tannins to get hard. Grass between the rows can compete for water, exacerbating the problem.

America wants their wines to be precise with as little sulfur dioxide as possible, and usually they’ll add a bit before bottling – perhaps 20 ppm. ‘When wine is strong it is better without,’ he says. They have a machine for preparing SO2 from volcanic elemental sulfur that was made by a biodynamic guy, and which is used by a few wine growers. It can be difficult to use, though, and Aymeric ended up making a practically sans soufre cuvée when he was learning how to use it.

THE WINES

Melaric Globules Rosés 2016 Saumur, Loire, France
This is ancestral method fizz, bottled with 20-25 g/l sugar, and then later disgorged. It’s lively and fresh with nice cherry and citrus notes. Fruity with some apple character. Lovely stuff that’s fresh and a bit sweet. 89/100

Melaric Billes de Roche Chenin Blanc 2015 Saumur, Loire, France
From the top of the slope between the yellow and white chalk. Stony and dry with nice weight and some nuttiness. Has pear, citrus and apple, and attractibe texture, showing some complexity. Spends a year in barrel and then 6 months in tank. 91/100

Melaric Clos de la Cerisae Chenin Blanc 2015 Saumur, Loire, France
This is a barrel sample, and hasn’t yet had any sulphites. They have two small parcels of Chenin in this vineyard. Mid-slope, white chalk soils. Complex, tight and mineral with a lovely acid structure. Stony and mineral with a hint of reduction and some subtle oak notes. Linear. 92-94/100

Melaric Les Fontanelles Chenin Blanc 2014 Saumur, Loire, France
They started making this cuvée with this vintage from rented vines. Beautifully reductive. Fresh, spicy and intense with a touch of matchstick. Citrus, pear and limes with nice weight and some mineral character. 94/100

Melaric Billes de Roche Chenin Blanc 2009 Saumur, Loire, France
Second vintage. Intense and spicy. Honeyed with lovely citrus, apple and pear fruit. Lively marmalade and pith characters. Still very fresh with a bit of sweetness and nice pear and spice notes. 93/100

Melaric Le Tandem 2015 Vin de France
60% Grolleau and 40% Cabernet Franc, 8 months in tank. Fresh, vivid and grippy with tight raspberry and cherry, and some pepper notes. Very lively. Grippy and vivid. 92/100

Melaric Le Clos Rousseau Grolleau 2016 Saumur, Loire, France
This is a cask sample. Vines 6 years old, this was whole bunch. Very ripe and concentrated with rich but balanced fruit. Peppery and intense with floral cherries and spice, and some meat. 92-94/100

Melaric Billes de Roche Rouge 2014 Saumur, Loire, France
This is Cabernet Franc with one year in barrel. Fruity and expressive with sweet raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Textured, showing nice fruitiness and fresh acidity. 92/100

Melaric Billes de Roche Rouge 2013 Saumur, Loire, France
Tricky year for reds. Savoury and gravelly with a grippy personality and some earthy notes. Leathery with dry tannins, but good with food? 88/100

Melaric Clos de la Cerisae Rouge 2013 Saumur, Loire, France
This spends two years in barrel and 6 months in tank. No sulphites. Old vines from very chalky soils. Concentrated, dense and vivid with raspberry, black cherry and blackcurrant, as well as some savoury, earthy hints. Juicy and bright with nice fruit and chalky tannins. Grippy but elegant. 93/100

Melaric Clos de la Cerisae Rouge 2012 Saumur, Loire, France
Complete with lovely balance. This is grippy yet fleshy with cherries and blackcurrants. Fresh showing nice raspberry fruit and good structure and weight. 94/100

Melaric Clos de la Cerisae Rouge 2010 Saumur, Loire, France
Aromatic red fruit nose with a savoury twist. Lovely texture, showing some earthiness and gravel and chalk notes. Tannic and intense with some gravelly grip on the finish. 91/100

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Melaric Funambule 2013 Coteaux de Saumur, Loire, France
10% alcohol and 150 g/l sugar. Yellow/gold colour. Powerful wit intense baked apple, melon and pear fruit as well as marmalade and spice notes. Great balance with a spicy finish and a savoury edge to the sweet fruit. 93/100

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Liquoreux de la Cerisae 2011 Vin de France
This has 300 g/l residual sugar. Powerful, intense and deep with a spicy, savoury edge to the concentrated raisin and marmalade flavours. Incredible concentration and notes of straw, herb and syrup. It’s powerful and has low SO2 so doesn’t last after it has been opened, but it’s so complex. 95/100

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