All suss terroir

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

It has been more than 15 months since I returned from a pivotal, seminal and transmogrifying week in Alsace. The thoughts transposed to words continue to flow freely and with crystalline clarity. This may be the curtain call on that trip. Or not.

Type in the words “Alsace” and “philosophy” into a Google search page and the results will tell a Grand Cru story. The Alsace home page launches from terroir. It has to. Every winery, trade, marketing or governing organization’s website is ingrained to emphasize the rubric, to explain the true essence of Alsace wine. The local philosophy, indicating the cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine, is both necessary and fundamental. There is nothing remotely parenthetical about the notion of terroir, not in Alsace.

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Related – In a Grand Cru State of mind

As wine geeks we are constantly seeking it out and sometimes we imagine it, chat it up when it’s not really there. After we are immersed in Alsace, we cannot deny its existence. Terroir, defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate.” Or, goûts de terroir, as intaste of the earth.” Wherever wine is made around the world, soil is always as important, if not more important than any facet of the winemaking oeuvre. In Alsace, it is religion. I suss it, you suss it and in Alsace, they might say, “we all suss terroir.”

Alsace presents as a long strip of stupidly beautiful, verdant vistas, wedged between the faults and valleys forged with the Vosges Mountains on its west side and the Germany buffering Rhine River to the east. To consider its location as a province of France, drive 500 kilometres east of Paris and draw a line south from Strasbourg, to Colmar and to Basel. Wars have seen to make sure the region can never be too comfortable with its identity, causing an ever-annoying oscillation in governance.

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal's Fred Fortin

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin

Alsatians are the possessed refugees of Europe, tossed around like orphaned children from one foster family to another. That they can be so comfortable in their own skin is to accept their conceit as a French paradox, through ignoring its Franco-Germanic past, its passage back and forth between hands and its current state as a region governed by France. The confluence of cultures and of shared borders (and airports) would think to cause a crisis of identity. The names of towns and villages may act out a who’s who or what’s what of French sobriquet and German spitzname. None of that matters. The people, the places, the food and the wine are purely and unequivocally in ownership of their own vernacular, dialect and culture: Alsatian.

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Phillipe Blanck in the Schlossberg
Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Related – A Blanck slate in Alsace

When a winemaker wants to lay an insult upon you he will say something like “oh, that’s so Anglo-Saxon.” Ouch. He will mean it, for sure, but he will also grace you with a wink and a smile. He likes you and he respects your choice to come from far away to learn something of his wines. And you like him. The winemaker will also complement you when your palate aligns with his, when your thoughts intuit something about his acuity and his groove. His flattery will be genuine. The winemaker will pour old vintages and without a hem or a haw. She will share generously, not because she wants to sell more, but because she wants better people to drink her wine.

To ascertain a grip on the Alsace codex it must begin in the vineyard. The steep slopes, zig-zagging ridges and fertile valleys are composed of highly intricate, alternating and complex geological compositions. The landscape switches repeatedly from clay to marl, from calcaire (limestone) to schist, from volcanic to granitic rock. Each vineyard and even more parochial, each plot contributes to define the wine that will be made from that specific micro-parcel. The wine grower and winemaker’s job is to treat the soil with utmost respect. To plow the land, to add organic material, to refuse the use of fertilizers and to spray with solutions composed of non-chemical material.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture is widespread across the globe but Alsace is a leader in the practices, particularly in the latter’s holistic, asomatous way. Though more than 900 producers make wines, including many who do not partake in a bio-supernal and subterraneal kinship with the vines and the earth, the ones who do are fanatical about their winegrowing ways. Alsatian winemakers bond with their fruit, by employing the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s teachings as a predicate from which to apply spiritual connections to the physical act of tending vines.

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Related – It was Josmeyer’s imagination

The belief is that great wine can only be made from healthy, natural and disease resistant plants. Steiner’s studies on chemical fertilizers looked into the effect on plants growing near bombs in the earth. The growth was observed to be abnormal and unhealthy. Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer compared this to humans, who eat too much salt and thus need to drink too much. I tasted more than 150 naturally made wines from biodynamically farmed soils. The proof of quality and complexity is in the glass.

The winemaker of Alsace shows a respect for the earth that might be seen as a verduous variation on the teachings of theologian, philosopher, physician, medical missionary and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. The Alsatian-born Schweitzer gave to the world his theory on the “reverence for life,” a term he used for a universal concept of ethics. “He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of the individual’s resources.” The biodynamic approach, through its human to vegetable relationship, echoes the concept. Careful care not to disrupt the balance of nature allows the vines to develop the strength to survive and to flourish in less than optimum climatic conditions, especially during times of drought. The quality of grapes and in turn, the complexity of wine, is the result.

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

The focus on soil and terroir is ultimately disseminated into the idea of tasting minerality in wine, a most contentious aspect of the wine tasting and writing debate. Nary an expert will admit that the impart of trace minerals can be ascertained from a wine’s aroma and most believe that it can be found in taste. An American geologist debunked the mineral to taste theory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Portland Oregon. “The idea is romantic and highly useful commercially, but it is scientifically untenable,” wrote Alex Maltman, a professor at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Maltman’s claim is simple. Vines absorb minerals from the earth but the amount is far too small for human detection.

Christophe Ehrhart of Domaine Josmeyer in Wintzenheim agrees to disagree. Ehrhart concedes that the quantitative number is small (only three to five percent) for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine. The remainder is a consequence of photosynthesis. Ever the spiritual and natural advocate, Christophe borrows from the writings of David Lefebvre. The journalist and wine consultant’s The minerality from David Lefebvre tells the story of why natural wines without sulfur express minerality. Lefebvre makes clear the argument that naturally-farmed (biodynamic and/or, but necessarily organic) vines are qualitatively richer in (salt minerals) than those raised with chemicals. “All fermentation, from milk to cheese, from grape to wine, is accompanied by the appearance of the component saline, one could say mineral, in the taste of the fermented product.” Chemicals and fertilizers inhibit growth and vigor, ostensibly wiping out an already minuscule number. If food is available at the surface, vine roots will feed right there. They will then lose their ability to create the beneficial bacteria necessary to metabolize deep earth enzymatic material. They essentially abandon their will to fight for nutrition deep within the fissures of the rock. Lefebvre’s conclusion? “All biocides and other products that block mineralization, such as SO2, inhibit the expression mineral.”

At the end of the day Lefebvre is a wine taster and not a scientist and the argument must be considered within the realm of the natural world. “The taste of stone exists in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire (all France) when the winegrower uses organic farming and indigenous, winemaking yeasts.” American made wine rarely does this, though change is occurring. Ontario winemakers are different. Taste the wines of Tawse or Southbrook and note the difference. Or, taste the difference a vegetable, like a tomato, or a piece of fruit, like a peach tastes when picked straight from the garden, or orchard, as opposed to the conventional piles of the supermarket. There can be no argument there.

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val Photo (c): Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

A week tasting through nearly 300 wines in Alsace may sound exhausting when in fact it is an experience that had me constantly, “as the expression goes, gespannt wie ein Flitzebogens,” or as it is loosely employed from the German in the Grand Budapest Hotel, “that is, on the edge of my seat.” I watched Wes Anderson’s film on the Air France flight over from Toronto to Paris and enjoyed it so much that I watched it again on my return. That kind of spiritual, dry European humour is not unlike that of the fraternity of Alsatian winemakers and how they discuss their wines. From Olivier Zind-Humbrecht to Pierre Blanck, to MauriceBarthelmé and to Jean-Pierre Frick there is an Edward Norton to Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson to Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody to Ray Fiennes affinity. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. The aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

The uninitiated into the wines of Alsace think it is one big pool of sickly sweet and cloying white wine. If perhaps this were, at least to some extent, once true, it is no longer. The progressive and philosophically attentive producer picks grapes (especially the particularly susceptible Pinot Gris) before the onset of botrytis. If a dry, mineral-driven style is the goal, picking must be complete before what Phillippe Zinck refers to as D-Day. Pinot Gris goes over the edge in an instant, even more so because of the advancing maturation due to the warm temperatures induced by Global Warming.

Sommerberg Grand Cru

Sommerberg Grand Cru

The global wine community’s ignorance to the multeity of Alsace wines, “as mutually producing and explaining each other…resulting in shapeliness,” needs addressing and so steps in the valedictorian, Christophe Ehrhart. The Josmeyer viniculturalist devised a system, a sugar scale to grace a bottle’s back label. Whites are coded from one to five, one being Sec (Dry) and five Doux (Sweet). The codification is not as simple as just incorporating residual sugar levels. Total acidity is taken into consideration against the sugar level, like a Football team’s plus-minus statistic. In Alsace the relationship between sugar, acidity and PH is unlike any other white wine region. Late Harvest (Vendanges Tardives, or Spätlese in German) is Late Harvest but Vin desprit sec or demi-sec in Alsace should not generally be correlated to similar distinctions in Champagne or the Loire. In Alsace, wines with vigorous levels of acidity and even more importantly PH bedeck of tannin and structure. Perceived sweetness is mitigated and many whites, though quantified with residual sugar numbering in the teens, or more, can seem totally dry.

Returning to the idea of increasingly warmer seasonal temperatures, the red wines of Alsace have improved by leaps and bounds. “We could not have made Pinot Noir of this quality 20 years ago,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Oh, the humanity and the irony of it all.

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

The Vineyards of Domaine Albert Mann
photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/albertmannwines

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

This sort of quirky response to nature and science is typical of the artisan winemaker. There is more humour, lightness of being and constater than anywhere else on this winemaking planet. There just seems to be a collective and pragmatic voice. Maurice makes a 10,000 case Riesling called Cuvee Albert, “because I have to make a wine for the market.” Yet Maurice is also a dreamer and a geologist. To him, “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist.”

Domaine Albert Mann’s Jacky Barthelmé: “Before Jesus Christ was born we have had vines here in the Schlossberg. So it is a very old story.” The Alsace vigneron is only human and works in a vinous void of certitude. They do not fuck with their land or attempt to direct its course. The young Arnaud Baur of Domaine Charles Baur insists that you “don’t cheat with your terroir or it will catch up with you. You will be exposed. You can make a mistake but you will still lose the game.” What an even more wonderful world it would be if he only understood the complexity in his multiple entendre.

Philippe Blanck is a philosopher, a dreamer, an existentialist and a lover. He is Descartes, the aforementioned Bill Murray and Bob Dylan rolled into one, a man not of selection but of election. He is both prolific and also one who buys the whole record catalogue, not just the hits. He opens old vintages freely and without hesitation. When asked how often does he have the opportunity to open wines like these he answers simply, “when people come.”

Pierre Frick et Fils

Pierre Frick et Fils

Then there is the far-out Jean-Pierre Frick, the man who let a 2006 Auxerrois ferment for five years before bottling it in 2011. “After one year I check the wine and he is not ready. I see him after two years and he says I am not ready. So I wait. After five years he says, I am finished. So I put him in the bottle.” On his Riesling 2012 he says, “This is a wine for mouse feeding.” Upon cracking open his remarkable, natural winemaking at its peak 2010 Sylvaner he chuckles like M. Gustave and smirks, “he is a funny wine.”

Few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. The exploration of its Grand (and other vital) Cru (for the purposes of this trip) was through soils (or not) variegated of clay, sandy clay, marl, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and sandstone. To complicate things further, a Cru can be composed of more than one type of terra firma and still others have more than one arrangement within the particular plot. All very complicated and yet so simple at the same time. The Crus tasted came from the following:

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Schlossberg Grand Cru, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Granitique/Granite (Brand, Herrenreben, Kaefferkopf, Langenberg, Linsenberg, Schlossberg, Sommerberg)
Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

Domaine Schoenheitz Linsenberg Riesling 1990, Ac Alsace, France (Winery, 196618, WineAlign)

During a picnic, on a plateau up on the Linsenberg lieu-dit set above the Wihr-au-Val, this 24 year-old bottle acts as a kind of Alsatian Trou Normand. A pause between courses, which involves alcohol and you need to ask for its proof of age. Culled from deep dug vines out of stony and shallow granite soil. Soil rich in micas with a fractured basement. From a dream vintage with marvellous semi-low yields and a student of south-facing, self-effacing steep steppes. A sun worshipper prodigy of winemaker Henri Schoenheitz, a child of terroir du solaire. Rich and arid in simultaneous fashion (the RS is only 8-10 g/L), the years have yet to add mileage to its face and its internal clock. It may ride another 15, or 20. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted June 2015  @VinsSchoenheitz

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Domaine Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ $27.70 11903328WineAlign)

From fruit drawn off the granitic Grand Cru of the Brand but not labeled as such. Laser focus (what Jean Boxler wine is not) and texture. Possessive of the unmistakable Brand tang, like mineral rich Burgundy. The minerality ann the acidity from the granite are exceptional in a wine known as “Pinot Blanc Reserve.” As good a developing PB are you are ever likely to taste. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler Riesling Old Vines Sommerberg Grand Cru 2013, Ac Alsace, France (SAQ, 11698521WineAlign)

A direct expression of winemaker (since 1996) Jean Boxler and his 150 year-old casks. This is Riesling suspended in the realm of dry extract, texture and a precision of finesse rarely paralleled in Alsace. It reads the truth of facteur for Sommerberg, its face, slope and pitch. Exceeds the clarity of the younger parcel in its contiguous continuance of learning, of pure, linear, laser styling. There is more maturity here and the must had to have been exceptional. “The juice must be balanced when it goes into the vats or the wine will not be balanced,” insists Jean Boxler. And he would be correct. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler Tokay-Pinot Gris Sommerberg Grand Cru 1996, Ac Alsace, France (Alsace)

From volcanic and granitic soils together combining for and equating to structure. A matter concerning “purity of what you can do from a great ground,” notes Master Sommelier Romain Iltis. Perception is stronger than reality because despite the sugar, the acidity reign to lead this to be imagined and reasoned as a dry wine. Ripe, fresh, smoky, with crushed hazelnut and seamless structure. Stays focused and intense in mouthfeel. Takes the wine down a long, long road. Quite remarkable. No longer labeled “Takay” after the 2007 vintage. Drink 2015-2026.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Calcaire/Limestone (Engelgarten, Furstentum, Goldert, Rosenbourg, Rotenberg, Schoffweg)

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

The Marl accentuated Hengst and its muscular heft receives more Barthelmé limelight but the always understated Furstentum Grand Cru is a special expression of the variety. As refined as Pinot Gris can be, with a healthy level of residual sugar, “like me” smiles Marie-Thérèse Barthelmé. The sugar polls late to the party while the acidity swells in pools, but the finish is forever. “Pinot Gris is a fabulous grape but we serve it too young,” says Maurice. “It needs time to develop its sugars.” Truffle, mushroom, underbrush and stone fruit would match well to sweet and sour cuisine. Flinty mineral arrives and despite the residual obstacle, is able to hop the sweet fencing. The potential here is boundless. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @albertmannwines

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Domaine Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Goldert 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

From the village of Gueberschwihr and from soil composed of sandstone, chalk and clay. The vines average 50 years in age and the wine saw a maturation on the lees for 11 months. Philippe Zinck notes that “the terroir is stronger than the variety.” If any grape would stand to contradict that statement it would be Gewürztraminer but the ’10 Goldert begs to differ. Its herbal, arid Mediterranean quality can only be Goldert talking. Though it measures 20 g/L of RS it tastes almost perfectly dry. It reeks of lemongrass, fresh, split and emanating distilled florals. This is classic and quintessential stuff. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Goldert Grand Cru 1985

Tasted from magnum at Les Millésimes Alsace, a wine described by Caroline Furstoss as “unusual for late harvest,” because the terroir is simply stronger than the variety. Another economically non-viable low yield LH, “from a vintage more on the reductive than the oxidative side.” Even at 30 years it requires aeration and time to open up. Travels from spicy to smoky with that air. There is a density in bitterness, an attrition miles away from resolve and a promise for rebate, if further patience is granted. The spices inherent are ground, exhumed and combine with the base elements to rise atomically. A spatially magnificent wine of sugars not yet clarified and an acquired taste not quite elucidated. A taste of an ancient kind. Drink 2015-2035.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Marno-Calcaire/Marl-Limestone (Altenberg de Bergheim, Clos Hauserer, Eichberg, Hengst, Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, Mambourg, Mandelberg, Osterberg, Pfersigberg, Sonnenglanz, Steingrubler)

Marcel Deiss Schoffweg “Le Chemins Des Brebis” 2010, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $60.95, WineAlign)

A pulsating and metallic, mineral streak turns the screws directly through this spirited Bergheim. From Schoffweg, one of nine Deiss Premier Crus planted to Riesling and Pinots. A pour at Domaine Stentz Buecher from fellow winemaker Carolyn Sipp simulates a trip, to stand upon a scree of calcaire, the earth below a mirror, reflecting above a multitude of stars. “He’s a character,” smiles Sipp, “and perhaps even he does not know the actual blend.” The amalgamate is surely Riesling dominant, at least in this impetuous ’10, a savant of fleshy breadth and caracoling acidity. The Schoffweg does not sprint in any direction. It is purposed and precise, geometric, linear and prolonging of the Deiss magic. This is a different piece of cake, an ulterior approach to assemblage, “a bigger better slice” of Alsace. It should not be missed.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $114.95, WineAlign)

In a select portfolio tasting that includes a trio of highly mineral yet approachable 2010’s (Rotenberg, Schoffberg and Schoenenbourg), the ’11 Mambourg stands out for its barbarous youth. It seems purposely reductive and strobes like a hyper-intensified beacon. Rigid, reserved and unforgiving, the Mambourg is also dense and viscous. Acts of propellant and wet concrete circulate in the tank, compress and further the dangerous liaison. This is a brooding Deiss, so different than the jurassic citrus from Rotenberg, the terroir monster in Schoffberg and the weight of Schoenenbourg. In a field of supervised beauty, the Mambourg may seem like punishment but there can be no denying the attraction. Five years will alter the laws of its physics and soften its biology. The difficult childhood will be forgotten. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Marcel Deiss Langenberg “La Longue Colline” 2011, Bergheim, Alsace, France (Agent, $48.95, WineAlign)

Rogue Alsace, classic Deiss five varietal field blend specific to one hangout. The steep, terraced, granite Langenberg, terroir from Saint Hippolyte. Deiss coaxes, expects and demands precocious behaviour from four supporting varieties to lift and place the Riesling, with the intent being a result in “salty symphony.” This is approachable, something 2011 could not have been easy to accomplish. The accents are spice, sapidity and acidity, from the granite, for the people. Isn’t this what a mischievous brew should be about? Drink 2015-2022. Tasted June 2014  @LeSommelierWine

Léon Beyer Riesling Cuvée Des Comtes D’Eguisheim 1985, Alsace, France (316174, $50.00, WineAlign)

I wonder is any Alsace Riesling sublimates history, religion and occupation more than Cuvée Des Comtes D’eguisheim. It breathes the past; of popes, Augustinians of Marbach, Benedictines of Ebersmunster, Cistercians of Paris and Dominicans of Colmar. From the limestone-clay for the most part of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg and only produced in exceptional vintages. In 1985 low yields, same for botrytis and then 29 years of low and slow maturation. In 2014, is the herbal, aromatic, limestone salinity a case of vineyards, grape or evolution? All of the above but time is in charge. It has evolved exactly as it should, as its makers would have wished for. It is ready to drink. The defined minerality, with fresh lemon and a struck flint spark has rounded out, without the need for sugar. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @TandemSelection

Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

Arnaud Baur understands his place and his family’s position in the Alsace continuum. “You can make a mistake and you can still lose the game.” His use of entendre is subconsciously brilliant. In 2009 the warmth went on seemingly forever and so Baur did not even bother trying to make a dry Riesling.  “We really respect the vintage,” says Arnaud. Meanwhile at 18 g/L RS and 7.0 g/L TA the balance is struck. Many grapes were dried by the sun, ripeness was rampant, flavours travelled to tropical and acidity went lemon linear. The 14.2 per cent alcohol concludes these activities. Matched with foie gras, the vintage is marinated and married. There is certainly some crème fraîche on the nose and the wine plays a beautiful, funky beat. As much fun and quivering vibration as you will find in Alsace Marno-Calcaire. Drink 2015-2024.  Tasted June 2014

Dinner wines at L'Epicurien, Colmar

Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar

Charles Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Winery)

A good vintage for Riesling and considering the heat, an even better one for Gewürztraminer. The vineyard offers 50-70cm of clay atop Jurassic yellow limestone where roots can penetrate the rock. They suck the life into this enzymatic white. This, of digestibility, “a wine you don’t want to drink two glasses of, but three.” Delicious, clean, precise Gewürz that Mr. Baur recommends you “drink moderately, but drink a lot.” Arnaud is very proud of this ’07, for good reason. Two actually. Balance and length. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted June 2014

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711, WineAlign)

Tasted not long after bottling, the yet labeled ’13 is drawn from a vintage with a touch of botrytis. “We don’t sell too much of this,” admits Maurice Barthelmé. Along with the sweet entry there are herbs and some spice, in layers upon layers. Almost savoury, this interest lies in the interchange between sweet and savour, with stone fruit (peach and apricot) elevated by a feeling of fumée. A playful, postmodernist style of short fiction. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ $41.50 11343711WineAlign)

In 2008 the brothers Barthelmé used the Hengst’s strength and the vintage to fashion a remarkable Pinot Gris. It is blessed of antiquity, like concrete to bitters, with power, tension and a posit tub between fruit and sugar. At 34 g/L RS and 7.6 g/L TA there is enough centrifuge to whirl, whorl and pop, culminating in a healthy alcohol at 14 per cent. Quite the reductive Pinot Gris, to this day, with a sweetness that is manifested in mineral flavours, glazed in crushed rocks. “It smells like mushroom you threw into a dead fire,” notes Fred Fortin. This is the bomb. Needs four more years to develop another gear. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Domaine Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Steingrubler 2008, Alsace, France (Winery)

From marly-limestone-sandstone, “a fa-bulous terroir,” says Maurice with a smile. The “stone carrier wagon” is mostly calcaire, especially in the middle slope. This has a roundness, an approachability. It really is clean, clean, Gewürztraminer. It’s erotic, gorgeous, certainly not slutty or pornographic. The colder limestone preserves the freshness, with a need for magnesium, to cool the factor further and to develop the terpenes. Gelid and stone cold cool wine. Drink 2018-2035.  Tasted June 2015  @albertmannwines  @Smallwinemakers

Bott Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 2010, Alsace, France (Agent)

The Mandelberg receives the early morning sun and so this Grand Cru is an early ripener and the first of the Bott-Geyls to be picked. The added warmth of 2010 introduced noble rot into a vineyard that often avoids it so the residual sugar here is elevated to an off-dry (even for Alsace) number of 30 g/L. The rush to pick in this case preserved the natural acidity, allowing the flint to speak. Additional notes of cream cheese and formidable dry extract have helped to balance the sweetness. Truly exceptional Riesling from Christophe Bott-Geyl. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @bott_geyl  @DanielBeiles

  1. Calcaro-gréseux/Limestone-Sandstone (Bergweingarten, Zinkoepfle)

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

The vines of southeast exposure are in the 35 year-old range for this Vin moelleux, “young vines” says Jean-Pierre Frick. “I am a defender of Sylvaner.” This ’10 is freshly opened, as opposed to the ’09 poured after sitting open a week. That ’09’s healthy amount of noble rot is not repeated in this ’10, what Frick refers to as “a funny wine.” A two year fermentation and a potential for 17 per cent alcohol (it’s actually in the 14-15 range), a touch of spritz and no sulphur means it goes it alone, natural, naked, innocent. It’s a passionate, iconoclastic Sylvaner, distilled and concentrated from and in lemon/lime. It may carry 53 g/L of sugar but it also totes huge acidity. Enamel stripping acidity. Full of energy, that is its calling, its niche, its category. The honey is pure and despite the level of alcohol it’s as though it has never actually fermented. Natural winemaking at the apex, not out of intent but from a base and simply purposed necessity. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014  @LeCavisteTO

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

  1. Sablo-Argileux/Sandy-Clay (Schlossberg)

Domaine Albert Mann Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2008, Alsace, France (SAQ 11967751 $48.25, WineAlign)

What a fantastic expression of the Schlossberg, like a cold granite countertop. A Riesling that tells you what is essentiality in granite from what you thought might be the sensation of petrol. Full output of crushed stone, flint and magnesium, but never petrol. Now just beginning to enter its gold stage, just beginning to warm up, in energy, in the sound of the alarm clock. “You can almost see the rock breaking and the smoke rising out,” remarks Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross. A definitive sketch with a 12 g/L sugar quotient lost in the structure of its terroir. A Schlossberg a day keeps the doctor away. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted June 2014

Related – Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Domaine Weinbach, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Argilo-calcaro-gréseux/Clay-Limestone-Sandstone (Goldert, Vorbourg)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011), Alsace, France (Winery)

“He has fermented five years,” says Jean-Pierre Frick, stone faced, matter of factly. “That’s how long he took.” Here, one of the most impossible, idiosyncratic and unusual wines made anywhere in the world. On on hand it’s a strange but beautiful experiment. On another there can be no logical explanation as to why one would bother. The third makes perfect sense; allowing a wine to ferment at its own speed, advocate for itself and become what it inherently wanted to be. Auxerrois with a little bit of sweetness (16 g/L RS) and a kindred spirit to the Jura (and with a potential of 15 per cent alcohol). This is drawn from the lieu-dit terroir Krottenfues, of marl-sandstone soils in the hills above the Grand Cru Vorbourg. Tasting this wine is like slumbering through a murky and demurred dream. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

  1. Argilo-calcaire/Clay-Limestone (Eichberg, Engelberg, Kanzlernerg, Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr, Steinert)

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc Terroir 2011, Alsace, France (BCLDB 414557 $15.79, WineAlign)

From 35 year-old vines on Eguisheim’s argilo-calcaire slopes with straight out acidity, trailed by earth-driven fruit. Less floral than some and pushed by the mineral. A difficult vintage that saw a full heat spike to cause a mid-palate grape unction. Pinot Blanc with a late vintage complex because of that sun on the mid slope. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Gris Terroir 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

From chalk and clay soils surrounding the Eichberg Grand Cru, this is a decidedly terroir-driven style and far from overripe. In fact, Philippe Zinck is adamant about picking time, especially with Pinot Gris. “The most tricky grape to harvest in Alsace,” he tells me. So hard to get serious structure and many growers are duped by high brix. Philippe tells of the 24-hour varietal picking window, the “D-Day” grape. Zinck’s ’12 is pure, balanced and bound by its earthy character. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2014  @domainezinck  @LiffordON

Pierre Frick Muscat Grand Cru Steinert Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010, Alsace, France (Winery)

“I like acidity, whoo-ahh,” says Pierre Frick, dry as Monsieur Ivan. The sugar on top of acidity here, it’s exciting. This one is a gift from nature, for culture. So interesting, a dream, a story. This has a citrus sweetness, telling a story never before experienced. There’s a depth of reduced apricot syrup, pure, natural, holy. “Tell no one. They’ll explain everything.” Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted June 2014

  1. Volcano-gréseux/Volcanic sandstone (Kitterlé, Muenchberg)

Pierre Frick Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1992, Alsace, France (Winery)

From Argilo-Calcaire vineyards flanking the Rot Murlé, at a time when a minor amount of sulphuring was employed (1999 was their first sulphur-free vintage). Was Demeter certified, in 1992! This is all about intensity and acidity. An incredibly natural dessert wine, upwards of 150 g/L RS but balanced by nearly 10 g/L TA. The power is relentless, the finish on the road to never-ending. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Domaine Ostertag Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 1996, Alsace, France (Agent, $65, WineAlign)

From clay and limestone, fully aged in barrel, taking, sending and stratifying in and away from its own and everyone else’s comfort zone. Only the best barrels would do and yet the quality of the wood thought aside, this is Ostertag’s unique and fully autocratic take on Tokay-PG. Stands out with a structure wholly singular for the overall prefecture, with a twenty year note of white truffle, handled and enhanced by the wood maturation. Yellow fruits persist as if they were picked just yesterday but the glass is commandeered by the complex funk. It’s nearly outrageous, bracing and yet the flavour urged on by the aromatics return to their youth. To citron, ginger and tropical unction. This is oscillating and magnificent. Drink 2015-2026. Tasted June 2014  @TheLivingVine

  1. Argilo-Granitique/Clay-Granite (Kaefferkopf, Sonnenberg)

Audrey et Christian Binner Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010, Alsace France (Winery)

A blend of Gewürztraminer (60 per cent), Riesling (30) and Muscat (10) that spent two years in foudres. Christian has no time for technicalities, specs and conventions. “I just make wine.” At 13.5 per cent alcohol and 20 g/L RS the expectation would be vitality and striking lines but it’s really quite oxidative, natural and nearly orange. “But it’s OK. It’s the life,” he adds. An acquired, unique and at times extraordinary taste, complex, demanding, like Frick but further down a certain line. “For me, to be a great Alsace wine, it must be easy to drink. You have to pout it in your body.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

  1. Volcanique/Clay-Granite (Rangen)

Related – Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

  1. Marno-Calcaire-gréseux/Marl- Limestone-Sandstone (AltenbourgKirchberg de Ribeauvillé)
  1. Volcano-sédiment/Volcanic Sediment (Rangen)
  1. Graves du quaternaire/Alluvial (Herrenweg de Turckheim)

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Olivier Humbrecht and Godello
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

  1. Roche Volcanique/Volcanic rocks (Rangen de Thann)
  1. Marno-gypseux/Marl-gypsum (Schoenenbourg)
Jean Boxler, June 2014

Jean Boxler, June 2014

You see, no wine is poured, tasted and deliberated over without the introduction of the soil (or lack thereof) from which it came. To confine any study to just the Grand Cru would do the entire region an injustice. Though the original 1975 appellative system set out to define the plots of highest quality and esteem, many wines not classified GC are fashioned from terroir comingling with, surrounding, located next or adjacent to a vineyard called Grand Cru. Serious consideration is being given by CIVA and the winemakers to establish a Premier Cru and Villages system. While this will certainly increase levels of definition and understanding for Alsace, it may also disregard some quality wines, not to mention further alienate some producers whose artisanal and progressive wines go against the norm. A further consequence may result in elevating some average wines currently labeled Grand Cru into undeserved stratospheres.

Related – Trimbach, rhythm and soul

The Grand Cru story is heavy but not everything. Rarely has there been witnessed (outside of Burgundy) the kind of symbiotic relationship between vineyard and village. Perfect examples are those like Schlossberg and Furstentum with Kintzheim, Sommerberg and Niedermorschwihr, Hengst and Wintzenheim, Brand and Turckheim or Steingrübler and Wettolsheim. Domaine Weinbach’s cellars sit across and just down the road from both Kitzheim and Kayserberg. Albert Boxler’s cellar is right in the fairy tale town of Niedermorschwihr, just like Albert Mann’s location in Wettlosheim.

It is time, finally and thankfully, for a return to the reason for such a rambling on. With respect to the “cerebral and the spiritual component for producing exceptional wine” being “necessary and fundamental,” examples tasted in June of 2014 indicate that the notion of terroir grows from nature and is nurtured by the vigneron. These 25 wines surmise and summarize, either by connecting the dotted lines of constellatory figuration or by Sudoku interconnectivity, the imaginable chronicle that is Alsace.

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Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

Riesling, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling, (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Riesling happens. It brokers the nescient consumer with the gift of grape enlightenment. It plants an organoleptic ear worm, urging a leap of faith to discover, to seek out the world’s most versatile, divergent and tractile wine. Riesling comes in so many shapes and sizes and that is why it is so difficult to offer up one’s trust, because if you don’t know,  you never know what you are going to get. Dry, sweet, late harvest, dessert, racy, round, or a combination of it all?

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

Alsace is distinguished by a very specific set of vinous attributes. No other area in France is as dry and only Champagne is further north in latitude. In typical climatic years, the aridity of the summer months, followed by the humidity of the fall fosters the development of a beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea, better known as noble rot, which concentrates the sugars and preserves acidity. The catch is that not every vintage works to guarantee the pourriture noble. When conditions are prime, some producers insist on picking before it sets in. Others think of it as gold. Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassman says all of his wines are noble rot wines, but he calls them Riesling.

A trip to Alsace and a week of tasting with producers opens the door to Riesling perception. I begin my Haut-Rhin road to Riesling perspicacity with and the women of . Twenty-eight are poured, including eight from the exceptional 2000 vintage. The full day that follows at Millésimes Alsace with SOPEXA and CIVA enriches the trenchancy to act as Riesling 101 for the winemaker visits to come.

Colmar, Alsace, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Colmar, Alsace, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

To set the record straight, there has always been dry Riesling made in Alsace. There have also been white wines made in blatantly off-dry styles. Bringing the two poles together in seamless coordination is no easy task. The duality in character of combining straightforward, linear acidity and bright, sometimes exotic fruit is a concept, though in sweet emotive intention, that remains buoyant in the persevering air of aridity. It helps to define the transformative trend towards dry Alsatian Riesling.

Millésimes Alsace 2014, photo (c) Cassidy Havens,  http://teuwen.com/

Millésimes Alsace 2014, photo (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Here are Rieslings from a wide range of Alsatian Grand Cru and lieu-dits (single vineyard, named), in 31 flavours.

Maison Rolly Gassman

Riesling Réserve Millésime 2012 (61715, Wineworld Importers & Exporters Ltd, WineAlign)

“All are noble rot wines, but we call them Riesling.” This is the irony from the mouth of Pierre Gassman, especially in consideration of this, the driest in his portfolio. For so many Riesling, 12 g/L of residual sugar would ring like a morning alarm but the Réserve Millésime, a limestone chalky and buzz tangy Riesling, acts as if it’s super dry. This is the 9-plus g/L of acidity talking and the calcaire soil, though some clay gives it weight and grounding. A Gassman Riesling as dictionary entry to define the dichotomous behaviour of Alsatian Riesling. A perfect example that should taste sweet but does not. An impossible yet beautiful act of vinous science.

Riesling Silberberg De Rorschwihr 2010 (WineAlign)

The Silverberg is the “silver mountain,” a Grand Cru not unlike Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Windsbuhl and located at Gassman’s home base, the Haut-Rhin village of Rorschwihr. This has to be the producer’s most impossible Riesling. The lab results of 16 g/L sugar, 13 g/L acidity, 2.86 pH and 14 per cent alcohol mean that it is not really wine at all. But it is, a linear drip of liquid silver with a direct hit of lemon-lime-orange-grapefruit solution carried within a membrane of viscous honey. Specs be damned, this is bone dry with a speeding, direct citrus laser hit. Riesling with its very own Gassman dialect known as the muschelkalk sound.

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to spend any quality time with Gassman’s wines you will cop no advanced character from this late harvest mineral expression in bitterness unchained, yet restrained sumptuous VT. A clear entry pauses to smell the quince, apricot and white flowers. The ultimate resolve is a long aftermath tinged by an (80 per cent of the vines, highest in the Gassmann holdings) noble bitterness. The vines are also some of the oldest, dating back to 1942. Oiled density and excellent length define this Riesling though it’s hard to figure whether or not it acts like a reduction sauce or a spiked tipple. One does not taste and mull a VT like this without pause or cause to wonder. Not an easily understood wine by any stretch of reality so book a flight of fancy and enjoy the ride. One of many exceptional Rieslings from the 2000 vintage in which cloying is simply not an issue. Hard to imagine more versatility from this level of residual sugar to work alongside hors d’oeuvres, fish and the cheese plate.

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2010

Kappelweg offers up fruit in matronly, door is always open generosity and maximum concentration as much as any terroir in Alsace. From 50 per cent noble rot affected at a resounding yet justly calculated 42 g/L residual sugar number, this baby-faced, early rock ‘n roll Riesling gives off its habitual white flower scent. A product of blue clay (closer to the sea) and a of a botrytis mined with calcaire in mind. “When you have Kappelweg, you have noble rot,” resigns Pierre Gassman. With a Gasmann Riesling “it’s one for the money, two for the show.” With Kappelweg it’s “three to get ready, now go, go, go!” The king of Riesling in blue suede shoes.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2000

The Pflaenzerreben translates as ‘plants de vignes’, or even more simplified as the ‘vineyard’!  From the Rorschwihr blue clay with silt and Muschelkalk limestone soils, the ’00 is still a baby. Yellow flowers blow from a complex nose, along with waxy, medicinal tones. The aromatics are high, which helps to subdue the noticeable (19 g/L) sugars. More aid comes by way of the Calcaire tannin and a six to eight-hour slow pressing, “ensemble,” notes Pierre, with no separation and a resulting “tout doucement” clear juice. The wonders of 2000 emit from the Gassman oeuvre.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2010

Here is Riesling that resides on two sides of the notorious Alsatian, sugar-acid ubiquitous fence. Pflaenzerreben reads like a veritable ECG. There is both citrus-spiked negative deflection as well as a sweet (16 g/L) elegance in positive deflection. The calcaire chalk posits the tug, the struggle between the poles. He/she admits “once a man, like the sea I raged, once a woman, like the earth I gave.” In the end this cinema show of a Riesling has “in fact more earth than sea.” One of the Genesis Rieslings of Alsace.

Domaine Maurice Griss

Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

An all rock, all out mineral wild thang from Josiane Griss, As dry as it gets (5 g/l sugar), as piercing as can be handled (10 g/l acidity) and in a state of aerified (12.8 per cent) alcohol. From granite terroir, near the top of a south-facing slope with high sun exposure. Though ’10 was not a particularly warm vintage, the high tartaric levels and late picking, slow developed berries post glorious September has everyone talking classic, for the ages. Impeccable balance here and a fortuitous match to Tarte flambée with salmon, leeks, basil pesto and cream. If asked the question, “how long have you been a Riesling,” the Sonnenberg would surely answer simply, “from creation.”

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Domaine Pfister

Riesling Tradition 2012

Though Pfister continues to forge this Riesling from six micro-plots in the Silverberg lieux-dit, the name Tradition takes over, as a stylistic ode from 8th generation winemaker Mélanie Pfister to her father André. Built upon a solid permeate in limestone, the residual is dastardly low, in the 7th generation vintner’s way. Beautifully dry, somewhat misunderstood in its youth, in need of time.

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d'Alsace

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d’Alsace

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2012

The “Angel’s Hill,” a south-facing and third most northern Grand Cru in Alsace. The Pfister take is reserved with extreme umbrage, an arid tug between brix and acidity, a fragment of what it may become, a portal into a Riesling analect. There are ripe phenols to be sure and a gentle, lingering calm. This will need years to develop. Right now it’s all lemon, lime and flinty stone with no periodic oscillation.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2011

Here comes the Pfister mindset out of a warm vintage, picked early in September. Go figure the still bracing acidity trumps it’s still beating heart. A slight sense of sweetness lies therein but the obvious minimalist tradition persists. Lacks the length of ’12 and offers nearer gratification. This is an example of why acidity is not the number one catalyst for success and for aging, so ’11 will both be like and unlike ’12.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2010

The ’10 is altogether different. There is petrol on top, pumping invisible ozone with an elemental intention. The welkin adds richness and viscosity, though for Pfister that is merely relative as compared to say…Gassmann. The ’10 is a fastball and it is hard not to get caught looking. Vinified bone dry (2 g/L) and due to the difficulty of the vintage, Mélanie left it on the lees for two years. The result is a perceived sweetness chaperoned by texture. Will require 10 years minimum.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2000

Beautifully dry, primary still, laden with citrus. Though not as gorgeous as some, this bridges the gap and emphasizes the Pfister Engelberg opus. It is amazing that it is yet to show any discernible evolution and every indication says it will live on forever. Or at least 15-20 more years.

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990

Here lies the crux of the Pfister vinous chrestomathy, like a literary work that cannot, in principle, ever be considered finished. From the third in a trilogy of great vintages, the ’90 has ego to spare, remaining so young and unresolved. The aroma profile is floral, almost medicinal and with a pronounced clotted cream note, the wise Cru remains youthful and nearly primary. Five minutes in glass does bring texture and an aged cheese taste, like Tomme fermière des hautes Vosges.

The wines of Domaine Pfister

The wines of Domaine Pfister

Caves François Schmitt

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012

The Grand Cru lies at an altitude ranging between 250 and 350 metres. The sub-soil is made up of calcareous sandstone and micaceous sandstone (Muschelkalk at the base and Bundsandstein at the top). Vines were first planted in the 1950’s. Paradis is a historical plot of land at the very heart of the vineyard, on one of the steepest areas. The ’12 Paradis by father and son François and Frédéric enters a sweetness zone without a sacrifice or surrender in loyalty to linear acidity. Peregrine fruit, in full feathery display is enraptured by tartaric of the highest degree. There is citrus atop rocks, a persistence and a perseverance that never relents.

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000

The ’10 GCP is yet a baby and in hallmark readiness of its necessary terroir. The petrol note remains a faint feign though its imminent presence is known. Such intense aridity, citric perforations, notes of wet concrete, highborn bitterness and unerring balance. Strength is supplied by sandstone and limestone. As much of a treat in classic 2000 Riesling as one might ever hope to be poured.

Cave François Schmitt, http://www.francoisschmitt.fr/

Cave François Schmitt, http://www.francoisschmitt.fr/

Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010

The radiation here is mind-blowing. The citrus dartle, the rows and columns of acidity in geometrical patterns, the angles obtuse and abstruse. Such a tense and immature Riesling with a late gas attack and oxygen depleted atmosphere. Wow is the operative word though it remains to be seen if this will ever latch on to any gravitational pull or circle the cosmos for eternity. This Kaefferkopk dances in the dragon’s jaw, lies “up among the furs where it smells so sweet,” and it’s got me wondering where the lions are. Wow.

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000

Tasted from magnum. Incredibly atomic with a vineyard flinty stink that exhumes and exudes the benevolent bitterness of time. Has that vineyard dirt aroma and the wisdom of age. Something about this screams terroir, through earth caked stones, struck matchstick, wildness and purity.

Ginglinger-Fix

Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012

The domain is family run since 1610 and biodynamic since 2009. Pheromones have been used since 1996 and they were one of the first villages to do so. Proudly announced as “vendanges à la main,” or, hand-picked grapes. This VV ’12 is bone dry, citrus in laser focus and a product of the calcaire solis with a pink quartzite quarry behind the village. The multitude of rock gives lightness in texture to this ’12 of wizened vines. This is a great example of Alsace Riesling emulated by VQA Bench Riesling in Niagara.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2012

Here is rich example made by Éliane Ginglinger in Voegtlinshoffen. The Grand Cru vineyard gives as mush calcaire tang as any in the region, feigning oxidation but it’s really a most pronounced salinity. A piquant and forward Riesling with a whiff of violet. Further along in development than many ’12’s, the Goldert will be ready for prime time in two to three years.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2011

The single-vineyard focus in ’11 is striking but not as piercing as some. The elegance factor here is a breath of Eguisheim air. Increased in poise, savoury accents and a florality that brings to mind chamomile tisane. At 13.5 per cent alcohol there is strength in balance.

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru Vendanges Tardive 1998

A late harvest VT scaled astern to a mere 14 g/L in sugar. Has developed such a deep golden hue, this muliebrity representative who proclaims sapidity in staunch mineral behaviour. Remarkably elegant and crisp for her age, the Goldert VT shows nothing particularly sweet about her. No conceit either, intense yes, but very fresh. Were I a proclaimer I would surely sing “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.” I’m gonna be wanting another go at this ’98 next time I find myself in Alsace.

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Riesling Weingarten 2010

From a south-facing slope and sandstone soil, Haag’s Weingarten shows good potential for aging. “A grower’s vintage,” notes Myriam Haag. “A winemaker’s vintage,” one that required acumen and experience. There is a dry elegance about this grainy white, an imperial brackishness and a sense of  “écrou bougie,” or candle nut. Will age and needs to.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle Cuvée Marion 1999

Shows rich, viscous complexity with the sensation of star anise and menthol. There is a fumée discernment, an oily, nutty and spicy feel.  Singular and enticing, like a chestnut dessert, layered with mousse, sabayon and toasted dust.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011

Luxuriance abounds from this ’11, elevating the oft-pierced variety to levels of lavishness and prodigality. Though it takes wing in petrol, it’s really just the spoken texture and flavours of the bleeding rocks. Bitters abound too but is this not what you want from Grand Cru Riesling? Fine, ritual, yet highly modern stuff.

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2012

An enervating wine with richness bled from rocks and a finishing noble bitterness. The orchard fruit here is very ripe, more so than much of the 100+ Rieslings tasted over the course of a Colmar week. Marked by green apple, citrus and a middle-slope calcaire limestone (with sandstone on the edges) pierce. Such direct freshness and palate texture from that silty rock. A slow release wine, similar to the Zinnkoepfle 2008, a Riesling now in its secondary stage of development.

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Valentin Zusslin

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg Vendanges Tardives 2000

Here the noble rot has produced a Riesling thick in gluck and bright, golden sunshine fruit. Clearly protected from rain and wind by the Massif forest above, the 2000 has not yet relinquished the warmth in the bottle, along with a confected concoction of marmalade and blanched nuts. Though it has been bequeathed a slight mineraliztion with 14 years time, there is weariness to the fruit. Now is the window for maximum enjoyment.

Domaine Sipp-Mack

Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg 2012

The Osterberg Grand Cru is situated in Ribeauvillé and the Riesling is characterized by a stratified tartaric acidity. The ’12 is neither linear nor round, but layered instead and is a pure analogue of that rich style, with a slight residual subsidy. Extended hang time seems the bent so ripeness follows. The fruit is bulky and beefy though in a white veal way. If overall there is a curtailment in grip and outright anxiety the ’12 Osterberg will age unhurriedly for 10 years.

Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000

The comparison with the other seven GC 2000’s on the table is hard to avoid so this one would make me think it leans late harvest. The Rosacker too is young and primary, teases and feigns VT but don’t be fooled by its unctuous sunshine. The dry quotient is extreme, despite the nuts. It is viable and rocketing in an elemental chew of salted stones. The finish is long and beautifully bitter.

2000 Rieslings

2000 Rieslings

Domaine Barmès-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2000

Under the direction of winemaker Geneviève Barmès, energy is the primary distinction of the domain’s wines, exemplified by this all out mineral Hengst. Carrying forth a tradition initiated by Francois (Geneviève’s late husband), biodynamic farming brings out an autonomy to define that energy and here specifically a stark, terrific bitterness so prevalent from the Hengst Grand Cru. Not so much a study in bright fruit, the flesh is one of stone texture, flinty accents and an awe-inspiring, old school funk. Very serious Riesling. Not for the faint of white.

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Steingrubler 2000

The Steingrubler soils are some of the most complex and variegated in all of Alsace. Marno-calcaires and argilo-sableux incorporates calcaires oligocènes and smaller areas of fine granite. The smorgasbord of terroir makes for an elemental potpourri impart, a bitter limestone tablet dissolving as it rolls through a gasoline alley. The bitters are everywhere, in underlay, in overlay, in granitic streaks. Having entered secondary life, this 2000 is “goin’ home, running’ home,” back to where it was born. It may be said that this particular Riesling represents its terroir as much as any that can be assessed. A steward of place.

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In a Grand Cru state of mind

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

I have been in Alsace now just over 48 hours and already feel as though I have been introduced to a lifetime of wine. Yet with every taste of the Alsace pansophy I am reminded just how long the unfathomable road to the region’s enlightenment remains to be. The combination of nuance, complexity and acuity of the Alsatian wine spirit may have no equal. Some highlights of the first two days in Alsace with SOPEXA and CIVA.

Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

What a way to be introduced to Alsace in 2014. Les diVINes d’Alsace, an organization of 70 industry women and Domaine Stentz-Buecher rolled forth a genealogical pedigree of Alsace past and present with food station matching in the winery’s garden and in the barrel rooms. First Crémant, then whites of many incarnations; Pinot Gris, blends, Gewürztraminer and many, many Rieslings. The final prize at the end of a long scroll of grand achievements were Grand Cru Riesling from the vintage 2000. The eight acted out a Grand Cru finale of generous spirit via and the women of

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D'Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D’Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Les vigneronnes Mélanie Pfister and Carolyn Sipp introduced the three year-old organization, the winemakers, winemaker’s wives and sommeliers that form the membership of l’Association des Femmes de la Vigne & du Vin d’Alsace. “We are feminine but not feminism,” quipped Sipp. The idea began in 2009, following in the footsteps of similar women in the Rhône, Bourgogne and the Southwest of France. Women who have banded together to promote their region’s wines.

Laurence Hauller showed the 100 per cent Chardonnay Louis Hauller Crémant d’Alsace, a fine, subtle, stylish, finessed and elegant interpretation of Chardonnay that is a different sort of Alsace discrimination. Eliane Ginglinger presented her bone dry, citrus in laser focus Ginglinger Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012. Myriam Haag offered up Domaine Jean-Marie Haag’s Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011, an enervating wine with richness bled from rocks and a finishing noble bitterness. Myriam Schmitt brought her Domaine François Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012 that though in sweet emotive intention remains buoyant in the persevering air of aridity. It defines the transformative trend towards Dry Alsatian Riesling. Josiane Griss of Domaine Maurice Griss’ Riesling Sonnenberg 2010 if asked the question, “how long have you been a Riesling” would surely answer simply, “from creation.”

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

The Riesling Grand Cru from 2000 were a varied and electric bunch. The Caves François Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000 is a baby still and in hallmark readiness of its necessary terroir. The Domaine Sipp-Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000, also young and primary teases and feigns late harvest but don’t be fooled by its sunshine. This chew of salted stones has a long, long finish. the show stealer was the Magnum of Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000 by Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam. Incredibly atomic with a vineyard flinty stink that exhumes and exudes the benevolent bitterness of time. Wildness and purity.

Godello and Pierre Gassman of Rolly Gassman

Godello and Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassmann

The main event of Monday, June 16th was the Millésimes Alsace, the professional trade fair for Alsace, Wines. Nearly 90 exhibitors showed off their terroir, in Crémant d’Alsace, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Muscat and Pinot Noir. A morning Master Class seminar featured eight world-class Sommeliers leading the room through seven “typical” Alsace wines. Maison Rolly Gassmann’s Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000 is late harvest mineral expression in bitterness unchained yet restrained.

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

The afternoon Master Class covered older vintages. Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 lays in an evolution that has come to a balance in weightlessness. Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum 1994 has a tannic impression and smells like flowers from warmer France. Caroline Furstoss reminded everyone that it is “an expression of a daughter.” Impeccable balance.

Mélanie Pfister

Mélanie Pfister

The third of a most excellent Alsatian vintage trilogy was represented by Domaine Pfister’s Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990. With a clotted cream note the wise Cru remains youthful and nearly primary.

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag’s Riesling Cuvée Marion 1999 showed rich, viscous complexity with the sensation of star anise and menthol.

Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 and Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 and Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

The high point of the day came with a rare and beautiful chance to taste the Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable. There are no superlatives to do it justice. This must end on that note. More on the Kuentz-Bas Riesling 1983 another day.

Good to go!

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