I will always raise my glass of Vinho Verde to Le Sommelier Fou

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No country for old #vinhao or as @sommelierfou would say, “Apocalypse Vinhão.”

I recently returned home following an arduous, wild and exciting five days in Verona and Valpolicella. That night I fell into a coma even before my head had sunk into my memory foam pillow. I slept without a care to the world. When I awoke early Saturday morning my phone looked at me as if to say, “I’m sorry, but I have some bad news.”

DavidPpelletier, 'Le Sommelier Fou' and friends in Vinho Verde

David Pelletier, ‘Le Sommelier Fou’ and friends in Vinho Verde

I first met David Pelletier six months ago at the airport in Oporto, Portugal on Tuesday, March 29th, 2016. Before that time he was to me simply Le Sommelier Fou, an online presence for the intelligent, thorough and exacting French Canadian musings of a wine writer with a sensitive voice. Two things struck me straight away about Mr. Pelletier. His sweet and caring eyes and his uncanny and impossible ability to travel back and forth between the French and English languages as if he had been born with two tongues.

David Pelletier and group aboard the Vinho Verde bus

David Pelletier and group aboard the Vinho Verde bus, photo (c) Christopher Wilton

Sadly, while travelling in California a few weeks ago, David Pelletier passed away. It was a terrible shock. His family and friends have lost the man who smiled with his eyes. They have lost a brother, son, confidant, mentor, teacher and companion. My friends and colleagues in Quebec share a collective hole in their hearts. I can’t begin to understand their pain. My time with David Pelletier can only be measured in commatic and cosmetic terms. It was not enough.

As the week in Portugal’s Vinho Verde region progressed, I got to know some things about David, about his life at the Trafalgar School, about his desire to devote his professional life entirely to wine. I sympathized with him having recently converted my personal commitment to the same dream. We stayed in contact after Portugal. On September 6th he sent me this message. “Hi Michael, could I get an email address from you? yours, ideally. It’s to illegally apply for a credit card. Kidding of course. But your email address would be cool. Thanks.” I never got that e-mail from him and will never know what it might have been about.

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The photobombing Le Sommelier Fou, photo (c) Christopher Wilton

With David’s passing I’ve decided that it is time to finally share some thoughts on that trip to Vinho Verde. With no disrespect intended towards the producers, winemakers, the administrative and marketing staff of the region, their wines and the places must share this stage with Mr. Pelletier. His memory will always be inextricably linked to my time spent there. I think my travel companions will agree. Evan Saviolidis, Michael Pinkus, Drew Innes, Christopher Wilton and Anton Potvin from Ontario. Marie-Michèle Grenier, Fred Fortin, Marie-Hélène Boisvert and Émilie Courtois of Quebec. To you all and to David I will always raise my glass of Vinho Verde in memory of Le Sommelier Fou.

Vinho Verde: Green And Light

History shows that Vinho Verde was mentioned by Seneca and Pliny between 96-51 BC. The name comes from the green colour that carpets the landscape and to the youth of the wine, historically held by believers as said to be best consumed within the first year. As you will soon find out, thing have changed.

The Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes was created in 1926 and the demarcated Vinho Verde Region originally defined on September 18, 1908. Vinho Verde extends across the northwest of Portugal, in the area traditionally known as Entre-Douro-e-Minho. The Minho River is its northern frontier, forming part of the border with Spain. Its southern border is formed by the Douro River and the Freita, Arada and Montemuro mountains, to the east it’s bordered by the mountains of Peneda, Gerês, Cabreira and Marão, and the western border is the Atlantic Ocean. In Portugal its 21,000 hectares, 119,000 parcels, 19,000 grape growers, 600 bottlers and 2000 brands make up one tenth of total vineyards. In terms of geographical area, it is the largest Portuguese demarcated region and one of the largest in Europe.

There are four steps to certification; registration, labelling, yields and guarantee of quality. White Vinho Verde (84 per cent) is most often composed from a combination of these varieties; alvarinho, arinto, avesso, azal, loureiro and trajadura. More and more we find it flying solo as a varietal wine and increasingly from single-vineyards as well. Rosé (6 per cent) comes by way of espadeiro and padeiro and vinhão is the lone source for Red (10 per cent) Vinho Verde. The past 11 years have seen to growth for exports between two and four per cent and here in Canada we are the number four purchaser behind the US, Germany and France.

Meteorological and geographical connections begin with high rainfall (1200mm per year, concentrated between October and April) and a severe maritime influence, along with the thread running through that are Vinho Verde’s rivers. Subregions are demarcated by the rivers and thus the micro climates are created. Monção and Melgaço, Lima, Cávado, Ave, Basto, Sousa, Baião, Paiva and Amarante. Soils are mainly granite, of low depth, sandy or Franco-sandy, leaning towards moderate to high acidity, poorly phosphorous and of low fertility. Vinho Verde’s salinity and minerality is derived from the granitic soil.

Most consumers think of Vinho Verde as a slightly effervescent, simple white wine. Fizz is no longer created by secondary fermentation in the bottle. Now just a bit of Co2 is left behind to appease consumer demand. “We want to maintain Vinho Verde as it is known, as a light, low alcohol, aromatic wine.” So limiting the alcohol and designating the acidity (at 4.5 TA) is employed. “O Verde E Leve.” Green And Light.

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Into the landscape Monverde Wine Experience Hotel @quintadalixa #vinhoverde #oporto #amarante #portugal

An introduction to Vinho Verde

I have been fortunate to taste examples of Vinho Verde on a regular basis in Toronto so my idea of style and diversity has expanded generously over the past five years. For most Ontario consumers Vinho Verde means, cheap, effervescent, gulpable white wine that you find in droves on LCBO shelves at the Dufferin and Dupont Galleria Mall. Many folks think of Vinho Verde as a grape variety and that all of the wines are exactly the same. To alter consciousness, the quest begins with a great effort. The demarcation point of initiative in requiem of supposition to lay bare and recalibrate the region’s unjustly exposed and indefensible position. The journey to Vinho Verde diversity begins at the Monverde Wine Experience Hotel.

At the Monverde Wine Experience Hotel Tomás Gonçalves of the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes pours 18 examples, including 12 single-varietal whites, two Rosé, a sparkling, a Vinhão and only two Vinho Verde blends. Fifteeen producers and nine sub-regions are represented. The decision to introduce a five-day intensive program with a heavy focus on varietal Vinho Verde is a brilliant first strike. Then follows a portfolio tasting of Monverde host winery Quinta da Lixa’s wines. The family owned company (two brothers and a cousin) ripped out and re-planted their vines in 1999. The $10-12 (Canadian projected) wines fall into the category of stupid, crazy value. It is here that the introduction to Vinho Verde is clearly compassed in varietal trajadura, loureiro and especially alvarinho. Ten Canadian journalists and sommeliers are hooked, their collective attention secured and kept curious into the first warm days of April. Well played Vinho Verde. Some notes from the Monverde Experience.

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Architectural wonder of Monverde Wine Experience Hotel @vinhoverdeCA #visitvihnoverderegion

Casa de Vilacentinho Vinho Verde Grande Escolha 2014, Vinho Verde, Portugal

The lost art and singular reason for blending endemic is found here in three A’s and one L. Here with avesso, arinto, azal and loureiro all aboard the mineral train with variegated tannin and salinity in tow. Pear skin, a touch of botrytis in the guise of banana bring warmth and sumptuousness to the palate though in the end all is qualified by terrific acidity. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Casal De Ventozela Loureiro Vinho Verde 2014, Vinho Verde, Portugal (445098, $14.95, WineAlign)

Loureiro from Villa Verde, grippy and mineral as it should be, marked by citrus, herbs and the slightest spark of CO2. This must have been prime, perfect in fact, in the wheelhouse even…six months ago. Still refreshing and yet savoury, nearly, though one step away from complex for the grape and a sense of place, from point A to B. Drink 2016.  Tasted May 2016

Richer by nature of its glycerin texture, weightier and lifted by alcohol expression, a slight spritz and visions of petrol two to three years away. Mineral tang unlike the compatriots in side by five VV tasting flight. Green olive emerges with five minutes of air like brine from the Manzanilla jar and then acidity sets in. Loueiro all the way.  Tasted March 2016  @LeSommelierWine

Modestu’s Vinho Verde 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

From the sub region Região de Basto this 100 per cent arinto carries an aromatic mustiness matched and foiled by a lively palate, in what is ostensibly a seconded VV with serious mineral tang. Such great presence is catchy and gaining on you with an underlying savoury pinning. Reminds me of tea leaf chenin blanc, with intruding notes of anise and Chá. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Quinta da Levada Azal 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Azal steps up and claims worthy status from the word go with energy, open aromatics and a pressing matter of density. The tumult of mineral will speak but first brightness full of glade under dappled sun. Stone fruit flavours and their pith with mineral wrap around takes the palate to fully juiced and spirited territory. The most expression and balance is ascertained thus far, halfway through an 18 strong Vinho Verde tasting. The  length is exceptional. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

With the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes at the Monverde World Experience Hotel

With the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes at the Monverde World Experience Hotel

Quinta De Linhares Azal Vinho Verde 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (218222, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here boasts another terrific azal expression but with more litheness within the context of freshness. The level of spritz is charmingly old school and together with that lighter density not as full and therefore in any evolving hurry. Pricks early and dissipates to calm at the finish. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

Quinta do Rugueiro Alvarinho Monção and Melgaço Reserva 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Seductively saline and ever so venerable, nascent briny, fresh borne alighting Alvarinho, spritely, sharp and fresh. The hyperbole of inchoate viridity and sparkle should alarm in effervescence but the green and the vegetal make for real life twice what other similarly styled alvarinho are wont to express. A run on sentence of Vinho Verde if ever there was. A regional voice and a score for the alvarinho out of Monção and Melgaço conjunction. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Quinta da Lixa Escolha Trajadura Colheita 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Though trajadura is not the most usual of single-varietal bottlers, this exceptionally fruity example comes from the best harvest in the last 50 years. “A winemaker’s harvest,” observes oenologist Carlos Teixeira, sunny at pick, but low in nitrogen, with a natural fermentation in need of a bit of a boost with some selected yeasts. S’got that chenin blanc faux sugar thing going on, much mineral and a leesy nose. Lees work is maximized in a very short period as the wines are bottled before the new year. Pear, green apple and white plum, fruity florals, very clean and then even more into the mineral. Mono-varietal purity in the cleanest fashion of low malic acidity but magic in acidity nevertheless, like it just doesn’t need any reason to rage. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Quinta da Lixa Alvarinho Pouco Comum 2015, Minho, Portugal

The “uncommon” alvarinho is the winery’s celebration of Portugal’s most noble white variety. Has the platinum and inside pipe tang. Very mineral. Made from four different single-varietal wines and blended together. Selected yeasts are chosen to bring out the different characters of alvarinho; fruity, floral and mineral. This really, really reminds me of pinot grigio made in a slightly advanced, reaching for complexity out of simplicity way. Complicit Vinho Verde with nary a moment of residual spritz. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @QuintadaLixa

At the Tempus Hotel and Spa we tasted through the ViniVerde, Estreia portfolio. Promoção e Comércio de Vinhos Verdes, SA is a holding company whose shareholders are several companies in the Vinho Verde Region and was incorporated with the objective to produce, promote and market the wines and derived more popular from its shareholders and also their own brands. We tasted through Espumante de Vinho Verde Branco, Rosé, Ponte de Barca vinhão and varietal loureiro and alvarinho. The straightforward Branco was first and stole the show.

Estreia Vinho Verde Branco 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

The name translates to “début,” from the outfit laying claim to launching first to market. There is certainly something to be said for extreme youthfulness, unbridled energy and quivering character. Such a millenial Vinho Verde with the shortest of attention spans and pure, unadulterated flavour. Simple, slight and with a mere hint of effervescence. Should work out to $9.95 in Ontario. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

In Ponte de Lima we dined at lunch with winemaker Rita da Silva Araújo, resident oenologist at the Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima. Founded in 1959 the cooperative produces the most traditional of Vinho Verde wines with a focus on loureiro because of its affinity with the Lima River Valley.

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Leite Creme at Petiscas Restaurante #pontelima through the lens of @MHeleneB #portugal

Adega Ponte de Lima Vinho Verde 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Made from 100 per cent loureiro and the first winery to go this varietal route. A wine that “maintains the image of our town and region,” notes Rita da Silva Araújo, resident oenologist at the Adega. Very citrus oriented, in mineral speak and blessed with briny-saline aridity. A good dose of CO2 spritz and dogged persistence mark the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016  @MuniLima

Adega Ponte de Lima Loueiro 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

This 100 per cent loueiro may sit on a poor man’s throne of typically lithe alcohol (11 per cent) and restrained residual sugar but it carries a secondary depth of grape tannin, Lima soil tang and warm viscosity. From a selected harvest over two days of only the best grapes and subjected to four or five hours of skin contact. Time on the lees with batonnage brings the mouthfeel and the sweet caress. Here we climb to another level and through tertiary layers of pierce, salinity, aridity and finely tuned stone fruit. Very nice. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Colours of Quinta da Raza and Monte da Sr.ª da Graça #vinhoverde

Colours of Quinta da Raza and Monte da Sr.ª da Graça #vinhoverde

Transitions

The transition from the straightforward towards ascending the steps into the arena of the complex begins with a visit to Quinta de Raza, located in Peneireiros, Celorico de Basto, adjacent to the Douro Region. It is here the Teixeira Coelho family has been committed to wine production since the XVII century. Today the estate is run by José Diogo Teixeira Coelho. Soils of granite origins are mixed with areas of schist and clay, atypical and unusual in the Vinho Verde Region. The microclimate is created by the mountains in the west and the valley of the Tamega river which, unlike the other rivers of the region does not run from East to West, but from Northeast to Southwest, which together prevent the influence of the Atlantic winds. Less rain and greater temperature range equates to increased sun exposure, more than many vineyards in the Vinho Verde Region. Couple this with an average altitude of 250 meters and things begin to get interesting.
Quinta da Raza hosts and their exceptional value @vinhoverdewines

Quinta da Raza hosts and their exceptional value @vinhoverdewines

Dom Diogo Azal-Arinto-Trajadura 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

The blend breaks down to 35/50/15 and like three layers of conditioned lemon, juicy, curdish and gelid, this is very vibrant from out of the auspices of a typical blend. The winery sells this at two euros ex-cellar price which is so ridiculous. This means the top end Canadian price would be $9.95. So fresh (azal) balanced in the clay of trajadura, not necessarily so long but really, who cares? Carries a granite toughness, this simply perfect warm weather blend, with a little bit of secured happiness provided by 7 g/L of residual sugar. Appellative excellence.  Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

Dom Diogo Azal 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

The surprise varietal, venerated by a whopping price increase to three euros (which would translate to $12.95 CAN), firm and with more righteous bitters. Here the agar, the orange citrus and a wealthy (8 g/L RS) weight for white wine personality. More length and grip with character increasing via a stick of Vinho Verde dynamite. Just delicious.  Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

Hello world. Meet the new #vinhoverde #quintadaraza #avesso #alvarinho

Hello world. Meet the new #vinhoverde #quintadaraza #avesso #alvarinho

Quinta da Raza Avesso-Alvarinho 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

The blend’s split is 60/40 and the ex-cellar price up to five euros but this is the finest and most refined VV of the lot. The two A’s are combined and purposed with the best intent for aging, or at least the most potential. Quinta de Raza is the only vintner to tempt fortune and compete with such a complex symbiosis from the region. The new ideal is here in this inaugural release because Diogo has a soft spot for avesso. The augmentation is by 10 per cent new French barrel to induce and encourage avesso and allow for higher alcohol (13.5) and acidity. The great stirred contact bleeds to warmth and this is ostensibly top end alcohol for the region. You can sense the malolactic and the tannin. The balance will require 12-18 months to integrate, bringing the nose and the palate together, though not too much longer for fear of losing fruit. That said it’s (1.5 g/L) bone dry. Plus the avesso is culled off of young vines so vintages down the road should see more potential. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2016

Also northeast out of Porto and close by is Quinta das Arcas, a family company founded in 1985 by António Esteves Monteiro. The production is mainly obtained from 120 hectares spread across three estates located in the Valongo and Penafiel area. The Quinta das Arcas estate covers 55 hectares  of 20 year old-plus vineyards planted to loureiro, trajadura and arinto. The winemaking team lead by engineer Fernando Machado. Vinification is classically performed, with quick destemming, pressing and low temperature fermentation in stainless steel with an experiment or two in barrel. The company’s Vinho Verde is bottled under the labels Arca Nova and Conde Villar.

Arca Nova Vinho Verde Branco 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

The blend is loureiro (50 per cent), arinto (40 per) and trajadura (10), in a classic, central to the estate’s oeuvre Vinho Verde. From a warm, dry year so more structure; this has the tannin, ripe fruit and tingle. The hue is somewhat developed, like grigio to gris and it is a real step up from the average and the norm. Both sugar and acidity (6 g/L) are paired with equal and opposing formality. The traditional yet modern full-on stone fruit flavours with a nick of citrus pit. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @quintadasarcas

Conde Villar Alvarinho and Trajadura 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Close to an even split with alvarinho edging out the trajadura and the fruit is all estate (others include some purchased grapes).  This separate line is intended to offer a different expression from the Quinta and you can feel the density, assess the effect of ripeness and sugar. The nose is so very preserved lemon, the extract terrific and here there is a weight feigning effected by lees in surround of that ripe fruit. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Quinta da Arcas Vinhão 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Only made in special years and so important to call out for how it abandons centuries of astringency. Spent six months in new French oak (and a small percentage of American) to establish a whole new concept for red Vinho Verde, round and in surround for vinhão. The astringency falls away and lets the fruit shine in spite of the wood. Reminds of petite sirah on the elegant side and with a sapidity stung back bite. Lots of cocoa, espresso, and dusty tannin. Solid, non-traditional vinhão. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

affectus

The granite soils of Quinta de Curvos are located in a valley with influences from the Neiva River and the Atlantic Ocean within the demarcated region of Vinho Verde (Entre-Douro e-Minho).  The 27 hectares of vineyards are distributed among four properties located in Forjães, Ponte de Lima and Barcelos. The vineyards underwent a major process of restructuring and in 2014, the production of wine rose to a volume of 275,000 litres. Sustainability in the biodiversity of the vineyard’s ecosystem and the reduction of environmental impact are major priorities and so tractors and herbicides have been replaced by sheep.

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Quinta de Curvos Superior 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Most expected blend composed of loueiro, trajadura and arinto in the words of Miguel Fonseca “most traditional wine, very dry and very gastronomic.” The entry-level honesty, basic instruction and 101 effectualization is spot on. What more in needed in under $10? Carries all the hallmark points and notes of Escolha Vinho Verde. Bay laurel, citrus and an edge of stone, by granite and into fruit. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @quintadecurvos

curvos-alvarinho

Quinta de Curvos Alvarinho 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (471276, $17.95, WineAlign)

A regional varietal wine not permitted to be labled Vinho Verde so Vino Regional Minho it must be. This 100 per cent alvarinho is labled as such in Portugal and Afectus for the Ontario market, Latin for “emotions.” Quite consistently fashioned like the avesso and the loueiro varietal Vinho Verde, of low tones, fresh, sprite, fully lemon and all around good guy acidity. Not so much a matter of varietal distinction so much as an adherence to a stylistic thread. So by extension I suppose the Curvos wines are about terroir. Afectus for the rest of us. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

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Quinta de Curvos Avesso 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal

Just seems to breathe a calm, natural, simple, easy, clean and proper ideal with broad appeal. Lemon is all over this avesso, again like the varietal loureiro and alvarinho, this pushes the company line. With sea bream and dorado the pairing receives an emphatic two thumbs up. Another vital and pure Vinho Verde from Quinta de Curvos. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

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Not members of Blasted Mechanism. With @MagnusPim and Vasco Croft #AphrosWines #vinhoverde

The diurnal motion of Vinho Verde

A visit to Aphros with winemaker Vasco Croft levigates and recalibrates thoughts, perception and meaning. It is here that the cosmology of Vinho Verde does not so much begin to take shape but pops like a genie from the bottle. The name Aphros (Greek, “sea-foam”) is drawn from ichthyocentaurs (sea-god centaurs) of late poetical Greek mythology. The aquatic centaur has been endowed with the ability to swim with great speed, breathe and communicate underwater. Aphros was thought of as the first king of the sea-going Aphroi (Carthaginians).

“Quality of life is dependent on the quality of water,” insists Vasco Croft. To Croft it all begins with “water’s plasticity and its relationship with the cosmic influences on earthly forces.” Biodynamics. Water dynamization. Double infinity vortex design. Life forces. Amphora. “You must line the amphorae with beeswax and though it is not so economical it acts as a natural preservative and it has the memory of the hive.” A master amphora craftsman in Alentejo does the work. He is one of the last in Portugal to keep the tradition alive.

Vasco Croft’s are risky, primogenitor reviving, genus defining, impossible wines. His is the sole ardent and wavering organic and biodynamic approach in Vinho Verde with complete attention diverted towards spiritual demure and anodyne morphology. I speak for the group when I say that the extramundane was breached at the Aphros tasting. Upon further retrospective consideration it was not so much a matter of wine tasting as it was a disquitionary quest to apprehend the meaning of Vinho Verde’s platonic and sacrosanct future. Croft’s wines are self-professed radical artisanal and produced impractically with no electricity. He investigates the powers of loureiro and vinhão, skin contact, concrete eggs and Pet-Nat. My understanding is gleaned through Vasco’s work and by a momentary hypnotization from a dynamic machine.

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Today’s cosmogonal #vinhoverde line-up #AphrosWines with Vasco Croft @LeSommelierWine

Aphros Phanus Pet-Nat 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Loureiro of a fashion so rare for Portugal and this region, from a concrete pétillant-naturel style, vinified in stainless steel with wild yeasts and initially no additional sugar, then bottled with 20 grams of natural residual sugar, to alight the single fermentation conclusion. An 11 per cent contrariety of méthode ancestrale dialectic, like a lime-grapefruit cordial housing a dissolving lemon tablet. A bowie cut, boning and dressing of loueiro. This here the whole new way to take the grape, to send it sky-high and bring it down to the rustic roots of glam, sparkling funk. “Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema. Dress my friends up just for show, see them as they really are.” Vasco (Andy) Croft walking and his hunky dory pet-nat spinning an original tale of a time and a place, or perhaps a myth, like the rustic deity of the forest riding shotgun to Dionysus and his native war. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016    @LeSommelierWine

Aphros Loureiro 2014, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Immediately emits or rather feigns a sense of barrel though it’s fully completely an Inox stainless steel wine. From what Vasco Croft describes as a “classic” early harvest, this delimited, restrained and flirty fresh loureiro sits at a lithe 10 per cent alcohol with some minor residual sugar to balance out the brisk acidity. Texture and sumptuousness is prescribed by four months lees with stirring. The freshness is lit by candle wax and a delicious little smoulder. The bees lees. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

Aphros Loureiro Daphne 2011, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

With fruit from southern exposures off of granitic and sandy soils this is 100 per cent loureiro that saw 12 hours of skin maceration and 30 per cent fermentation in barriques (1/2 new) for six months. A wine now coming into a Frick-esque zone, waxy, whiffing bay laurel and frankly would be so hard to pick out in a blind tasting. The mind might veer to barrel-aged semillon or older riesling. Though a bit oleaginous the wine is balanced by a smoulder and a sharp, petrol-invoking, mineral tang. It is here that the wisdom of loureiro is coronated for having settled in the Lima Valley. Imagine the past and future blossoms, hives and honey. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

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#amphora #loureiro Phaunus 2015. Nothing I have tasted before could have prepped me to expect this heteróclito #quixotic

Aphros Phaunus Loureiro 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Nothing I have tasted before could have prepped me to expect this heteróclito, a quixotic and deferential loureiro that re-writes the varietal script. Spent two and a half months of skin maceration time in beeswax-lined amphora and in the end we are graced with something completely other. Lemon meets mineral funky pottery, clunch depression and then slow-roasted vegetal gastronomy. A tagine or maraq scented by cumin, coriander and a slow-roasted carrot without any caramelization. Leaves a salve in the mouth and doesn’t go away. Clarifed, loureiro broth. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

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#amphora #2 Phaunus Palhete 2015, 80/20 #loureiro / #vinhao, again no reference point #chimerical #monkwine

Aphros Phaunus Palhete 2015, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

No, this beeswax-lined, amphora-raised 80 per cent white (loueiro) and 20 per cent red (vinhão) is not a theatrical performance by a Portuguese electro-rock band with alien-themed costumes. This blasted mechanism is a chimerical ode to the wines and their medieval proportions used by Port monks. It’s a battle of tribes with no reference point that will blast your mind. Its rosé, day-glo pink hue of earthy demure and it is hard to figure which funk reigns, tart fruit or adobe-argil-earth. Moreover it is the herbal, balmy, savoury, sapid variegation that garners the most attention. “Simple things, giant wonders, emotions, I blast your mind today.” Great length. I can’t say anything previous to right now has prepared me for tasting this but my mind and my palate are micronized wide open. “Break free from your own anxiety. Break free from your own desire.” Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @blastedmind

Aphros Sparkling Loureiro Reserve 2012, Sub Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

Also known as the Loureiro Reserva Bruto, a traditional method, 18 months on lees sparkler with its own set of antithetical parameters and rules. So different from the pet-nat, here surprisingly more artisanal, the most risk-taking of the Aphros sparklers, in deep concentration, at once delicate and then submerging into preserved citrus. Like salient, jagged stones projecting from a karst cave. The lees time is mid-range but the Lima loving loureiro and the Aphros gamble combine for extreme length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016

Aphros Pan 2012, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

The simplest of the Aphros sparkling wines which is anything but simple in the pansophy of the “other red” ideal. From 100 per cent vinhão free run juice and a short period of second fermentation, this is traditional method (nine months) reach for the stars as only the cosmic-minded Vasco Croft can do. Another baby maker here though it’s deferential and antithetical to the ancestrale, pet-nat approach. Not so much strawberry as cherry, with herbiage, litheness (no maceration). “A young fawn of the forest.” Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted March 2016

Aphros Silenus 2010, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

Vinhão in part stainless steel and part barriques, for aging and to calm it down. The relationship allows it to settle upon itself and at five and a half years on it has barely budged, still entangled in a web of acidity and tannin. Not that I, my travel companions or most mere mortals have any great history or experience with vinhão but the intensity is expertly corralled and such length is clearly a trademark of the house. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016

Aphros Vinhão 2014, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Vinhão is simply and astringently a teinturière (dyer) variety which happens to be the most planted red grape in Vinho Verde and to a western palate, unpalatable. It is known as Sousão in the Douro, where it is employed in Port assemblage. The raising of this still table red is done in granite tanks and with foot treading. In the hands of Vasco Croft it emits pretty aromatics in contrast to the demands of such an inky wine, from violets but then handed over to that natural cure of porcine élevage. The one and only vinhão of immediate wisdom and confident conditioning, the kind that will linger for 10 years without changing. Still there is this firm acidity and tannin, but restrained. Sharp citrus and as with all of the Aphros line, great length. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2016

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Enlightened red Sparkling from #AphrosWines 2006 #vinhao @LeSommelierWine @VinhoVerdeCA #yakkos #vinhoverde

Aphros Yakkos Grande Reserva 2006, Sub-Região Lima, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

A Sparkling vinhão, Vinho Espumante Tinto, aged 48 months on the lees and again, with no real reference point to launch from so it’s like starting over. Where fun and intentional meet, as do tart and bitter. A sparkler that dries out with beauty because of impressive tannins backing up blackberry fruit. How can this not be lauded for sheer and utter imagination, speciality and ultimately, success. It does not get much more interesting than this. With the aridity dial set to 3 g/L RS this would sidle up to and celebrate blueberry pancakes, duck confit and crème fraîche. Drink 2016-2026.  Tasted March 2016

with-anselmo-mendes

With Anselmo Mendes

The multiplicity of Vinho Verde

At the most northern tip of Vinho Verde lies Monção and Melgaço in the Minho Valley and this is where Anselmo Mendes grows and produces his alvarinho. With variances created by way of barrel aging, skin and lees contacts, Mendes imagines, creates and realizes a muliplicity of Vinho Verde that both alters and raises the bar for the entire region’s white wines.

Mendes is the former winemaker at Quinta Melgaço and began producing his own alvarinho in 1998 but his perspicacity, the elaboration of his vineyards and the pansophy of these young wines would make you think their history went back much further. The affinity shared by his alvarinho with Spanish albariño is one of proximity only, separated by the Minho River but consummated of an entirely different truth. Under the umbrella of his 70 farmed acres Mendes also produces loureiro in the Lima Valley and avesso in the Douro Valley. His passion is directed to alvarinho. Anselmo is a winemaker with a favourite child. The blends and entry-level varietal wines are labeled under the brand Muros Antigos. The skin contact, extended lees and barrel aged alvarinho each carry a moniker of their own within the Anselmo Mendes line. Constantino Ramos is Assistant Winemaker while Vasco Magalhães is in charge of sales.

“Our philosophy is the natural expression of the land, with principal characteristic that is mineral, not to make up something new, but we want to experience technology, important to know but just to see what we cannot do. The rest is business. We need to re-educate people, not that they’re wrong, but to know that there is another style for Vinho Verde. The next project is more experience.”

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Formal originality of #anselmomendes @terroirimports @winesportugalCA #alvarinho #vinhoverde #melgaco

Muros Antigos Escolha 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (112275, $11.45, WineAlign)

The blend is loureiro (40 per cent), avesso (40) and alvarinho (20), the spokeswines for the ““raditional” range, all from vineyards near the Lima River, but 150 kg’s apart. “Literally a blend of the region,” notes Mendes, four months on lees with batonnage, of aromatic freshness and exuberance with feelings and sapidity from the Atlantic Ocean. Unique marine minerality, mixed with accents of continental climate. Avesso metal and alvarinho body. Terrific entry-level, top quality, cleaner and more direct than almost any and all others. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @AnselmoVinhos  @VascoMaga  @terroirtoronto

Muros Antigos Loureiro 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (166710, $9.90, WineAlign)

According to Anselmo Mendes the best loureiro terroir is along the Lima River and it is his varietal ’15 where the warmth and the alcohol are more apparent (as compared to the more northerly alvarinho). Spent the traditional Mendes entry-level four months on the lees with batonnage. The mineral emits less so, the floral and petrol more so. The stone works in close relationship with the palate, of a tang specific to near-northerly vineyards, the back side more into the chalky tannin. Not so much lengthy as much as intense, of an imploding persistence. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

Muros Antigos Loureiro 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (166710, $9.90, WineAlign)

From a vintage that saw very little sun throughout the growing season. Cool temperatures and unrequited elongation coupled with some unexpected age means an entrance into new territory for loureiro, in verbalization of a new tang vernacular, a way for Loureiro to speak in a way you could not know it could. The notes are citrus essential oil and extract, with a hint of saffron and a splash of Amaro. Very cool but no honey and a bit lactic. The 2012 wines are evolving and developing all over the map. Experience gathered from tasting and trying to figure them out will go a long way for the winemakers and the taster towards assessing the current ’15’s. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

Muros Antigos Avesso 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $21.50, WineAlign)

From the vintage in which phenolics had difficulty keeping up with developed alcohol. Adjustments were made to every wine but the range of expression and subsequent expectation is neither consistent nor predictable. The mineral is patina-laced, verdigris, gemstone emerald and there is a whiff of snappy green apple. This reminds me of chardonnay grown on Niagara’s Vinemount Ridge. It’s striking avesso, like popping, cool-climate chardonnay, green and nutty. So much potential. As always, it was treated to four months on the lees with batonnage. As only the second vintage it really is not to be believed. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016

Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (SAQ 11612555, $21.70, WineAlign)

From granite soils on mountain vineyards quite similar to those on the Melgaço estate. The varietal alravinho was introduced to four months lees and batonnage. In here the most fruit emerges as compared with the entry-level (Douro) avesso and (Ponte Lima) loureiro, along with the most body. There bounds and rebounds an elasticity on the palate where the tannin and mineral emerge. Such preserve is built upon a foundation of citrus and density, exuberant and elevated by the heat of the vintage. Stands erect on guard and in protection of itself with direct, purposed length. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2022

Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (SAQ 11612555, $21.70, WineAlign)

The vintage was a difficult one for all Vinho Verde varietal wines and so blending was not just prominent but essential. Unless you were Alselmo Mendes. This one from mountain granite soils in kinship with the Melgaço estate. Four months of lees contact, batonnage and four years onwards into notes of a beneficial bitter pill dissolving in petrol waters, this has really entered nirvana for what surely was an anticipated secondary expression. Citrus is also bitter (orange and lemon) and their combined twangs of tang like crazy. Four years to pay dirt guaranteed in the Mendes varietal play though the vintage decreases the chance of longer term aging. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted March 2016

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Redraft the #alvarinho manifesto #anselmomendes @terroirimports #2001 #murosantigos #vinhoverde

Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2001, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (SAQ 11612555, $21.70, WineAlign)

Still sharply aromatic and spiked, with gelid marmalade and onion skin, its honeyed hue not nearly as advanced as expectation would demand. A fromage like chenin blanc note in there from a washed rind, with apricot and peach blossom. This alvarinho from a dry ferment, but there is nothing to really, truly compare it too. Acidity still trenchant. the bitters remain but on its exit in dissipation. Ultimately just wow, amazing, who knew. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

Muros Antigos Contacto 2015, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (393058, $19.95, WineAlign)

As the name suggests here varietal alvarinho spends its most early formative moments in 12 hours skin contact submerge. Initially there is some reservation on the nose and that skin contact feigns the antithetic idea of mineral up front in aromatic gregariousness. It’s as if all that welled up grape tannin is over-anxious and straining to be noticed. The omni-executed four months lees plus batonnage both adds up front and then subtracts so that the palate will settle you in with creamy, just shy of caramelizing and nutty notes. This is done with remarkable restraint. Comes from the sandy soil banks of the Minho River. Requires an earlier or equal consumption zone to its lesser kissing cousin. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016

Muros Antigos Contacto 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (393058, $19.95, WineAlign)

Exhibits a very similar profile to the ’15, that perception of high-octane alvarinho of prescient mineral through ripe phenolics, electric and eclectic grape tannin. The citrus is more pronounced at this stage, as is the weight. Finishes with more bitters than the ’15, clearly conditioned and thinking on it now it is understood as to why 12 hours is plenty of skin contact time for the thick-skinned, small berries. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016.

Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Alvarinho as you’ve never encountered before, habituated for six months in used French barriques (225 and 400L 2-8 years old) on the lees with batonnage. The first vintage of this unorthodox and recherché alvarinho was 1998. The prophetic Anselmo Mendes is well into a third decade with this amazing alvarinho of Boxler-esque Alsace conceptualization, with density and malo laminate in mouthful with no paste, no chalk, no scotch guard but acidity brilliantly written in blanc stone. Agility and ageability is clearly on time’s side, from here for eight to 10 years for sure. This is the bomb. Yes the wood is a bit up front but will the fruit survive? Yes. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2016

Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Four years has ushered in some unexpected advanced evolution and a Vouvray-like fromage. Though the eight to 10 years afforded the 2014 may be ambitious, the 2012 vintage was anything but helpful and confidence is what you glean from wines like these. Incredible depth of a granite soil’s mineral tang especially as the palate absorbs the nutrients, the old French wood and the subsequent piquancy. The wine seems to prickle at this stage. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted March 2016

Anselmo Mendes Expressões Alvarinho Branco 2014, Vinho Verde Doc, Portugal (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Treated with the same respect and élevage as the Muros de Melgaço, for six months in used French barriques (225 and 400L 2-8 years old) on the lees with batonnage. Here not announcing its varietal because the secret is in Melgaço, not in alvarinho, though it is the most experienced expression of the grape in the region. An amalgamated incline. The oak is of very light toast and here not as apparent as it is in the Melgaço. More clarity and purity, cooler, though the coppery hue might suggest otherwise. This is a dart, sharp and pointed…and then, calm. Such precise treatment from alvarinho expressing the terroir. A slight tinge of tonic in compressed into the citrus finish. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted March 2016

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho 2014, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

L’élevage is heightened to nine months in used French barriques (225 and 400L 2-8 years old) on the lees with batonnage. The name translates to “bronzage,” or literally, “to extract” on the skins for 12 hours and “to party” with mineral jam. More fruit works with the extra oak plus one year in bottle before release.  Now we have left the building and entered into a futuristic alvarinho from which the length is outstanding. Causes a Fortin shiver, lingers and caresses. Like a Fitzgerald novel it seems richer, more complete and more justifiable when viewed against the biographical backdrop of Anselmo Mendes and Vinho Verde. “Between a life that we expected and the way it’s always been,” tender is the night. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted March 2016

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

From the challenging vintage here the artist known as “the bronzage” is an example of a wine made by a winemaker unfased by such inconsequential roadblocks. Anselmo Mendes the earliest of Vinho Verde visionaries, treading archaically and swimming in futuristic waters. Making an alvarinho connection through the usage of French barriques (225 and 400L 2-8 years old) on the lees with batonnage. This 2012 tactile and layered. Does what no other alvarinho has or currently does and will age with slow movement more than the others. If only today though I wager it’s not, his 2012 settles with the most balance of the portfolio. IMO. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted March 2016

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Estate Vineyard at Anselmo Mendes

Anselmo Mendes Parcela Única Alvarinho 2013, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

The treatment here is similar to the Curtimenta, nine months, though in new (400L) French barriques on lees with batonnage. Just above the tasting room is a premium Monção and Melgaço block on the Mendes estate, a single-parcel, in the monk’s area, “a vineyard that always gives an exceptional and elegant alvarinho.” As sheath to this singular, pellucid and top-drawer fruit the new oak is very obvious though necessary for what this wants to be. And so it puts in a patient request for time with the promise of penitence, charity and deliverance. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted March 2016

Anselmo Mendes Parcela Única Alvarinho 2012, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

One year makes all the difference. The new wood (400L, nine months) has melted, tempered and now oozes in flavour. The texture is butyraceous, bled, like a creamy foam that begins to lose its air. This is the hedonism that rises above the rest. It is the most internationally-styled, Burgundy to Napa simulacrum. Flirty alvarinho from Monção and Melgaço. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016

oporto-verde

Oporto Verde

Über beauty, From Porto to the River Minho

The Vinho Verde focus was certainly geared towards the wines but the powers that be who plan the journalist-sommelier junkets know full well that the allure of landscape, architecture, culture, history and gastronomy is such an integral part of the experience. The Monverde Experience Hotel set the stage and though it seemed like nothing that followed would have any chance to thrill and excite, the hits just kept on coming.

canadians-in-melgaco

Canadians in Melgaço

On the last day of March we drove north to Melgaço in the Viana do Castelo District. From the fortress contracted by the then first king of Portugal D. Alfonso Henriques we took in the view a stone’s throw across the River Minho looking out towards Galicia in Spain. Late in the afternoon we crossed the River Lima into Viana do Castelo and arrived at the Pousada Hotel. As if in a dream, or a movie, we marvelled at the views.

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Viana do Castello

Set on the hill of Sta. Luzia the Pousada was built in 1918 by a wealthy Brazilian as a gift to the city. Down the slope lies the shrine of Sta. Luzia, built in an unusual Neo-Byzantine style and then further down the slope is the city centre of Viano do Castelo and the estuary of the River Lima.

%22are-you-m-gustave-of-the-grandbudapesthotel-in-nebelsbad%22-pestanahotels-pousadas-pousadavianadocastelo-portoenorte-uhhuh

“Are you M. Gustave of the #grandbudapesthotel in Nebelsbad?” @PestanaHotels @Pousadas #pousadavianadocastelo #portoenorte #uhhuh

The night belonged to the waterfront and the Tasquinha Linda.

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Tasquinha da Linda

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Fish nirvana #tasquinhadalinda #vianadocastelo

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Octopus at Tasquinha da Linda #vianadocastelo

In the morning, a walk through the city centre of Viana do Castelo.

right-on-time-vianadocastelo

Right on time #vianadocastelo

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You think they ever called him Godello? #vianadocastelo

Further inland along the River Lima we stopped for lunch in Ponte Lima with Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima.

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Ponte Lima fish stew #caldeiradadepeixe #petiscasrestaurante #portugal

And then, Oport0.

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Heart attack and wine #francesinha #oporto #capanegra

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when in #oporto and in need of a good book of spells #livrarialello

Até logo from Oporto.

Foux du fafa, foux du fafa, fafa…see ya David.

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

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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It was Josmeyer’s imagination

Domaine Josmeyer

Domaine Josmeyer

Christophe Ehrhart has a very real and specific goal as custodian of the vines and as a collaborative winemaker at L’éclat Josmeyer. “To avoid oxidized, unclear and unsound wines.” Erhart’s reality lies in his exacting state of certified organic and biodynamic agriculture. He is also a true expressionist, manifested in the feelings of love for biodynamism, running like a dream throughout viticultural life. They encompass an imaginative broad spectrum of respect and attention to all things natural, especially given the spiritual nature of his quest to express terroir.

At Josmeyer, “the first goal is not biodynamism,” Ehrhart tells me at the family winery in Wintzenheim. “We eat only organic and biodynamic. It’s a philosophy of life, but the final goal is to make the finest wines that express the terroir, in a biodynamic way.” I sat down with Ehrhart, along with sommeliers Fred Fortin and Jonathan Ross, to taste eight explanatory wines that fortified insight into Josmeyer’s oeuvre. This second foray took place three days after tasting through a flight of seven wines with Christophe at the Millésimes Alsace, the professional trade fair for the region.

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

Domaine Josmeyer is the present day incarnation of a business begun by patriarch Aloyse Meyer. He was succeeded in 1933 by son Joseph who then further developed the operation in 1946. The current operation was established in 1963 by Hubert Meyer, in memory of Joseph. His eldest son Jean is the elder statesman of the modern domain.

Céline Meyer, Christophe Ehrhart, Isabelle Meyer and Jean Meyer, Domaine Josmeyer photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/pages/Domaine-Josmeyer/140625599300808?fref=ts

Céline Meyer, Christophe Ehrhart, Isabelle Meyer and Jean Meyer, Domaine Josmeyer
photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/pages/Domaine-Josmeyer/140625599300808?fref=ts

With daughters Isabelle (as winemaker), artist Céline (as CEO) and Christophe Ehrhart as wine grower, Josmeyer is three and a half centuries and 11 generations removed from its original beginnings. Today Christophe is a leader in Alsace, sitting on committees including the Alsace governing board of CIVA (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) and the local AVA. Since 2001, Ehrhart has been the head of the local growers of the Grand Cru Hengst.

In his position on the Hengst committee, Christophe Ehrhart has been instrumental in eliminating chapitalization (2003), reducing maximum yield limits (55 hL/L) and creating a sugar code index for wine labels. The latter is Ehrhart’s baby and a result of that vivid, expressive imagination.

“Sometimes Alsace wines make one person unhappy,” notes Ehrhart. “If there is an index, we can make two people happy.” The codex rates wines from 0 to five on a residual sugar scale. The index is specific to the wines of Alsace, which differ greatly from those of Champagne, or anywhere else that still white wines are made. The variegated mineral soils of Alsace wreak havoc on how sugar manifests itself, confusing the perceptive ability to imagine the true level of residual. The Ehrhart scale helps the consumer decode that mystery. The purpose is to avoid mistakes, to let the people know what is inside the bottle. “Just to have information in a simple way.”

Josmeyer is anointed with the highest level of Demeter and Biodynamic certification. In fact, Ehrhart is one of the three global VP’s of the organization, the other two being Olivier Humbrecht MW and Eric Saurel of Domaine Montirius.

In his extensive and definitive profile, Tom Cannavan points out Josmeyer’s transition from négociant to biodynamic grower within the context of a “unique ultra-viticulture raison née.” Cannavan praises the purity of the wines while at the same time bemoaning the “bewildering” diversity of products. He writes, “the different ranges are a product of Josmeyer’s négociant roots, but they do not project the image of a single domaine.” Cannavan notes that switching to biodynamic farming did little to change the Josmeyer style, which is all about dry, crisp wines and yet he ignores the reasons for the creation of so many variations on a single (especially Riesling) theme. Soil. Unique geographical spots. Terroir. Jean, Isabelle, Céline and Christophe feel compelled to make small lots from micro-parcels. Organic and biodynamic are important. Terroir is more important.

Jamie Goode posed this question today. Do we make too much of terroir? In the end of his piece, Goode writes “”I reckon terroir deserves to remain at the heart of fine wine.” Jamie and I were together in Alsace. As they did to me, the winemakers of such a region have left an indelible mark on Goode as well. He has been to Alsace on numerous occasions. It has no doubt helped shape his feelings about the importance of terroir, but also the part the winemaker plays in shaping wine.

At Josmeyer, the science of making wine is like wayfinding, based on dead reckoning. In his anthropological study The Wayfinders, Wade Davis writes “you only know where you are by knowing precisely where you have been and how you got to where you are.” Wine making, like wayfinding, is a craft of intuition and experience. Like the Polynesians who navigated the Pacific through knowledge and photographic images committed to memory, the winemaker learns from what the soil and each passing vintage have told. The agglomerated data is applied towards making better, cleaner and clearer wine.

Each time Ehrhart and Meyer navigate the process, from grape life cycle to élevage, they are like the mariner making use of a 360 degree compass of the mind. The navigator will integrate climate (clouds, winds and rain) skies (sun, light refraction and stars) land (marks and bearings) and water (swells, pitch & roll of waves, feel, currents, widths & colours caused by light & shadow, horizons, subtended mast angles and the vessel’s relative position). Davis writes “the genius of the wayfinder lies not in the particular bit in the whole, the manner in which all of these points come together in the mind.”

At Josmeyer the winemaker uses terroir; lieu-dit & Grand Cru, granite, limestone & clay, slopes (steep or not) facing in various directions, climate and vintage. Christophe Ehrhart the wayfinder is what could be called a terroirist. But what about biodynamic wine growing? According to The Living Vine’s Mark Cuff, moon cycles and tides aside, what matters most, as opposed to organic, biodynamics is all about soil, vitality of land, resistance to disease; vines are like icebergs, we concentrate too much on what’s above the soil when 90 per cent of a vine’s life takes place under the soil.

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

The world according to Josmeyer, as related by Christophe Ehrhart is technically, biologically and viticulturally delicious. Yes, the biodynamic winemaker must concern himself, immerse herself, be disciplined to think deep. What happens in the vine’s subterranean world is everything, and at the same time, nothing. Everhart asked Jonathan Ross, Fortin and I what we thought may be the percentage a vine’s growth and energy is derived from beneath the soil (considering the rest comes by way of photosynthesis from the sun). Our guesses ranged from 10 to 33 per cent. Not even close. Christophe said that scientific studies show the number to be between three and five per cent. Who knew?

Ehrhart’s concession that the quantitative number is small for a vine to derive its personality, divined though the earth’s brine, was quite shocking. Though Ehrhart does not rely solely on the common practice that other Alsatian winemakers take for granted and even believe with blind faith, terroir still drives the Josmeyer machine. Like a sailor who can’t find his longitudinal way without a chronometer, the winemaker who is not in tune with the earth must make use of technology to find his viticultural way. Christophe Ehrhart has an advantage. Organic, biodynamic, wayfinder. This is why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world.

Tasting twice with Christophe in four days left a mark. It was Josmeyer’s imagination, running away with me. Here are notes on the seven wines tasted June 15th, 2014 at Millésimes Alsace.

Pinot Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2012 (WineAlign)

From calcaire-limestone, there is fine design in line, a mime of sugary lime with notes of white pepper and thyme. Wise and so very dry (5 g/L residual sugar), balanced, rhyming, keeping perfect four four time.

Pinot Auxerrois 1996 (WineAlign)

Acting as if it were recent, current, yet bottled, this is freshness in elegance defined. Still a bit reserved and not quite forthright, this is Auxerrois composed of tight, jutting angles, from ripe phenols and grape tannin. It must have been made with “crossing fingers and wiping brows,” by a winemaker with an awful lot of big dreams. At 18 those dreams remain unrealized. By 25 they will have materialized. Would partner well with Unagi.

Riesling Les Pierrets 2010 (WineAlign)

Simplified, the terroir here is part marl, part limestone. (See the 2002 note for more specificity.) The three areas combine for a full orchestral expression of Riesling. Dry as the desert with a triple threat tang of terroir. Intense, as per the vintage, from what I gather and heard around the trade show floor, the closest repeat to 2002 there has been. The sugar here is strikingly low (3.5 g/L) and the acidity (7.8 g/L) raging in comparison. Such sharp, awry but ripe citrus intensity the likes rarely seen in Riesling at 13 per cent alcohol. A Josmeyer study to be sure that needs several years to settle into its mineral skin.

Riesling Les Pierrets 2002 (WineAlign)

From a selection of prestige vineyards in Wintzenheim, Turckheim and Wettolsheim. Positively terroir street in this most arid yet fresh-driven ’10, yet another example of the absolute purity by way of the vantage point vintage brings to the path through time. There is poise but also texture in the form of a yogurty lees. This from flat alluvian Fecht deposits rich in clay of a soil predominantly built of sand, shingle and silt with les pierrets (little stones) and plates of loess. What it must be like to be a wine such as this. Turns a song on its head. This I would say to it. I wish that for just one time I could stand inside your shoes. “And just for that one moment I could be you.

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2010 (WineAlign)

From calcaire marls, the levels are raised, especially the sugar (9 g/L) though you would have no way of knowing it. More chalk grains through and less citrus, but it’s still a matter of zest. This shouts low yields and concentration with a Grand Cru’s deep, guttural voice and the immediacy is frightening. A dart to the Riesling heart. The stallion is at its finest and most focused in 2010. Like so many other pH arrested fermentative ’10’s the couple of extra grams of residual sugar rise up with the elevated level of acidity, but again, the change is both subtle and impossible to figure.

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2005 (WineAlign)

A slim Hengst, lower is sugar (7 g/L) and acidity (6.1 g/L) and minutely up in alcohol. That said it is possessed of a sweet round sensation with leaner, less obtuse angles of tension. More flesh and higher aromatic tones, of stone fruit, of tropical wafts most unusual and standing out in the Josmeyer scheme. The approachability here is base and nearly fun, like a tease of late harvest fruit.

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 1993 (WineAlign)

Travelling back 21 years you see the Jean Meyer take on Hengst, from another era, another Josmeyer. The sugar (10 g/L) is higher, the acidity (6.4 h/L) lower and the alcohol (12 per cent) too. The atomic rise and petrol fuel-driven sensations are more pronounced, the vineyard speak quite real. This is the most polarizing wine I tasted (of the 15 from the Domain in Alsace), not because of the natural and wild expression but because of the way it arrests the ability to produce saliva. A touch of past ripe apple adds to the difficulty in deciding which direction this has taken.

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst Sélection de Grains Nobles 2002

An (SGN) already signed, sealed and delivered to now begin its secondary development stage. Persists with the character of freshness, angular pierce and of a tempered (8 g/L) acidity poking holes in the sugar’s (94 g/L) membranes. Very balanced and delicious, an atomic marmalade of peaches and cream of micro-managed sweetness.

Here are notes on the eight wines tasted at the domain on June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Blanc Mise du Printemps 2013 (SAQ, $22.90, WineAlign)

This is the first wine that goes to bottle (February 2014) from out of stainless steel and 1600-2500L old (1895) oak vats. A verdant amalgamation of spring vegetables, herbs and lime gain elegance and acidity from the blending in of Pinot Auxerrois.

Pinot Auxerrois “H” Vieilles Vignes 2012 (WineAlign)

Straight out the uncanny symmetry to Chablis-like sustenance is uncanny. From a vineyard planted in 1959, the “H” refers to the great Hengst, minus the Grand Cru attaché. Sticky soils with marl and clay make complexity real (like Burgundy). Jean Meyer was the pioneer of circumvention to the 1983 Grand Cru decree by using a letter in lieu of the GC. Many followed (like Albert Mann and Paul Blanck). This PA is clean, precise, creamy, dry and expansive.

Riesling Le Kottabe 2011 (WineAlign)

From the Josmeyer artist series, “young and impulsive, it shares with you its poetry and its intimacy.” The votes between Wintzenheim and Turckheim are old, the sugar (approx. 5 g/L) low and the alcohol (13.5 per cent) higher. “Riesling speaks a salt language that expresses terroir,” says Ehrhart, “as much as a fingerprint.” This has more full-bodied heft as compared to 2010, more muscle, more girth. Shells and a spritz of citrus mark this salt lick of a Riesling, spread evenly, in a chalky sprinkling throughout.

Riesling Le Dragon 2011 (WineAlign)

Very hot, described by Ehrhart as “little Senegal,” from the southwest facing slope of Letzenberg in a sheltered area known locally as “Petit Sénégal” with the dragon that is said to live (or resolved to die after a duel with the sun) in a cave within the Grand Cru Brand. From very ripe grapes that receive major amounts of sunshine. Flinty minerality comes by way of yellow limestone Muschelkalk (shell bearing limestone or, calcaire coquillier). Long and true, with a distinct chalkiness, from a bottle that had been open for five days.

Riesling Les Pierrets 2010 (see above)

Riesling Grand Cru Brand 2011 (WineAlign)

Here lies the mineral of perception, energy and of what is spoken by the fiery locale. Expressing the polarity of silica and chalk, Brand is a vertical line of silica filtering through granite rock. Pure, crystalline and focused because the mineral is filtered out, remaining behind only in deja vu, temptation like sensation. This here, in Brand, is the biodynamism of Josmeyer incarnate. Always the talk of terroir, for right or for wrong. “But it was just my imagination. Runnin’ away with me-once again.”

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2011 (WineAlign)

The solar-powered Grand Cru talks in proteins and salinity so the wine will seek more complex saltiness in food, like sharp (Reggiano-like) cheeses and lobster in a rich sauce. This is endowed with a completely different structure than the Brand, with more surround and circulating roundness. The mineral salinity resides in the back, of both the palate and the texture. It’s richer, with deeper density, less piercing and linear than the Brand. An enveloping, circumventing Riesling.

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2010 (see above)

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A Blanck slate in Alsace

Paul Blanck et fils Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/Domaine.Paul.Blanck

Paul Blanck et fils
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/Domaine.Paul.Blanck

Philippe Blanck‘s wines are his tabula rasa; Riesling, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. They are like children, young and innocent in their infancy, uncomplicated canvases, unaware of what complexities may befall them. Blanck begins with quires like Aristotle’s “unscribed tablets” and transforms these epistemological blank slates through nurturing, experience and perception. His wines are those of expression, not impression.

Domaine Paul Blanck announces to the world they are “Vignerons d’Emotions depuis 1610 en Alsace.” They embody “family spirit” with the objective “to create wines of pure pleasure for wine-lovers throughout the world.” Thirty different wines are produced from the property, separated into three main types. First there are the fruit driven wines to “enable the wine-lover to discover the aromatic finesse of the Alsace grape varieties.” Second are the wines with mineral characteristics, “the single vineyards and grands crus which express the plenitude of limestone, the sweetness and firmness of clay, the harmony of manganese and the racy bouquet and power coming from silica.” Then there are “les nectars,”  the late harvest and “grains nobles” issued from overripe grapes “which are mysterious, opulent, complex and exuberant.”

The English philosopher John Locke brought forth the nature versus nature proposal of the blank slate as “a tacit theory of human nature, namely, that human behavior is caused by thoughts and feelings.” The application of the premise to wine is viable because of the naked stage at which a yet fermented grape exists.

During the grape’s life cycle, genealogy and climate shape its development. But even after it is plucked from the vine it still carries no true identity, in so far as what it will become as a wine. This is the point where nature gives way to nurture. Environment now acts as the catalyst to shape the wine’s life. Wine does not evolve because of natural selection. It evolves at the hands of the winemaker.

The tabula rasa theory works with respect to wine with the only exception being “when innate characteristics are considered because “innate ability and blank slate are two totally opposing ideas, so how can they coexist?” Wine is a blank slate before it is crushed and sent to ferment. Its en route ability to acquire knowledge is anything but innate. Domaine Blanck’s wine is different. It’s tactility defines how it develops and ages. The Blanck 1983 Muscat proves the point. It’s mien is almost impossible to comprehend. Experience imprints knowledge.

Blanck the Darwinian is the keeper of blank slates baring little resemblance to those of his contemporaries. Not because their development incorporates the concepts of heredity, genealogy and culture. It is here within that the Blancks share a commonality with other traditionalists. Where Philippe’s take differs is in the anti-Descartes approach to making wine. Alsace is certainly a wine region with a storied history. It’s a place where sixth and eight and tenth generation winemakers have been passed down the torch of practice and the tools to work with varietals and their idiosyncratic tendencies. For this learned reason and because he approaches l’élevage with feelingPhilippe Blanck’s wines need to be assessed with a combination of art and science.

While it may seem absurd to think about Philippe Blanck‘s wines, or any winemaker’s for that matter as evolved and developed in direct connectivity to musings and dissertations, spend three hours tasting with him. You too will walk away with a poet’s perception, a musician’s intuit and a writer’s reverie. Philippe Blanck makes full use of human intellect and empirical familiarity to help realize his wine’s potential.

The Gewürztraminer Bird of Alsace, Domaine Paul Blanck

The Gewürztraminer Bird of Alsace, Domaine Paul Blanck

Philippe makes the wines with his brother Frédéric, “the artist, the solitary one.” Philippe self-describes himself as the “people person.” The domain is not organic but “we are close. Plowing is the key to organics, and grass, and compost. It’s enough.” No chemical products are used, unless it’s entirely necessary, like in 2006 and 2012 when botrytis ran rampant. “If you want to have low yields, why have fertilizers?” Blanck notes the importance of building up resveratrol in the grapes, essential for disease resistance and vine health.

The Blanck portfolio includes Les Classiques, single, classic-varietals with less than five g/L of residual sugar. Then there are Les Cépages Oubliés, a category which defines a series of wines, but not what they are capable of becoming. They are in fact a set of outliers, a group of grape varieties having fallen from vogue, kept alive by vignerons like Paul Blanck et fils. The varietal eccentricity of Chasselas, Sylvaner and Auxerrois. Les Vins de Terroir come from lieux-dits, spend one year in vats and another one to two in bottle. Les Grands Crus need six to seven years to reach potential but as Blanck exclaims, “after two or three years of cellaring the wine is exploding.” Les Nectars include Les Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Les Sélections de Grains Nobles.

Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

In June of 2014 I sat down with Philippe Blanck at the winery in Kientzheim to taste 17 of his wines, along with Montreal’s Fred Fortin, Sommelier au Restaurant Laurea, New York’s Jonathan Ross, Sommelier at  and Chicago’s Doug Jeffirs, Director of Wine Sales for Binny’s Beverage Depot.  Philippe pulled out 10 bottles with at least 15 years of age on them, including an ’83, two ’85’s and an ’89, because “how often do you have the opportunity to open wines like this?” Philippe’s response? “When people come.”

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

Here are notes on 14 wines tasted that day in June. The other three are Pinot Noir, published (as noted within the link), back in September.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Pinot Blanc Classique 2013

Has an unoaked Chardonnay approach, from early-ripening fruit vinified in a clean, fresh style. The soils are gravel, sand and south-facing clay and limestone. The vintage is what Alsatians would call classic; consistently cool with low yields. Aromatic purity, of citrus and flowers move to a solid and slightly weighty bitter mid-palate, then give way to a sliding scale finish.

Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2010

This grape variety from Luxembourg came to Alsace in the 18th century. Blanck leaves it for one year on the lees, to add richness and to bring out aromas from gentle oxidization. The wine is then left in bottle for three more years before release. The oxygen-free environment couples with the earlier air transfer to complicate matters in beautiful didacticism. The aromatics are massively tropical and the wine is imperfectly clean. Full and fleshy, accessible but intensely cerebral. Auxerrois in awe of what must be.

Pinot Blanc 1989

This from granite soils, full of mineral and white tannin, yet never saw a moment in barrel. The location is the Grand Cru Furstentum, in a windy area, perfect for Pinot Blanc. Has that sense of Burgundian metallurgy, that texture and that buttery malo feel. “This is a paradox without being a paradox” says Blanck, because the tannins are in the vineyard. Even in hue you get a sense of the botrytis. “She’s a beautiful blonde,” quips Philippe, she’s “the sensuality of humanity,” adds Ross. Here Pinot Blanc lets it be, amazes with a pure, silky, textural feeling and a cleanse of the mouth. “All these years I’ve been wandering around, wondering how come nobody told me” there could be Pinot Blanc like this. Now I’ve got a feeling I’ll find more.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2010

This is what Philippe Blanck calls “a flagship wine.” From a cold vintage with excruciatingly low yields. The Schlossberg gives mineral and more mineral; Kaysersberg migmatite, granite of Thannenkirch, potassium, magnesium, fluorine and phosphorus. Blanck’s Riesling distills its rock heredity in classicism and minimalism. Matured on its lees in large oak barrels for 12 months, this is possessive of a roundness despite the vintage, with Sémillon like wax and back-end intensity. It should be considered a two to three-year Riesling, maxing out at the six to seven-year range.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Schlossberg 1998

The bottle had been open 10 days so we were tasting this just for fun, for experience. Philippe did not see the purpose in a formal tasting note. With allegiance to the informal tasting note, the presented wine conjured up one word: Incroyable. So very alive in depths despite the heart worn on its sleeve. Flowers seemed to suddenly enter the room as its complexities were revealed. I could only ask how this could not work itself into my passive consciousness, this wine that had shed its skin and borne its naked ass to the world for so long. It had nothing to hide and nothing left to prove.

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

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

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2009

Tasted from a 375 mL bottle, under screwcap. A crystalline expression, touched by silky tannins, citrus angles and dry, chaste class. The vintage has bestowed it with a broad mid-palate, excellent structure and admiral length, all in admonition of its preparation. The ’09 Schlossberg will live long, in ways that a current look at the ’03 is showing, by gaining tropical flesh and a meringued texture as it ages.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2003

At nearly 11 years of age this archetypal Blanck confab to Alsace Grand Cru clambake sips swimmingly youthful and offers the first and most near-recent look at the house style. Restraint, beauty and intensity are summed up in citrus, mineral and granitic tannin. Quite a quenelle or three of creamy, sherbet-like texture fills the centre of the gelid exterior. Will develop to maturity with another 11 years and a retrospective look back at that time will reveal the glory of the Blanck Schlossberg narrative.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 1994

Popped from a 375 mL bottle, the ’94 is the first to be propelled by petrol. Twenty years ago it came from the Schlossberg’s crenelated granite summits with the simple thought of “gonna be a blank slate, gonna wear a white cape.” Two decades on it’s a national symbol of a father to son enfeoffment, a Riesling of handed down knowledge and analysis. Now in phase two of the atomic launch, it’s also quite sexy, skirting flesh, cut above the knee and showing magical, mineral flanks. A sweet bitterness prescribes its packed and protracted punch. This 1994 shows signs of a melting, leading it into the finest years of its life.

Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

From a tough vintage, especially considering the trilogy of exceptional wines made in 1988-1990. The yields were frighteningly low (less than 20 l/hL) but this, in Blanck’s estimation, “is a poetic wine.” The oeuvre here is all about tannin and acidity, from granite (of course), which is what gives it the intangible quotient of age. The ultramafic rock, igneous and nurturing in origin, intrusive by nature. Drink it any earlier, says Philippe and “you miss the culture and the experience.” There’s a mineral funk here, like a crust upon the granite, a slice of stinky wet rock, chiseled off and dissolved into the wine. This Schlossberg lacks the flesh and the naphtha of the 1994, nor will it suddenly discover it. Time to drink up.

Riesling Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg 1992

Wineck-Schlossberg gets its name from the ruined 13th-century Wineck Castle, between the villages of Ammerschwihr and Katzental, three km’s south of the Schlossberg. The soil is granite, like the Schlossberg, so it’s the same, but different. The advanced decomposition means more granitic fine material, a geological phenomenon that seems to make for a finer and more palpable mineral texture in this Riesling. Yet it seems more terpenic, with a level of orchard fruit in both aroma and flavour not present in the Schlossberg Rieslings. A calm and purposed ’92 from Blanck.

Domaine Paul Blanck st fils

Domaine Paul Blanck st fils

Riesling Grand Cru Furstentum 1993

Switching geological gears here, this is Riesling from limestone, obviously a different animal. Philippe Blanck does not offer his understanding of what calcaire does for Riesling as much as he muses on the poetic and the abstract. “This is a wine that gives an understanding that is just about being.” The existentialist take is curious, coming from a winemaker who speaks more like Donne or Baudelaire than Nietzsche or Dostoevsky. The investigation requires more precision and a foray into the gestalten, something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts. There is a feeling of miel in this ’93, the first in the line-up to give that sweet feeling. The Furstentum shows Philippe as a dreamer and a lover. He and this Riesling are a matter of election, not selection. This wine is the exception to the Blanck rule.

Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983

From Altenbourg, a lieu-dit located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Here is Blanck’s “fairy tale,” a wine you would have always heard about but never had a chance to taste or likely ever seen. The terroir is limestone mixed with clay and you will have to excuse my Alsatian, but a single sniff and taste releases the expression, “are you fucking kidding me?” This 31-year old Muscat is an impossibility, a first time feeling, a never before nosed perfume. Speaks in a limestone vernacular, of grapes given every chance to survive long after their innocence had been lost. A forest herb, tree sap, evergreen resin, lemongrass and bitter orange coagulation rises from its viscous mist. The acidity has lost nothing on the fruit, acts in perfect foil and leaves you with a sense of loneliness that is just beautiful.

Paul Blanck Muscat d'Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983 and Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

Paul Blanck Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983 and
Riesling Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru Schlossberg 1991

Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum 1985

Elegant and refined but decelerated in the old ways, “my father’s and uncle’s way,” admits Blanck. Here a wine defined by aromatics and tangible consciousness. Spices abound, of the far east, tomato pulp, tarragon, sage, tangerine, mint and eucalyptus. It’s balmy with a streak of cool garrigue. It’s Gothic in its green grandiosity. So, it reflects pure Furstentum Alsace, back to the doyen, to the territory of the wise.

Gewürztraminer Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives 1985

Nearly 30 years have condensed and melded this late harvest wine together. This represents the Blanck intangible revenge. The series of sneaks. It’s a veritable, tropically creamy and alcoholic shake of coconut, pineapple, guava and mangosteen. Mixed in are herbs and spices. In their infancy, wines like this are a “big blank slate every day.
Big blank canvas staring at me every day.” With time they creep into my consciousness. The ’85 VT is silky, evolved and very much alive. It’s so deep and so pure it absorbs every colour of visible light expect what is to come, so it reflects back the purity of the past. Might require a spoon to enjoy to the fullest.

Good to go!

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