Seven snow day whites for VINTAGES February 20th

Scallop and Shrimp, avocado, grapefruit, tomato, cilantro, lime, lemon, garlic, olive oil

Scallop and Shrimp, avocado, grapefruit, tomato, cilantro, lime, lemon, garlic, olive oil

A confession. Herein these pages there might seem to be the appearance of astonishing disorder. With music as a muse and a foil to wine, I prefer to look at it as an enjambment, or, as James Woods might explain it, as “the desire to get more in, to challenge metrical closure.” No form, structure or cohesion you think, you mutter, you say? Oh, well.

Over at WineAlign I share my February 20th VINTAGES release picks in the Buyer’s Guide, along with colleagues John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and a travelling David Lawrason. Here at Godello the list expands. First here, with seven whites for snow days and well, just snow. Look for the reds on Saturday.

The white wines of VINTAGES February 20th, 2016

The white wines of VINTAGES February 20th, 2016

Hugel Gentil 2014, Ac Alsace, France (367284, $16.95, WineAlign)

A bottle blend soft and inviting, teasing tropical fruit but grounded in the continental orchard. Warmth on the nose and cool effervescence on the tongue add up to a waxy, airy finish. This opens up, rises and elevates on the back end. Terrific aperitif out of 2014 with some legs to last through the night. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @FamilleHugel  @HalpernWine  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @VinsAlsace

Creekside Estate Riesling Marianne Hill Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (443572, $19.95, WineAlign)

Like a gypsy boy, the idea of Riesling, winemaker Rob Power and Creekside Estates do not occupy overtly obvious territory so here, “come over to the window, my little darling. I’d like to try to read your palm.” In it the perfected Cohen lines of classic Bench Riesling, of stalwarts Thirty and Hidden Bench. Same stoic, non-gentrified possibilities unfollowed and new concepts surreptitiously proposed. Terrifically tart, dangerously darting and tasked for mouth watering righteousness. Such succinct lemon-lime continuous balance. Winemaker Rob Power may not have a storied history with Riesling but now that he has gone Marianne Hill he can’t go back. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco

Ilocki Podrumi Premium Grasevina 2013, Hrvatsko Podunavlje, Croatia (369421, $21.95, WineAlign)

Such potential from Croatia found, packaged and articulated in this bottle. Classic Furmint in Grasevina clothing, right along the wire where Pinot Gris looks over towards Chenin Blanc and says “let’s spend the night together.” Honeyed, unctuous, spicy and floral to the stones and back. For days when “I’m going red and my tongue’s gettin’ tied,” turning to white never tasted so good. You gotta try this. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @WinesofCroatia  @RolandRussell

Greywacke (Kevin Judd) Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand (164228, $23.95, WineAlign)

From the town of bedrock, Kevin Judd’s Greywacke is a modern, stone-age Sauvignon Blanc. Grown out of vineyards in the Central Wairau and Southern Valleys in Marlborough, Judd’s exploratory to trailblazing SB announces its aromatic arrival like a pick struck on granite. Tannic from the get go and forged with precise angles and friezes, always tied by an indenture with texture. The vintage is a fruit first forward, neighbourly one and it takes a winemaker to keep things etched in stone. This one strikes me as one that could have got away but the reigning was accomplished in lope, guiding the fruit through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and stops. The success lies in the canter of acidity to extend the effect towards a turning and returning, again and again. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @greywacker  @Greywacke  @oenophilia1

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2012, Ac Alsace, France (971762, $29.95, WineAlign)

Immediately reminds of 2008 and will go down a similar, slowly turning and evolving path. So purposed and direct though there is a slight elevation in residual sugar as compared to the four four beat four years ago. Pinot Gris of pears and operas, with some spice on the finish. This will aria into something lovely at the age of seven and beyond. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @trimbach  @WoodmanWS  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace  @VinsAlsace

Béjot Les Bouchots Montagny 1er Cru 2013, Ac Burgundy, France (438002, $27.95, WineAlign)

Tidy, tide and vine Chardonnay the way with oak it needs to be. Unobtrusive and just a sheet between fruit and acidity, enough for warmth and not too much to bring on the sweats. Snug, spruced, agitated, resplendent even. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @HannaNealWines  @BeauneTourisme  @BourgogneWines

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010, Tasmania, Australia (393629, $29.95, WineAlign)

If 2008 has just recently settled into its low heat unit skin then the consideration here can’t yet touch the thought. So much lees and so much time, so little evolution and so little mind. Jeremy Dineen must be grinning from ear to ear with the thought of where this fizz will go, carrying so much wisdom in its autolysis and Tazzy vernacular in its mousse. Great citrus benchmark OZ outpost where the bubbles work hard for their money and offer up nothing but charm. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @JosefChromy  @bwwines  @Wine_Australia

Good to go!

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Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

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

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

Domaine Weinbach

The great estates of the world do not endure for lifetimes, generations and centuries without an innate endowment to carry on, no matter the circumstances. Through tragedy there is always a prevail. There just has to be. I did not get the chance to meet Laurence Faller. I am sure that I would have loved to. Having tasted some of her wines at the domaine where she nurtured and finished them is at least a small concession. When I visited Weinbach last June, I did have the opportunity to meet her mother Colette Faller and I am lucky to have done so.

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

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

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

Thanks to Catherine Faller, who gave generously of her time and her family’s wines, the visit in the winery’s caves and up on the Schlossberg Grand Cru opened up the portal into Domaine Weinbach, Kayserberg and Alsace. Tradition and progress at Domaine Weinbach carries forward in the hands of winemaker Ghislain Berthiot, who worked with Laurence for 11 years. Here are the six wines tasted in June of 2014 and their notes.

Domaine Weinbach Muscat Réserve 2013

Domaine Weinbach Muscat Réserve 2013

Muscat Réserve 2013, Alsace, France (SAQ 10273521 $45.00, WineAlign)

True belief denotes Muscat as the launching point for any Alsace tasting, but nowhere does the ontology mean more than at Domaine Weinbach. The vintage cements the doctrine. Darts straight back to the nadir of taste and smell, to the points of the tongue and inner nose unable to elude such an attack. From vines of the Clos des Capucins, soil composed by marno-calcaire at the foot of the Altenbourg Grand Cru. Low-yields (28 hl/L) drive acidity and fruit purity atop cut and cutting apricot crossed with the essentia of a grape. Here is an apéritif extraordinaire, cocktails and caviar, crunchy canapé and pure distillate. Opens the doors to Weinbach perception. Drink 2015-2025.

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

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

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2013, Alsace, France (Agent, $66.00, WineAlign)

From a difficult vintage with rain at harvest. A large crew was needed in mid-October to get the pick done with haste. This ’13 is essentially being given away, so it’s a gift to the world, in a sense. The fruit comes from some of the oldest Riesling vines, situated half way up the granite Schlossberg slope. Tasting this in 2014 is 12-15 years premature. Such an infant this Schlossberg, so very primary, as if by tank, as if by womb. Assumes the role of the richest of Weinbach’s Riesling aridity, exercised by the most established finesse. Peaches are exorcized in attack and persistent. Currently mired in a micro-oxidative state. You can sense it working, churning, moving in animation.  If a taste of 2005 is any indication, it will be 2022 before this wine will begin the Cuvée Sainte Catherine reveal. Look for the open window to fall between 2025 and 2030.

Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2005

Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2005

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2005, Alsace, France (Agent, $66.00, WineAlign)

Here the rich and panegyrical Riesling from the first biodynamically farmed vintage at Domaine Weinbach. The old vines from the Grand Cru’s mid-slope averaged 60 years in this ’05, a wine that managed the best southern exposure to great effect. “You can have a whole lot of fantasy when it comes to food” with this Riesling vintage says Catherine Faller. That’s because there is a magnified, munificent and magnificent toast in this ’05, like some older Burgundy. The spice notes are right on the tip of the tongue with all the necessary sapidity of youngish Alsace, wise and wistful. Now having just entered the secondary window, this wine is such a perfect portal for the gauging of aging, itself looking for ideal consumption between 2020 and 2025. Full reward offered to those with further patience.

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011

Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011, Alsace, France (Agent, $68.00 (B.C.), WineAlign)

From an altitude of 225 to 250 metres and out of the marly limestone soil beneath the lieu-dit of Altenbourg, located at the base of the great Grand Cru Furstentum vineyard. In conjunction with the micro-specific sub-Mediterranean climate and the Indian Summer of the 2011 vintage, the results here are of the elegant kind. The total effect upon carefully judged fruit and in the late Laurence Faller’s Gewürztraminer magician’s hands, this “foie maker” is lifted, exotic and ethereal, like exceptional, fermented Yuzu. A subtle and quiet entry gives to a confident middle and a demanding, spicy finish. Lets go and slides softly into ethereal flavours. Catherine Faller’s eyes light up when she imagines a Cuvée Laurence pairing with “blood orange duck.”

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

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

Pinot Gris Altenbourg Quintessence De Grains Nobles Cuvée D’or 2010, Alsace, France (Agent, 375 mL $539.00, WineAlign)

Domaine Weinbach created the moniker “Quintessence” when it was coined to describe the 1983 cuvée. The nickname is apt for the rapt selection of rare pearls from the lieu-dit Altenbourg. The marl, limestone and sandstone Clos is a gentle slope between 225 and 250 metres high, just beneath the limit of the Grand Cru Furstentum. In a late harvest SGN like this one from the low yielding 2010 vintage, at a sky-high residual of 200 g/L you would think sweet to the back of the brain. You would be right but each time that intensity is carefully brought back from the brink by formidable, if unctuous Pinot Gris acidity, a bubble within a bubble, never bursting, always teasing. The concentration and purity here are magnificent, the flavours hanging in extract of endless, suspended animation. A wine to sip, to share and to save for senectitude.

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

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

At the Millésimes Alsace, the professional trade fair for Alsace wines, one of Laurence Faller’s great legacy wines was poured.

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru Vendanges Tardives 1994

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru Vendanges Tardives 1994

Gewürztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru Vendanges Tardives 1994, Alsace, France (SAQ, 11521362 $132.00 (2012), WineAlign)

The wine was presented in Colmar by Sommelier Caroline Furstoss who began with the soulful tribute of “Laurence is felt in this wine.” Deduction, by salience and sobriety of grace, is considering the Faller’s ’94 a pure expression of the Furstentum terroir. Noted are the aromas of quince, apricot, their blooms and a grain of spices. Though already twenty years in, it remains conspicuously fresh. The richness and concentration are at such a high level. Flavour begins with a marmalade in defiance of confection and has no end. Though the vintage is decadent, warm and unctuous, there is always balance. Has a tannic impression and smells like flowers from warmer France. Furstoss reminded everyone that it is “an expression of a daughter.” Impeccable balance.

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

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

Good to go!

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Mind blowing wines of 2014

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

Bouteilles de la collection Méquillet de Kientzheim, Confrérie Saint-Etienne

In January it began with A resolution to drink honest wine, “juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life.” It continued with New year. Try new wines, where the goal was “the resolve to drink outside the comfort zone.” If the issue was Feeling under the weather? Drink wine, success was had. “Wine is your friend. When approached, integrated and embraced in the right way it can help to promote a healthy lifestyle. The defence rests.”

January was a busy month, complete with Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and ice wine, not to mention Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds. In February the opined focus zeroed inwards, to Ontario. What’s in a wine vintage? asked to reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites, the best wines made to date. Harsh words were spoken against Rosé, but only because of the obviousness of it all when said, You can kiss my sweet pink wine, Valentine. Thomas Bachelder showed us Synchronicity in three terrors and he will do so again this coming Sunday when we break wine together down on the Peninsula. Calming influences saved days, having once more expounded on the music immersion, in and with wine, from Three-chord wines, hold the rants. The month concluded with more healthy advice and the question Are you getting your daily serving of wine?

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

In March the annual pilgrimage to Niagara produced more tasting notes and verbiage than was previously thought possible, in a three-part series. Godello’s excellent Cuvée adventureWhen experts break wine together and Wine experts Brock and roll, Brock on were also joined by a visit to Flat Rock Cellars in Bottles, barrels, tanks and a vertical. A two-year impassioned body of submissions to canada.com culminated with the final column, The death of wine scores?

Scores were subsequently dropped from godello.ca but continue to be sidled up to the notes at winealign.com. In April I found out what happens When Sangiovese comes to townBurgundy will always be royal and that it’s always Go Gamay go time. In the name of Somewhereness, The group of twelve was once again called to assembly. In May there was the omnipresent Kalon of MomPaul Pender’s Tawse and effect and a fascinating look at cooperage in Every barrel tells a story. Prince Edward County again proved its mettle in ’14 and consumers were encouraged to Take them home, County wines. VQA stood under scrutiny in The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom and another chapter was written in The Stratus-Momofuku continuum.

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,  Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Godello with Zoltan Szabo, Tony Aspler, Mike Di Caro, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson and Nicholas Pearce,
Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Sparkling wine bubbled over in New fizz on the Brock, was Talkin’ ’bout my Generation Riesling and a trip to Alsace in June put me In a Grand Cru state of mind. I was Down on the Ornellaia and found out first hand, on a boat trolling across Lake Erie that The South Coast is clear. I offered up The froth on Crémant d’Alsace and in July told you that Chardonnay is cool. The eponymous conference yielded in excess of 10,000 words in August with 50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more and The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. I branded Olivier Zind-Humbrecht The cru chief of Alsace and felt what it was like to be Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes.

Tide's Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

Tide’s Out, Big Cove, New Brunswick

A 5500 km trek to the tip of Cape Breton and back yielding poetic and prophetic expression in The tides that bind: East Coast swing. “The tractive is a thing to and of itself. The pauses to gather at points along the process remember lobsters roasting over an open fire, a cottage visit with new-found friends, a hike into the cavern of a waterfall and a swim in a tidal river. Memories are made in rites of passage, though in the end, like the photographs, they too will be demurred by time. Indelible stamps they are, cemented in commitment to reaching and by necessity, descending summits. A  road trip to the eastern part of Canada realizes the bigger plan. The key is making it safely home, before the tide rolls in.”

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2014

In September I tasted history with Taylor made Port and insisted on Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due. I ignored a publishing embargo to announce how The LCBO and WineAlign go local and went Rocking out with the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada by judging the best of the best. A recall to Consider the Gaspereau Valley brought me back to Benjamin Bridge, a visit with Peter Gamble and the declaration that “I have seen & tasted the future of vinifera in Nova Scotia and its name is Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.” Gamble’s work with partner Ann Sperling in Argentina is simply and skillfully The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec.

My report, Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality was met with lukewarm avoidance then rebounded, thanks to the tunes, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with songA hip of wine from Hidden Bench gave way to Fourteen wines that should be on your restaurant list, in which I insisted “if your job title includes choosing what wine is poured at your restaurant, you should never dial it in.” I enjoyed some Wine on company time and Americans take note when Sonoma peaks from out of the fog.  For the third consecutive year I gave Yet another 10 reasons to pour a glass of wine on Halloween.

Local wines, notably Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases and in direct contrast, I went Off the beaten Italian path to discover endemic varietals. The Bloody vivid 2011 Vintage Ports had me reeling. “The 2011 Vintage Ports have balance, well, the best do, but they are, and I speak in very general terms, collectively over the top. Though it may seem an oxymoron to put Vintage Port and elegance in the same sentence, what is a great wine without a sense of humility and restraint?”

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Two exposés on Alsatian wine, A Blanck slate in Alsace and It was Josmeyer’s imagination covered two distinct theories, of tabula rasa and wayfinding. On Sparkling wine I gave you Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence and Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles. If value is your thing, I hope you read The final 14 bargains of 2014 and if great Canadian wine and cuisine float your gastronomic boat, my judging experience was captured at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014.

This is the third in the trilogy of best of reports for 2014. The first, 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014 was about “wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.” The second, Top 15 under-$25 wines of 2014 was meant to to “create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity.  To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines.” The third instalment is meant purely to celebrate and to thank those who shared their bottles with me. Here are 16 wines tasted in 2014 that simply blew me away.

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Tasting with Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck

Domaine Paul Blanck et Fils Muscat d’Alsace Réserve Spéciale 1983, Alsace, France (From A Blanck slate in Alsace, December 1, 2014)

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.  Tasted June 2014  @DomaineBlanck

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) From The pearls of Morissette’s wisdom, May 26, 2014

In July 2013 Francois Morissette made this statement. “If we can’t make Gamay in a Cru Beaujolais Style, I’m not interested.” In May 2014 his ’13 Gamay causes Bill Zacharkiw to comment with blatant honesty, “just line up at the tank. Forget the bottle.” From 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. Once again the hue is just impossible. Sulphur-free, this walks a fine and perfect line of Cru banana Gamay. Pushes the Gamay envelope in that it’s gulpable but with a duress to remind you not to overdo it. A Gamay with a chamber of 32 doors. In it “I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found.” François Morissette.   Tasted May 2014  @PearlMorissette  @3050imports

Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VRM 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (agent, $30.00, WineAlign) From A day in WineAlign life: 15 new releases from Ontario and B.C., August 8, 2014

Here blends one-third each Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne, a veritable Rhône orgy in wild fermentation, aged on the skins in terra-cotta and amphorae. While I would not go so far as to call it an “orange wine,” I will use the “N” word to describe its agrarian ways. As natural as anything you are likely to taste out of B.C., this is a most untamed experiment and should not be missed. It verges on oxidation but refuses to climb over the edge. It’s floral, spicy and crowded. The texture is chalky and so full of rusty, clay rubbed streaks. Everything about this is unkempt and exotic, including the never cease and desist fermenting lychee and longan feel. Hard not to be wowed by this blend’s presence.  Tasted August 2014  @lfngwine  @liffordretail

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2006, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula (241182, $35, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014

Only Charles can follow Charles, as only Jimi could follow Jimi. Just ask Peter Townshend. The combined forces of vintage, off-dry level of residual sugar (23.9 g/L) and age have ushered this Picone into a realm of adipose, butyraceous, chewy texture. The ’06 is emblematic of its time, stunning, psychedelic, experienced. It speaks clearly and with conceit. Tasting it eight years on you can hear Baker’s 2006 voice saying “if you can just get your mind together uh-then come on across to me.” We have and continue to follow Charles, and we are paying close attention to every vintage along the ride.  Tasted March 2014  @cbriesling  @StratusWines

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Sémillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) From Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, June 12, 2014

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign) From The death of wine scores?, March 26, 2014

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection   @liffordretail

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2012, Burgundy, France ($143.00, WineAlign) From Burgundy will always be royal, April 22, 2014

The Fèvre take on Les Clos is the cradle of all the domain’s wines, in every respect. Intensely concentrated, this is Chardonnay expressive in every facet of its surroundings. The impart from compressed white limestone, ancient fossils and Jurassic minerals in distillate may seem abstract in description but how else can the feeling of a mouth full of rocks be conveyed? The remarkably complex Les Clos and its structured palate that goes on forever has come out of its Chablis vineyard cradle and will live on as one of the best ever. “It’s not a place, it’s a yearning. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.” There is no rush to drink it up. It will offer immense pleasure for 20-25 years.  @WoodmanWS  @BourgogneWines

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997, Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 0961714 $145.00, WineAlign) From When Sangiovese comes to town, April 7, 2014

From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”  Tasted April 2014  @Coldorcia  @ConsBrunello

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2001, Doc Bolgheri Superiore (Agent, $189.95, WineAlign) From Down on the Ornellaia, June 24, 2014

The blend of the 2001 Rosso Superiore is Cabernet Sauvignon (65 per cent), Merlot (30) and Cabernet Franc (5). Though strange to say and admittedly a retrospective comment, the minute quantity of Cabernet Franc and not yet inclusion of Petit Verdot result in a more straightforward and not as heavily layered Ornellaia. The structure is more linear and understandable, the fruit not as variegated. Complexity and Tuscan spiritualism are not compromised by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant line, in fact, assessing the evolution at 13 years on reveals the Bolgheri terroir in ways the magnanimous and opulent more recent vintages just don’t reach. There is a refreshing acidity in this young and developing ’01 in a streak that again, the baby Superiore do not seem to possess. This is a striking Ornellaia, a wine that would work with exceptional cuisine of varied cultures. It can be enjoyed now and will respond with grace and thanks for 30 plus years more.  Tasted June 2014  @Ornellaia  @AuthenticWineON  @sherry_naylor

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign) From A Bordeaux family of wines, September 29, 2014

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.  Tasted September 2014  @Noble_Estates

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977 at Splendido Restaurant, September 2014

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1977, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Though the vintage was reported to be less than exceptional, the chance to taste this 37 years in/on and the longevity it displays combines for full, blow me away effect. The first vintage of Sassicaia was 1968 and this 10th try hits the mark of experience. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85 per cent) and (15) Cabernet Franc, the fruit came from vines over top soils of clay and limestone. The wine spent 20 months in Yugoslavian oak barrels (half of it being new, and half used once or twice before), while for the remaining 60 per cent, French oak was used (2/3 new and 1/3 used once or twice before. Tasted blind, the swirling and searching thoughts of Genesis retrospection assimilate aromas of truffle and mushroom, but at first there is no reply at all. Landing on a plot of excellence somewhere between Bordeaux and Piedmont, Tuscany rises from its hills. A silent conversation ask the Sassicaia “I get the feelin’ you’re tryin’ to tell me;
Is there somethin’ that I should know?” Its condition is near perfect, its body full, its nature pristine and finally, so obviously in balance. After 30 minutes it begins to slide, to no surprise, but you can’t believe the expression it gives and the impression it leaves. And so, it is confirmed. 1977 was a fine vintage for Sassicaia.  Tasted September 2014  @Smarent  @Splendido_TO

Contino

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974 at XocoCava, with Chef Chris McDonald and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency, October 2014

Bodega Viñedos del Contino Rioja Reserva 1974, Rioja, Spain (Agent)

An impossibly youthful 40 year-old Tempranillo, even surpassing the more evolved ’80 in that regard, with aniseed, coconut and beeswax in its current aromatic state. Less gamy and animal funky, yet persistent in earthy beats. The vegetal scents act as conduit to the light bulb shining brightly of circuitous flavours and resolved textures. Lingers in mouth feel, its layers of time slowly peeling back, revealing in length, a slide show of the wine’s life. With many year’s still ahead, this is a Tempranillo revelation and from one going back this far that gained no support from Graciano (because it was planted in 1979). Its apostle following instead comes by way of the white Viura. Pair with Chef Chris McDonald’s Foie Gras and Partridge Croquetas.  Tasted September 2014  @TheVine_RobGroh  @Cvne

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign) From Château Margaux hits the road, May 5, 2014

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014  @Noble_Estates

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009 (From The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht, August 5, 2014)

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.  Tasted June 2014  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON

Schlumberger

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé 1945 (From In a Grand Cru state of mind, June 18, 2014)

From an area of sandstone soil that predates the appellation. “This is an old story,” says Sommelière Caroline Furstoss by way of introduction at a Millésime master class. “This is a wine of God,” in allusion to the success of a vintage immediately following the end of World War Two. So emotional to taste, of a Riesling with 20-25 g/L of residual sugar and a recondite, balancing level of acidity. Complete and clean, persistent in its power and vitality. There is orange peel and spice, cinnamon and spike. Must have been a warm yet somehow perfect vintage. Sixty-nine years on there is the slightest hint of toffee and nougat with a whispered promise to age for at least 30 more effortless and graceful years. The length lasts for minutes. The heart and the hearth. Just the thought of producing this wine at that time is unfathomable and mystifying. There are no superlatives to do it justice.  Tasted June 2014  @VinexxWine

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863

Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign) From Taylor made Port, September 2, 2014

The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits.  Tasted August 2014  @TaylorsPortWine  @Smarent

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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.

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The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Le Clos Windsbuhl de Hunawihr
PHOTO: http://www.zindhumbrecht.fr

Were Olivier Humbrecht, MW a Rock ‘N Roll star, he would be the guy, the man, the boss, the one everyone wants to hang around. He’d be invited to every benefit concert, like No Nukes at MSG, Live Aid, Live 8 and a Tribute to Heroes. He would sing the biggest parts on the raise awareness and relief funds records like We are the World. He would headline every star-studded gathering to celebrate an influential musician’s career, like that of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

Olivier Humbrecht is a winemaker. He’s also smart, France’s first Master of Wine, rooted in his region’s history and hyper aware of every nuance in each terroir. He’s an extreme scientist, biologist, geologist, viniculturalist and viticulturalist. Olivier Humbrecht is a student of many Alsace genres, techniques and methods. He’s a bit of a perfectionist. So are many Alsatian winemakers. But Olivier also has the charisma, the persona and the drive to strive for bigger and better. People want to be near that.

The rock star complex manifests itself at a tasting of the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. Olivier has laid 14 wines on the cellar room table for a group of eight journalists and sommeliers. After leading the group through the lot, he checks his watch and sees there are a few minutes left in the allotted time. He opens two more bottles, then two more. Time is up. The group must press on. He opens another. Just one more, “for perspective,” he says. He can’t stop. The adrenaline is pumping. One more encore. Just one more Sélection de Grains Nobles…

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is well-known to the world, considered the consummate professional vigneron d’Alsace. The wines are immaculate to a fault; pure, precise considerations out of a multitude of variegated and diverse terroirs; of those around the winery’s home in Turckheim, Wintzinheim, in Gueberschwihr, Thann and in Hunawihr. The Grand Cru holdings of Brand, Hengst, Goldert and Rangen de Thann provide the stuffing for exceptional produce but can any other winery in Alsace lay claim to so many exceptional wines from their lieu-dit and single-vineyards not classified Grand Cru? The trifecta phenomena of the Zind-Humbrecht hill parcels, “Les Clos”; Häuserer, Windsbuhl and Jebsal may as well be Grand Cru squared. The wines from these most worthy soils are dreamy and in top vintages, impossibly perfect.

Most vintners in Alsace are connected to a village, have vineyard holdings surrounding or on slopes leaning upwards from the town. Many crush and ferment in caves beneath their homes right there in the ancestral village. Above ground Zind-Humbrecht is more modern than most, in many ways the embodiment of the 21st century Alsatian facility but Olivier’s wines are deeply connected to Turckheim, the village closest to a large proportion of his vines. The region’s regulatory board decision to eliminate a village like Gueberschwihr from being used on a Riesling label is both curious and counter-productive. Olivier is an island here, not having found any other producer’s support to keep such a designation alive. The irony is not lost. A winemaker incredibly passionate about soil having to label his wine by that very concept and against his will.

I had the opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht on two occasions, thanks to CIVA and SOPEXA, at the winery and at the Millésimes Alsace trade event on Monday, June 16th, 2014. Humbrecht’s brain is in constant churning motion. He will never rest and settle for the status quo. He has learned everything and has everything yet to learn.

Biodynamic farming is at the nucleus of Zind-Humbrecht’s practicum and by now spoken as an apothegm, not ad nauseam. Olivier notes that Colmar, the vinous hub of Alsace and just down the road from Turckheim, is the driest town in France. “We are in a region that in the past we had to fight for ripeness. This is not the case anymore. I have not had to chaptalize in 20 years.” Global warming has had a great effect on phenols but Olivier stands firm on timing. Plants, including grapevines, have very specific life cycles, from flowering to ripening. “I will be ready for picking September 1st,” he insists, “regardless of the weather.”

On varieties, Muscat D’alsace remains “important and fantastic.” Humbrecht insists on keeping it viable and alive. “Reds are trendy,” but not significant to Zind-Humbrecht, adding up to less than one per cent of total production. Ninety per cent are single-varietal wines. Riesling persists as the core variety. It’s a grape that hates to ferment so noble rot should be avoided, because it arrests fermentation.” For Riesling to succeed? “You need a majority of tartaric acid, slowly, coolly, through the cold of winter, to achieve proper malic acid, to achieve good Alsace Riesling. Basically you don’t even want to know it’s happening.”

Olivier is an ally to both phenol and tannin. “Phenols in white wine is something that is always neglected,” he says, and “I do appreciate tannins in white wine, especially in low acidity grapes like Gewürztraminer.” Too many people do not understand the aging capabilities in the wines of Alsace. “We’ve gotten rid of too many phenols in white wine,” he complains. “We love the anti-oxidants, which will not allow the wines to age well, with no protection against oxidation.”

The phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence only succeeds when PH is in the mix. “PH is more important than acidity. Low PH is a guarantee for good evolution in bottle, and good phenols.” That said, skin contact is to be avoided in Humbrecht’s world. “Alsace already has high aromatics so contact is contradictory.” It can lead to the inclusion of green phenols which would be detrimental to making sound wine. Ripe phenols come from the vines and Olivier continues to refer to structure and acidity as a direct consequence of what happens in the vineyard.

The ZH processes include high density planting, hand harvesting, gravity feeding, cold cluster pressing and the use of wild (indigenous) yeasts. The total annual output is approximately 300,000 bottles from 40 hectares, a capacity reached in the mid 1990’s. “We are not interested in getting any bigger,” concedes Humbrecht.

The last piece and going forward of the Zind-Humbrecht puzzle concerns vintages. “Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” says Olivier. “2014 is very precocious.” Flowering was done the first week of June, almost two weeks ahead of the norm. This is similar to 2003 and 2011. “We made a lot of mistakes then, because it was the first time we had this.” The plan is to adapt to the climate by cooling down the soil, with more grasses to retain moisture. They will also let more branches grow to restrict sun and more canopy management. Biodynamic farming at work.

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

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

Here are notes on the 20 Zind-Humbrecht wines tasted in Alsace on Monday June 16th and Wednesday June 18th, 2014.

Pinot Noir 2012

To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.

Muscat Goldert 2012

Like any self-respecting winemaker in Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht is intent on keeping Muscat d’Alsace alive with hopes that someday it will once again thrive. The white and red coloured, longer ripening, small berry Muscat Petite Grains receives minor (one or two per cent) support from grapey, soft and aromatic Muscat Ottonel. Raised from olitic limestone and marl soil, this Muscat is blessed with terroir inducing greater acidity and a dichotomous, silty ripeness, like a green, unripe Sauvignon Blanc. One has the sense that in this unique vintage the noble variety may age with an almost unexpected stride through the years.

Riesling Terroir d’Alsace Vin Sec 2012

This is the most basic and tenable wine in the Zind-Humbrecht portfolio. For the uninitiated it is an ideal embarkation point from which to engage the dry elegance and saline minerality of Alsatian Riesling. This “entry-level” effort is from 11 year-old vines, a slow ripening vintage and the stark reality of granite soils. The ever-present Humbrecht honesty and richness is here but in its most subtle (and only 2 g/L residual sugar) scale. Quick notes of lime, chalk and ginger. Olivier says it is made for the Brasserie or the Gastropub market. Never mind that it’s the most junior of his Rieslings. Nobility begins here with this reassuring, air-dried, easy to understand wine.

Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2012

Here rolls the rock of the ZH stable. From gravelly, well-drained, poor soils around the winery. The citrus factor is front, centre and in surround sound but a natural richness and sweetness brings balance. This means the wine will gracefully incline through to a dry yet fruity future. A savoury austerity will increase the ageing quotient, in addition to the omnipresent mineral flavours by way of old (47 year-old) vines that burrow deep in the gravel, providing grit and strength, especially in drought vintages.

Riesling Calcaire 2012

The artist formerly known as Gueberschwihr is no longer. The new regulation regarding the production of village wines became effective with the 2011 harvest so, alone in its support for the quality of wine for the village, Humbrecht had no choice but a switch to the Calcaire nomenclature. From richer, cooler, alkaline soils. A touch more sugar (8 g/L) than the Turckheim counterparts, this also has higher acidity. Technically not so dry but this is the elevated, though not quite astronomical PH talking. It is dry enough to be considered Sec. Momentarily stuck in the proverbial petrol and mineral fence. The door will open shortly, to the ZH airy density and so physically speaking, this will taste drier as it ages. Even if “all this science I don’t understand,” I do know “it’s gonna be a long, long time” before the Calcaire comes down to earth and settles into its skin. Ten years to be sure. Rocket man.

Riesling Clos Häuserer 2012

Also Turckheim in origin (specifically Soedlen) but from marl soil atop really aggressive limestone from just under the Grand Cru Hengst’s nose. One of the highest in PH, this is austere and currently shut tight within a dry (4 g/L sugar) free lime zeppelin drum. Though aromatically mute, the mineral density on the palate is striking, like a reduction of half and half spread on sourdough toast. The 18 month lees program is most noticeable here and this Riesling will be led towards a petrol induction future. When it gets there, a taste will bring you into the Häuserer of the holy. The deep marl soil on top of calcareous Oligocene mother rock will speak and it will ask  “are you dizzy when you’re stoned?”

Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11532951 $73.00, WineAlign)

There is a roundness to the Brand, in beautiful calming aromatics in defiance of the hard biotite granite, black and white mica soils. The pure mineralized clay silica brings heat to the land, with a high surface exchange quotient, not so different from the Schlossberg. This is precocious and precious Grand Cru that demands the wisdom and the fortitude of old vines, of a minimum 25-30 years of age. Zind Humbrecht’s average 66! With two per cent noble rot in the mix the wine reaches for more sugar (11.5 g/L) out of its desperately low yields. There is a high mineral ripeness and a tropical tingling, in melon and clementine.

Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 12133871 $101.00, WineAlign)

The Thann is a 22-hectare, low yielding Grand Cru. The terra is volcanic and dark sedimentary soil, very steep and homogeneous. The high mineral altitude and poor attitude means the Zind Humbrecht ambition is aromatically challenging to assess, even if to taste it’s so obviously exquisite in concentrated depth. Such a rich, intense grapey nose but the flint smothers the smoky smoulder that should be present. A tight, angular and sobering expression, more isometric and idiosyncratic than anything tasted to this point. An island in the line-up. Not the most loveable Rangen, like its name, which is too old to even know its meaning.

Riesling Heimbourg 2012

From the village of Turckheim, the vines are planted on the steepest aspect of the marl covered, oligocene limestone slope. More noble rot present here than in the Brand, resulting in, naturally higher sugar (15 g/L), richer fruit and a deeper hue. “The sweetest Riesling we’ve made in 2012,” admits Olivier. A most interesting specimen too, an upside down cake in alternating layers of apricot and crushed rocks. The flavours are high-toned, not necessarily tropical, but lush.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Alsace, France (agent, $80.00, WineAlign)

“Vintages are very important and different in Alsace,” notes Humbrecht, exemplified by this blasted 2011 in contrast to all the ’12’s at these tastings. Here the fruit leans in the most elevated petrol direction, from a warm year and an earlier harvest. A younger evolution is taking place, showing immediate and gratified balance. The terroir is cool, rocky limestone with shells, similar to Burgundy. The clos is a gently sloping, six-hectare parcel. Overall it’s anti-floral, wet chalky creamy and striped by linear acidity. Only 4.5 g/L of sugar. These last two numbers mean nothing if you don’t recognize the PH because there are different acidities in wine. Here the acidity walks the fine line, side by side with its partners.

Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2007

From a different era, this was fermented bone-dry, dire, with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar. A Riesling to show just how tight the Zind-Humbrecht band was back then and it is just beginning to communicate in its mid-life, mineral voice. If as a lieu-dit subject it was once “incommunicado,” with no comment to make, this has changed. The notes are layered and together, the mid-palate extraordinarily full, the length in reverberating, extended play. Here in today’s communique he’s come clean, having moved on from the strict, straits style, once spun unbending. The experience of great players and exceptional monopole (Grand Cru deserving) terroir has given the ’07 Windsbuhl the foundation to realize a classic Riesling.

Pinot Gris Calcaire 2012

Fruit comes from the Heimbourg, providing pure limestone effect and a great nutty character. The sugar is nothing to forget about (10.6 g/L), here already commissioned and integrated. Provides support for Olivier’s declaration that “if anything should happen to a wine, it should be before you bottle it.” Much more accessible than the fastball-curveball-changeup, out of the strike zone ’11. Here it’s all down the middle,  juicy, hittable fastballs.

Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012

The Rotenberg’s shallow, red soils (located on top of the Hengst) bring a whole new set of parameters to Pinot Gris, in stark contrast to the Calcaire. Two bottles were poured. A two-day old sample showed settled and mellow flavours. A new bottle was crackerjack reductive, leesy and with a shocky aridity so unusual for Pinot Gris. The soils bring concentration, here magnified and compressed by the hastened moment. All the hallmarks of the Zind-Humbrecht style are there, if suppressed; tang, herbiage and a spicy spike. Very dry (4 g/L) and really invigorating white wine.

Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2012 (SAQ 11545233 $74.25, WineAlign)

The noble grape in this Muschelkalk (calcareous) vineyard comes through in high concentration, with an increase in noble rot from very low yields (12 hl/L). There was hail here in 2012, just after flowering, not a devastating storm but enough to minimize quantity. The sweetness (35 g/L) is heightened and uncompromising yet always mitigated by intense mineral activity. The richest and most unctuous wine of the morning (to this point) with direct, pure ripe tree-fruit flavours. This is a Pinot Gris that remains firm against the dangers of oxidation and it will develop smoky and toasty aromas. The structure is what I would call remarkable but not exceptional. Time will tell. Here the wait needs to be a minimum five years and then to drink well past 2025.

Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2012

As of the 2011 vintage, the Wintzenheim bottling became the Calcaire, for village designation (or lack thereof) reasons. Fruit here in 2012 is mostly (not necessarily typically) from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard. The marl and limestone leads to a very typical Alsatian and even more typical Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer. Full on glycerin, creamy, perceptibly sweet and protracted wine. Even at 35 g/L it is tempered by high tannic animation, as much as in Burgundy. Skin tannins are much more interesting than those from oak because they elevate the acidity by way of contrasting balance to the sugar. This is why they succeed.

Gewürztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2012

From old vines of the Hengst, the yield is half of the Calcaire, the concentration raising the bar in the opposite direction. The residual number is the same but the sugars are more complex, intensely natural and variegated. The texture and flavours cover a creamier, wider spectrum and even though some typical rose petal/lychee components are noted, they remain submerged beneath the piquancy and the richness. This Hengst will gain flesh and weight as it ages, elevating the potential for late harvest sensations and alcohol.

Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2012

The Muschelkalk calcareous, southeast facing slopes of this Clos employ slightly cooler temperatures and the stretched elasticity of slow-ripening to bring a sense of balance and poise to Gewürztraminer. The same can’t be said for Riesling on the same site, at least not in 2012. The Windsbuhl here speaks in more sweetness and less alcohol. “If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz,” says Olivier, “then you won’t see it in Riesling.” Here is an example that backs up one of his most telling axioms. “It’s the phenols of the grape that make it age gracefully better.” Age it will. Drink this beginning in 2020 and through 2040.

Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Hengst Grand Cru 2011

A wine not often made because of the dry climate in this Herrenweg vineyard. The gaining of full botrytis expression only happens once in every five or six years and when it does, this eager and vivid sweet wine is the result. Harvested at high ripeness and proportion (50 per cent) of noble rot, with a quick (one month) fermentation to achieve a sweet balance (vin liquoreux) not that far from some SGNs. At 102 g/L it is obviously quite sweet though once again, with acidity, PH and exceptional phenolic character it strikes a balance. I don’t normally imagine late harvest wines to speak in terms of elegance or restraint and I’m not sure those are the most apt descriptors here. Yet the Hengst is as subtle as it gets for the genre and never enters the arena of the cloyingly sweet and absurd.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and the tasting table
PHOTO: Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010

The residual on the 2010 Windsbuhl is remarkably high, this as a result of its long but (not compared to 2009) fermentation. From a historic vintage, with top-notch acidity (the goal was 16 g/L) and clean, precise botrytis. With the complexity and structure provisos of the Muschelkalk calcareous terroir and (43 year-old) vines, this exceptional dessert wine was given all the tools necessary for success. A parabola of a dessert wine, one sip and “we barely remember who or what came before this precious moment.” Attacks the mouth with an unparalleled sugar/acidity/tannin continuum. The flavours bring to mind quince, apricot and creamy mangosteen in out of control concentration. There is a reason sweet wines like these are so rare and receive such high praise. Exceptional fruit of uncompromising quality and a winemaker’s reverence are the reasons. Olivier Humbrecht prepared this 2010 to succeed and to live for decades. Drink from 2025 to 2055.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

A south-facing, very steep slope of grey marls and gypsum. A vineyard that yielded a miniscule 10 hl/H. A stratospheric residual sugar quotient (in the realm of 500 g/L) and incredulous acidity to prevent the development of the yeasts. A fermentation that finally finished in the late winter of 2012. A wine aged in demi-guid. Selection of grapes of a botrytis so pure and dry. These are the specs of a wine I may never taste again. Olivier concedes he “really tries not to obtain the highest sugar concentration possible” but this 2009 is a “monster of a wine.” It will take forever to assimilate and digest the sugar. Unctuous, lush, rich and gorgeous does not do it justice. Pure distillation of fruit and stone, accented by spice, wild herbs and flowers. Like an injection of pure, Pinot Gris adrenaline. All this from dry extract, slowly rehydrated with magic pixie dust and the wonders of the natural world.  Will live for a century and then some.

Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Sélection de Grains Nobles 2010 and Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009

Good to go!

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