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.

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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

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

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

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

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

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

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