The Cru chief comes to Toronto

The time is now. Olivier is in the @FineWineReserve house #zindhumbrecht @TrialtoON

The time is now. Olivier is in the @FineWineReserve house #zindhumbrecht @TrialtoON

Olivier Humbrecht came to Toronto last week to pour recent vintages of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. With brix and mortar special agent Ben Hodson of Trialto Wine Group leading the tasting room charge, Olivier also added in a few youthful historical gems in the line-up, including an “important and fantastic” Muscat that he so righteously and necessarily continues to insist on keeping both viable and alive.

Tasting Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer with Olivier Humbrecht at the Fine Wine Reserve, Toronto

Tasting Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer with Olivier Humbrecht at the Fine Wine Reserve, Toronto

Any time you get the chance to taste with Olivier Humbrecht the inevitable, integral and essential phenol-tannin-sugar-acidity sequence is front and centre. His devotion to ripe phenolics and grape tannin in white wines is now legendary and in many ways, revolutionary. Low pH levels continue to dominate his directive. “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.”

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

The other blast from the past brought to the Fine Wine Reserve tasting was a 2006 Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru of such pure acidity it speaks an ancient vernacular and spins in perpetual motion.

Related – All suss terroir

Humbrecht is the Cru chief of Alsace because of the plethora of terroir from which he chooses to make wine. It would be hard to name another Alsatian vigneron his equal of hands and with such a spirit of terroir understanding. In the 2011 vintage alone Zind-Humbrecht produced 29 different wines for Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Spread thin is not an issue. Each Cru, whether Grand, Clos or lieu-dit are approached with equal heedfulness and perpension. Here are the seven wines poured at the Fine Wine Reserve.

Keeping the #Muscat dream alive @TrialtoON #zindhumbrecht #olivierhumbrecht

Keeping the #Muscat dream alive @TrialtoON #zindhumbrecht #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2012, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $44.00, WineAlign)

Keeping jurassic or neolithic relativities in mind, the young(er) limestone results in a buoyant chemical level of free lime and higher pH, in addition to an earthly, marly tang and richness in clay. With 15 months tacked on there is weight are there are settled flavours, as if mimicking the 24-hour open bottle, tasted last June. “Pinot Gris is the most versatile grape we have,” says Olivier, so matter of fact. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted November 2015.

From my earlier note of June 2015:

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.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $44.00, WineAlign)

Ripeness is a virtue, magnified here, from a very warm year, now six years on in compression from east facing, oolitic limestone and deep marl soil (classified as argileux calcaire). “Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood,” when Muscat was considered in much higher light. The 2009, dramatic at this age, bobs aromatics to the nines, dressed to thrill. Unctuous and magnetic, this has changed gears in ways that the ’12 had not and undoubtedly has yet to click. Lays claim to Olivier’s adage, “any fruit picked unripe will come with acidity but that’s not the kind of acidity you want.” In spite of ripeness this has maintained the correct amount of tartaric acidity and low pH to petrol up the Muscat truck deep into the end of this decade. Muscat to provide shelter from the storm. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted November 2015

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $88.00, WineAlign)

A wine always tough to pinpoint its aromatic desires, especially when so young, but it is not difficult to assess the willingness to thrive in spite of the harshest Alsace geological conditioning. That said, this has seen a minor spectre of development. It has made some new acquisitions; rock spirit outward of expression and ready to party from its early (before the 25th of September) harvest ripeness. Struck Riesling, in flint and some signal clarity of medium to thriving acidity. Southern Alsatian with veins running fine slate and bleeding minerals in steaks running across its salty skin. There should be a willingness to concede this as the most accessible immediate, modern era R de T there ever was. Drink 2016-2028.  Tasted November 2015

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2006, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $85.00, WineAlign)

From a professed beautiful vintage until a week of rain at the end of September, leading to noble rot in many places without sufficient drainage. In the Rangen the botrytis hit but the cause, effect and reaction remained within reason. Smoke and noble rot, out of aromas and into hues. The smell is sweet (carried by 35 g/L RS) but the acidity hides at least half that number, so it rings across with unconscionable aridity. Still the proposal insists that the late harvest sensibility can’t be denied, with its Ixion hyperbole of mineral and acidity. Acidity keeping this Riesling swirling like a Thessalian king punished by Zeus for his love of Hera, by being bound to a perpetually revolving winged fiery wheel. Drink 2015-2026.  Tasted November 2015.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Turckheim 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

“What we call a village wine,” says Olivier, “so it’s usually a sweet wine.” From a well-drained vineyard offering blossoms and blessings of full flavours, supple textures that leave the palate with a sense of weightlessness. “In ’11 Gewürztraminer ripened really well and went to a really good level of potential alcohol,” he notes. Here it remains fresh at 12.5 per cent alcohol and at a healthy level of 75 g/L RS, though just short of existing in the land of Vendanges Tardives. A wine made by the vintage. Subsequent wines would and will more often than not be nearly bone dry. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted November 2015

"If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling" @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

“If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling” @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $64.00, WineAlign)

This is the most northerly Zind-Humbrecht vineyard, in Hunawihr. Like oil and water from this to 2012. So much more richness, unctuousness, classic western European riverbank gluck and heavy weighted metal. Layers upon layers of texture though not nearly as dramatically sweet as it might appear to be. Hides it so well, thanks to those remarkable Windsbuhl gifting phenols and intense grape tannin. This has presence so very rare in Gewürztraminer. In the end its a glass full of liquid gems, polished, elegant and refined. Allow the sugars several more years to fully realize its potential relationship with the acidity. Drink 2018-2033. Tasted November 2015

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2007, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)

Settled and amenable in an unexpected way, offering up its level of sweetness that 2011 and certainly 2012, do not, at least not yet. The phenols must have been available in an abundance of riches in 2007. They have allowed for an evolution to take this 2007 into its happy place right now. This has travelled the far eastern path to tropical fruit, of mandarin, in apricot and the mineral cream of south asian stone fruits. Those characterics persist and play nice with the Windsbuhl verve, subduing any notion of drama or over excitement. This is drinking well right now. Drink 2015-2027.  Tasted November 2015

Olivier Humbrecht was hoping to pour two more wines, two very singular and very different Sélection de Grains Nobles. The LCBO could not find the shipped cases in their warehouse so they were not present at the tasting. Perhaps they will turn up at the same time the ark of the covenant crate is found.

When I visited and tasted with Olivier at the winery back in June of 2014, I had the opportunity to have a go at a younger vintage of the Pinot Gris. The older 2007 is available through consignment with Trialto, along with the Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles Goldert 2007 ($120.00, six-packs). The Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2007 is also currently available ($180.00, six-packs) in limited quantities. Here was my note on the ’09 Jebsal

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Sélection de Grains Nobles Trie Spéciale 2009, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $180.00, WineAlign)

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. Drink 2020-2115.  Tasted June 2014

Good to go!

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All suss terroir

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

Niedermorschwihr and Sommerberg Grand Cru Vineyard, Alsace

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

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

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kientzheim, Alsace

Related – In a Grand Cru State of mind

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

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

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal's Fred Fortin

Godello and Restaurant Laurea Montreal’s Fred Fortin

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

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

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

Related – A Blanck slate in Alsace

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

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

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

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Godello and Christophe Ehrhart, Domaine Josmeyer, Kientzenheim

Related – It was Josmeyer’s imagination

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

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

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sommerberg Grand Cru

Sommerberg Grand Cru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierre Frick et Fils

Pierre Frick et Fils

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

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

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

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

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

Henri Schoenheitz and Godello

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

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

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

Schoenheitz Picnic, Wihr-au-Val

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

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

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

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

Domaine Albert Boxler

Domaine Albert Boxler

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

Dinner wines at La Table du Gourmet, Riquewihr

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

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

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives Goldert Grand Cru 1985

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner wines at L'Epicurien, Colmar

Dinner wines at L’Epicurien, Colmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

Fleischanaka at Domaine PIerre Frick

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

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

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

Related – Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

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

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

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

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

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

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

Pierre Frick Auxerrois Carrière 2006 (Embouteille en 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

  1. Volcanique/Clay-Granite (Rangen)

Related – Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

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

Related – The cru chief of Alsace: Zind Humbrecht

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

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

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

Jean Boxler, June 2014

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

Related – Trimbach, rhythm and soul

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

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

Good to go!

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Colmar and the volcano: Domaine Schoffit

Selection de Grain Nobles of Domaine Schoffit

Selection de Grain Nobles of Domaine Schoffit

Like so many Alsace winemakers, the Schoffits were and continue to be torch bearers who made wine to remember generations.  Though their history traces back more than four hundred years, the modernity of their oeuvre is a case of futuristic pioneering. That path is laid crystal clear by a tasting and a learning about their wines in discourse through the precocious young lens of Alexandre Schoffit.

During a week in Alsace we tasted many wines 25 years and older. At that age there can be no guessing. At Schoffit we were presented wines that fell into the four to fourteen range. No longer primary and not yet secondary, the assessments of adolescence can be difficult, confusing, beyond comprehension. The relationship between many wine’s character with its aromatics and flavours is usually that of gristle and fat on the bone of meaning. But not Domaine Schoffit. There is no gap between the structure and the wine.

The Harth Lieu-dit is the Alsace home vineyard and grounded muse for the varietal wines of Domaine Schoffit. Eleven hectares of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas and Pinot Noir make up the core of the domain’s 100,000 bottle production. The alluvium, permeable pebble soils in Colmar and France’s most generous amount of sunshine provide the sustenance. Robert, Bernard and now Alexandre Schoffit are the facilitators of clockwork winemaking, on time, always with a shine.

If Harth is the guts, the glory comes from the volcanic sharp hillsides of the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, acquired by Bernard in 1986. This is the only siliceous rocks and lava base in all of Alsace. It is here by the monopole and medieval church Clos St. Théobald that the foundation of the Schofitt legend lives. Rangen might borrow from the German, meaning “row.” Legend has it Saint Théobald brought the finger of the Archbishop from Bubbio, Italy because the ring was promised to the monks. The saint fell asleep in the vineyard and passed on. Another story tells of Hercules having been the one to sleep in the vineyard because the Rangen wine was so strong. His mace graces the label on the Schoffit coat of arms. Today the church and the monopole memorialize St. Théobald and his name.

From as far back as 1041 records discuss the 3rd incarnation of the monks who worked the vineyards on the treacherous slopes. Rangen Riesling and Pinot Gris need cellar time, to pay hommage to the provider’s history and to create one of its own. Grand Cru from these vines lives a life of its own. Notes Alexandre Schoffit, “in the Rangen we are not avoiding malolactic fermentation, but if it happens we are not bothered by it.” The monks knew of the connection between the Thur River’s dark waters and what happens to these wines after long rests in the cellar. “If you know the Rangen, you can tell it by the colour.”

Schoffit’s other Grand Cru is located in the Sommerberg, between the towns of Niedermorschwihr and Katzenthal. The granite hillsides are the proviso for mineral moxie and the resolution to provide what Riesling demands. Only le roi of Alsace grape varieties is made in Sommerberg. The crumbling granitic bedrock is ideally suited for the racy wines it begets.

Related – Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

Riesling is royalty in Alsace and at Domaine Schoffit, it is king. When he introduces his family’s Pinot Gris, Alexandre Schoffit explains, “the wines are a little more simple; full-bodied, concentrated.” This attitude is prevalent across the region though some winemakers seem to love all of their children equally. Others, like Alexandre and like Jean Boxler (Domaine Albert Boxler) clearly put Riesling on the throne.

Pinot Gris is a different sort of child to raise. As a rule in Alsace and especially on the volcanic or granitic steep slopes, it must go deeper than Riesling, must burrow even further into the fissures of rock for nutrients. In Pinot Gris the mineral extraction and grape tannin suppress any thoughts of cloying or insipid sweetness.

In June of 2014 I sat down with Alexandre Schoffit at the winery in Colmar to taste 14 of his wines, along with Montreal’s Fred Fortin, Sommelier au Restaurant Laurea and New York’s Jonathan Ross, Sommelier at .  A tour of the facility showed us the stark minimalism and puritanical cleanliness that defines the three generations of winemakers at the domain. The wines echo their attention to detail, their storied history and a focus on keeping up with advancements of the times.  Here are the notes from Domaine Schoffit.

Domaine Schoffit, Colmar

Domaine Schoffit, Colmar

Chasselas Vieilles Vignes 2012 (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

Cropped at 40-50 hL/l because they are careful not to let it get out of control. According to Alexandre Schoffit this number is like 20 hL/L for any other grape variety. Chasselas here for easy drinking, with mildly sweet (4.7 g/L) flavours that express green herbs and vegetables. Round (12.8 per cent abv) and sound Chasselas, helped by the balance of the vintage. Though not exceptional in acidity (4.4 g/L) this is not the hallmark of the grape. A wine that is almost entirely exported to foreign markets.

Riesling Lieu-Dit Harth Tradition 2012,

From the winery’s home Colmar vineyard composed of gravel and sandstone, this has open-knit fruit of early morning flowers. An apricot tang, ripeness and just a few shades away from bone-dry (7 g/L RS) and yet in a balanced (7.2 g/L TA) dry style. To taste this is as traditional as Alsace Riesling can be. Proper, as expected.

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

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

Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg 2011

From granitic soil, the first reaction is to the beguiling strike of a match, the split to fissure of rock, the firing of a gun. The impression that begins is not just one of smell, but deeper, as if a deafening sound. This and the brisk surround of near-extreme acidity (7.7 g/L). Only 800 bottles a year are produced of this startling Riesling, a rare production for a wine of so much stone and that searing, direct energy. Clean as Riesling can and ought to be.

Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg 2005

During a week in which many 2005’s are laid out on tasting tables, here is another spot on example. “The vintage makes the wine,” insists Alexandre and this Sommerberg drives the point. The age has had very little evolutionary effect on the aromatics. The lapidarian has perhaps had its stone face suffused by a fleshy permeate, Jacked by a temporary balladeering smother, though it will undoubtedly re-emerge hard-core lithic further on down the road. Typical, it seems, of granite-based Alsatian Riesling. Begins in matchstick, enters lanolin, beeswax and wooly sphericity at eight to ten years of age, then returns to flint later in life. Acidity is the catalyst in this development. “And if we are fools in love, then a happy fool I would rather be, and I’ll be glad to learn from you,” though I know Sommerberg has nothing to learn from me. Racy Riesling, seemingly understood but never really known. “Well that’s the magical kind cause its flowing all the time.”

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2012 (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

Here the volcanic axiom. Not the one that includes magnetic reversals, dinosaur populations and the stock market, but yes, the one concerning global rhythms. The 2012 global and Alsace vintage heat sees Rangen yield at just under 40 hL/L, with soaring aromatics in a wine that will lack the stuffing for longevity. Simpler and so lifted in florals while herbiage balms and bombs the (“Schistes” label-designated aridity) in salinity and fruit driven to immediate assets. The Clos St. Théo’s young acidity is so much rounder than ’10 and ’07, though still very disciplined. Purely and effortlessly representative Rangen to enjoy while the others sleep.

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2010 (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

The label is also known as the “Schistes,” indicating a new de facto dry style and another example to speak about the Schoffit purity, clarity and precision. A whiff of smoke pursues the ethereal in this terrific and exemplary 2010, like the 2000’s of a decade earlier, balanced and elevated by a low and slow evolution. The schist soil impart brings a lime acidity in piercing precision. The near-optimum vintage is taken full advantage of, perfect to show off the Schoffit style. The only imperfection is the lack of economics, a result of the yields (under 30 hL/L). Never mind the wash, this has aridity and salinity in frozen waves, immense like a raging river’s falls suspended in animation. Rangen Riesling is as dramatic an expression as any in the world and this ’10 perches amongst the top of the class. Drink 2018-2030.

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2007 (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

The ’07 Rangen is not showing age with the same advancement as the Sommerberg but the idea is just the same in that the roundness or richness has stepped in to soften the volcanic salinity and mineral mouthfeel. The rigid attributes persist but currently reside in a purgatorial state of temporary stoicism. The dry finish is the locus point to indicate (five more years) time is needed to see past the salty breakwater and to reach the true meaning in its character. Also, because this ’07 has been through malolactic, unlike the Sommerberg, yet the consequences are not a question of compromise for balance. Drink this from 2019-2027.

Quelques grappes du futur Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen Clos Saint-Théobald 2013 (c) https-::www.facebook.com:schoffit:

Quelques grappes du futur Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen Clos Saint-Théobald 2013
(c) https-::www.facebook.com:schoffit:

Pinot Gris Tradition 2011

Here the Schoffit proclivity towards the potency of Pinot Gris as a straightforward and heady white. The sugar (13.1 g/L) is felt and yet its strength is conveyed by elasticity, bespoken towards needing to give this a few years to settle. Propellant wound acidity (5 g/L) keeps the proportion in flavours of peach, pear and the appendix of savour. Drink this paradigmatic Pinot Gris from 2016-2020.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2010

In this volcanic soil plussed Pinot Gris the anxiety is palpable. The sugars are derived from orchard fruit at a ripeness pulled by acerbity (9.5 g/L) in clairvoyance of that volcanic mind, skewed and eschewed through utter dramatic density. A good bitterness prevails over the tension with a finish in citrus intensity. Moments of delicacy give a peek to where this will go, that and the incredulous observation on how remarkable 37 g/L of residual sugar is tempered along. Drink from 2018-2025.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald 2000

So here is what 14 years provides from the depths of a steep volcanic slope high atop the Rangen. Like a burning candle meets crème brûlée, the wax smouldering, the sugars caramelizing, the symbiotic augmentation crystallizing in natural sweetness, in seamless fusion. This represents the reason we take time to look at and see what happens to Pinot Gris, from altitude-afflicted vines with volcanic interruption and through the neurasthenia of originally-picked unsullied, purest fruit. The cleanest botrytis. Rapturous PG. Drink now through 2025.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Vendanges Tardives 2010

Quite clean and lean for VT out of that exaggerated hyperbole of a terroir-driven vintage. The richness and fullness is on the palate at this early stage in its development. Very full (approximately 50-60 per cent) botrytis affected grapes in a repeat recording for hygienic, pellucid and precise. The aromas are from white fruit, flowers and tender apricot. The acidity (5.8 g/L) is unexceptional, observed in relation to a lower block’s fruit (on the middle slope) which is naturally lower in acidity and less concentrating (128 g/L) to the grapes. While the verve may have wandered away in marronage, the delicacy here stands apart. Drink sooner rather than later.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007

From a vintage of concentration for SGN. A very smokey note bristles with the highlight of lit beeswax intensity. Telescoped and rapt aromas of peach and apricot turn syrupy on the palate. This SGN is extremely young at heart and bounds about like a whelp of limitless innocence and energy. If the highest pinot in volcanic absorption could be measured in Alsace, this Rangen might top the bimetal thermometer. Fills the fullness and complexity kettle yet somehow, miraculously remains light on its feet. With “hair of gold and lips like cherry it’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.” This is oozing (265 g/L) dessert wine, sticky, infiltrating the pores of fingers the moment it leaves the glass. The finish is marked by citrus (9.5 g/L) and the classic Schoffit lit wick. From George Jones to a Scony Mack kind of SGN, like the back of a woman’s knee.

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Sélection de Grains Nobles “Larme de Lave” 2007

A mere 500 plus bottles (with sugar at 510 g/L) are produced of this SGN which I believe will live forever. “This bottle is made to show what can be done,” says Alexandre Schoffit. “It’s more than a dessert wine. It’s a meditative wine.” When it pours into the glass it takes a moment to settle into itself. That’s how viscous it is. Moves beyond pure apricot, into the essence of a multitude of fruits. Picked hand by hand, seeking only the botrytis-affected berries. The unadulterated soul of natural grape sugar. Few words can express the need to ceremonialize its incredulity. With alcohol at 4.9 per cent and a potential of 37.2, the Lave will live more than 100 years, of that we can be sure.

Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Rangen De Thann Clos St. Théobald Sélection de Grains Nobles 2006

Richer, with an early increase in caramel, colour and in warm concentration. There is licorice (no, really) on the nose and also pine. “A really complicated vintage,” explains Alexandre. This has a drier sensibility as compared to the Pinot Gris, with dried fruit flavours of mango and apricot. An oily, petrol note adds to the confusion and a hard-pressed, on the spot ability to pick this out blind as Gewürztraminer would certainly be a reality. Orange peel and slate fall in late. The residual momentum (162 g/L), acidity (8 g/L) and alcohol (11.7 per cent) may be misfit bedfellows but messing with what the vintage and the slope gives would be a bite upon the hand that feeds. It is what it is, you can’t change it. This is the fragmentary varietal character of the Rangen.

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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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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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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