Arch classic Alsace at Domaine Weinbach

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

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

Domaine Weinbach

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

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

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

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

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

Domaine Weinbach Muscat Réserve 2013

Domaine Weinbach Muscat Réserve 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2005

Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2005

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

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

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru Vendanges Tardives 1994

Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru Vendanges Tardives 1994

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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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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Walking an Alsace mile in their Riesling shoes

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

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

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

Related – In a Grand Cru state of mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maison Rolly Gassman

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

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

Riesling Silberberg De Rorschwihr 2010 (WineAlign)

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

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2000

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

Riesling Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 2010

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

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2000

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

Riesling Pflaenzerreben de Rorschwihr 2010

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

Domaine Maurice Griss

Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

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

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Josiane Griss with Riesling Sonnenberg 2010

Domaine Pfister

Riesling Tradition 2012

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

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d'Alsace

Mélanie Pfister introducing the wines for Divines d’Alsace

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2012

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

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2011

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

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2010

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

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 2000

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

Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg 1990

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

The wines of Domaine Pfister

The wines of Domaine Pfister

Caves François Schmitt

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012

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

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2000

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

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

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

Vins Jean-Baptiste Adam

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010

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

Riesling Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2000

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

Ginglinger-Fix

Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2012

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

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2012

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

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru 2011

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

Riesling Goldert Grand Cru Vendanges Tardive 1998

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

Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Riesling Weingarten 2010

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

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle Cuvée Marion 1999

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

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2011

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

Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2012

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

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Domaine Valentin Zusslin

Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg Vendanges Tardives 2000

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

Domaine Sipp-Mack

Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg 2012

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

Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2000

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

2000 Rieslings

2000 Rieslings

Domaine Barmès-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2000

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

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

Riesling Grand Cru Steingrubler 2000

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

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

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!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

In a Grand Cru state of mind

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace

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

Domaine Steuntz-Buecher

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

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

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D'Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

Louis Haller Brut Crémant D’Alsace / @diVINeSDaLSACE

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

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

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

Grand Cru Riesling 2000

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

Godello and Pierre Gassman of Rolly Gassman

Godello and Pierre Gassmann of Rolly Gassmann

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

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1990 and Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Furstentum 1994

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

Mélanie Pfister

Mélanie Pfister

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

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

The wines of Jean-Marie Haag

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

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