Posts Tagged ‘Alsace’
The blind tasting Bring a Bottle Club has had one successful evening of Alsatian wines this year already and many us had also been to a Josmeyer tasting of great quality. So it was perhaps tempting fate to have a third go at this subject – and so it proved. While it was as usual a very enjoyable evening, there was an above average number of faulty or just less than convincing bottles – a rather characterless Pinot Blanc, a prematurely aged Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir which took a long time to come around in the glass, and two sweet wines with question marks. But it was by no means all suffering – there were also enough good examples – and fine dimensions of some wines – to remind us of the qualities of this great region.
Wine number one was a real blind-tasting puzzle – its’ white and from a famous producer, it even has some regional character in the richness of its palate but it just won’t conform to any of Alsace’s four ‘noble’ varieties or local specialities. And that’s for a good reason as it is a Vin de Table and made predominantly from … Chardonnay! Fresh, ripe apple fruit, honey, cinnamon on the nose and then ripe fruit and off dry on the palate. Good … and, for Alsace, eccentric.
Next up were a trio of wines with something in common. The first was clean but rather lacked character, delicately floral with some orange and spice notes and light on the palate. The second just didn’t seem right – something of a geranium note (lactic bacteria acting on sorbic acid apparently), and then rather mushroomy with a rich palate buried somewhere in there. The third showed the glory that can be Alsace – remarkable concentration, rich palate, some fine orange rind notes on account of bottle age, balancing acidity and excellent length. These turned out to a trio of Pinots, the first Blanc (which should have been fatter and more luscious), the final pair Gris. The real surprise was the failure to shine of the first wine from the usually highly reliable Josmeyer: Les Grand Voyageurs, Pinot Blanc, 2009. The casualty came from Kuentz-Bas, Pinot Gris 2007 and the compensating quality from Zind-Humbrecht: Pinot Gris, single vineyard of Rotenberg, 2000.
The last of the (more or less) dry whites were a contrasting pair, both aromatic but apart from that very different. The mild mineral or petrol notes and ripe apples and lime proclaimed the first to be Riesling (but then we were waiting for this to show up!), while the other really did do the textbook rose petal, tropical fruit, super rich palate, lowish acidity and full body of Gewurztraminer. The weight of the wines was markedly different, the Riesling coming over with a touch of lightness with its characteristic acidity, while the Gewurz was markedly off dry and full. But unlike lesser wines it managed to combine richness and a full body with a supreme drinkability, no mean feat. As you can see on the bottles: Riesling, Jubilee, Hugel, 2005 and Gewurztraminer, Grand Cru, Eichberg, Domaine Bruno Sorg 2008.
The Red Lion, Overton’s, superb chicken and mushroom dish accompanied the sole red of the evening which had to be and indeed was Pinot Noir. I have tasted this
wine and vintage before when it was full of crystal clear red fruit, while this was strongly vegetal and smoky, with rather unresolved grippy tannins. After a half an hour in the glass the fruit began to emerge, sweet and true, but overall this was something of a scratchy effort: Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Noir, Heimbourg, 2005.
One of the features of Alsace is its great sweet wines, either late harvest or indeed Sélection de Grains Nobles, even later harvest, higher must weight and usually botrytis affected. We were treated to one of each style of a similar age but showing very differently – even in the colour which you can just about see despite the really poor light. Those orange shades on the first of the two were a bit strange.
On the left, we have Clos Saint Imer, La Chapelle, Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer Goldert, 1999 with the orange tinge, marmalade oxidative notes, a decent level of acidity but little obvious Gewurz character. On the right, we have Cuvée Anne, Domaine Schlumberger, Grand Cru Kessler, Gewurztraminer, Selection de Grains Noble, 1998, the real deal with the lusciousness you are hoping for from SGN Gewurz, honeyed notes and a slight cardboard note which mainly dispelled with time in the glass.
With thanks to all who contributed these wines – we learnt quite a lot, we suffered a little and we had a splendid evening!
January’s Fine Wine Supper featured the wines of top Alsace producer, Josmeyer. It is always worthwhile to taste the wines of the most well-known domaines, to see if they continue to live up to their reputations. Here they emphatically did. All six wines were very good, some – in fact the cheapest as well as some of the Grand Cru – were excellent. But the real star of the evening for me was the Pinot Gris.
Now that is a sentence you do not often read. The reputation of Pinot Gris/Grigio has suffered badly due to the glut of cheap examples which are neutral at best and sometimes just seriously bland – inexpensive wines, inexplicably popular in bars and the supermarket. Their secret is that they don’t taste of anything … which is a profoundly depressing thought. And even on this evening of quality wines, the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer were more assertive, more flamboyant, more showy. But for quality, balance and a subtle complexity, the Pinot Gris outshone their flashier neighbours.
The evening was based on half a dozen wines put together by the Wine Society to showcase Josmeyer. Rather neatly, there were two examples each of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Each pair showed a good contrast – in quality level, age or between single vineyards.
After a pleasant glass of sparkling wine, Crémant d’Alsace from Dopff, we began with the Riesling. If there was a prize for the best wine of the night for quality against price, it would easily be won by The Society’s Exhibition Riesling 2009, made for the Wine Society by Josmeyer at a creditable £11.50. Beautiful green apple and honey notes, floral, moderate acidity (perhaps lower than expected due to the warm year), effortless balance, superb. There was, however, a marked step up in quality and complexity to the Riesling Les Pierrets 2004, and so there should be at more than double the price. The youthful, bright apple notes have transmuted into something profound, a full palate of fruit (apple, quince) and mineral complexity. The standard ‘petrol, but in a good way’ note won’t quite do: mineral, mildly mushroom and herbal. Magnificent and long lasting.
Then on to the Pinot Gris. It was a risk tasting these between the two aromatic varieties but it paid off. Pinot Gris Fromenteau 2008 is not a cru, being made from a number of high quality sites, but a quality white pinot which sports the old Alsace name for the grape variety. It is seriously difficult to describe – obviously more neutral on the nose but then a wonderful richness on the palate, some stone fruit, obvious ripeness off-set by perfectly balanced sharpness. Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand 2008 was the revelation of the evening. The Grand Cru system in Alsace is controversial with some growers not accepting those vineyards that were selected. But what ever you call it, this showed it credentials – richer and riper fruit (melon and ripe red apples), lovely spiciness, rich and concentrated (Oz Clark calls it ‘the richness of brazil nut flesh’), outstanding length and overall quality. Subtle and powerful simultaneously. Forget every cheap glass of PG you have drunk and taste this instead.
The final pair of wines were suitably luxurious – two grand cru wines made from Gewurztraminer, with a decade or so of bottle age. Brand (being the vineyard name) 2001 had a superbly fragrant bouquet with the classic rose water and lychee/exotic fruit combination, great viscosity and mouth feel, and very good length. Its partner, Hengst 2002 for me had brighter fruit, the same rich concentration but offset with better acidity. The group had a long debate about this pair of wines, some struggling with the exotic fragrance (‘air freshener’), while others debated the merits of the two vintages and vineyards. Great wines are wines that promote conversation and opinion.
That the best producers in Alsace make great wines is hardly a revelation. But as consumers, we can benefit here in that wines of similar quality in, say, the more fashionable Burgundy, would command astronomic prices. There is great quality and value to be had here. And the wines, even the simpler ones, age well. Our final bottle, a bonus, from Josmeyer was its Auxerrois (a local grape variety with the same parentage as Chardonnay) 2001 which had nice creamy ageing notes, if modest fruit. All in all, these wines showed the very distinctive character of the three grape varieties, their food friendliness and their capacity to improve with age. And the star of the show in all these ways was – for me – the Pinot Gris.
Being an orderly sort of soul, in general I much prefer to go to a themed tasting, rather than a broad sweep across regions. Comparison is a very powerful tool but I would rather limit the field and try to learn a bit more about an area or grower in depth. Occasionally you get the best of both worlds, as happened at a recent Coe Vintners tasting, which took place at Home House, a private club in Portland Square. Billed as a fine wine tasting, it certainly lived up to that with quality wines from Champagne and Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, a few Italians and Spaniards and even the occasional Australian. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Olivier Humbrecht of whom more anon.
In the general tasting some tables really stood out:
Sumptuous Champagne from Pannier and from Dampierre. I particularly enjoyed 1999 Pannier Egerie and the corresponding non-vintage Rosé. The latter has a lovely raspberry and strawberry nose, balanced fruit and refreshment, delicious. The 1999 has good freshness alongside some interesting, mushroomy tones, a nice weight in the mouth I was less enamoured of the Pannier Blanc de Noir, ie made as white wine from the juice of black grapes. It was certainly distinctive with yeasty, even doughy smells to the fore. Dampierre was also excellent, especially the Family Reserve Grand Cru, 2000: toasty, hazelnuts, good fruit and very long. Altogether much better value than the Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes, white of 1998 (still tasted rather closed) and the rosé of 2002. Of course if someone else has the wines in their cellar and the patience, that might be another matter entirely …
I also tried the Barolo and Barbaresco from Giacosa Fratelli, not least because I had bought a mixed case of these for a forthcoming tasting. Overall conclusion was that they really need time to get out of their rather rustic youth (the two basic wines) though the 2005 Barolo Bussia has already has some perfume to offer. A tasting in 2014-20 anyone? This was even more the case with promising red Burgundy, eg PC Clos de Thorey Monopole, Nuit St Georges, 2006 from Antonin Rodet – I could taste the youthful acidity hours later! But in ten years time it will be wonderful.
No need for delayed gratification, however, with the wines of Zind-Humbrecht, though they too will develop with age. Olivier Humbrecht was showing a great range of wines, 13 in all. I concentrated on the ones that were new to me, especially from the Clos Windsbuhl vineyard. The firm’s comment is:
“The Clos Windsbuhl is, with the Rangen vineyard, the least precocious site that we cultivate on the estate. The higher altitude, the old rocky calcareous soil, its location near the forest all participate to create a slow ripening process. Often criticized in the past for this characteristic, we think that on the contrary, it helps the grapes to keep a structure based on acidity and not alcohol, and also that the vines have more time to ripen the grape physiologically.
Humbrecht explained further that the vineyard is around 300 metres above sea level, 100m higher and so cooler than most, and that it has a mixed history. Before they bought it, the older owners had worked for quality (only really good vineyards had names historically in Alsace) but then there was neglect, overplanting, overproduction in recent times. Having acquired it on the basis of its ancient reputation, they have grubbed up the new vines but kept the old ones.
Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2007: made with the fruit of the old vines, this is an amazing combination of crisp fruit and structure in the mouth. Wow!
Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl Vendanges Tardive 2005 – rich, dense, even tending to oily texture from late picked picked grapes, medium sweet but with good acidity, absolutely delicious.
Another vineyard featured was the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, very steep (to the point that it has to be ploughed using a winch) and South facing. In addition to the two Pinot Gris I missed in the excitement (2005, 2001), there was:
Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2007, a superb complex nose of honey, nuts and something herby/herbaceous, rounded in the mouth, melons, ripe fruit in general, even pineapple, with a refreshing finish. Excellent.
I finished the Zind-Humbrecht table with Pinot Gris Heimbourg Sélection de Grains Nobles 2005, a wine with well over 100 grams of residual sugar per litre – a huge, sweet sticky, but with great marmaladely flavours and counterbalancing acidity, and great persistence.
After the anticipation, the tasting. Ten members of Andover Wine Friends gathered to try two of Alsace’s great white grape varieties followed by a simple supper. We settled quickly to the task after a taste of Aureus, Cremant de Loire, a bottle-aged single vintage Chardonnay, 2002. Toasty, decent acidity if slightly milder than much Champagne, must be the best under £10 sparkler with bottle age?
Hugh Johnson speaks of the secretive sect of Riesling lovers, a great grape whose public perception is tarnished by memories of poor quality mainly German examples of the 70s and 80s. In fact, both Gewürztraminer and Riesling are little understood in a wine world full of Chardonnay in various guises, neutral Pinot Grigio and big, muscular reds. By contrast, Gewürz’s style takes some getting used to, with its combination of low acidity, modern high alcohol level (despite Alsace’s northerly latitude, it is one of the sunniest place in Europe) and off-dry taste which tastes sweet to those who only drink bone dry wines. Full details of the wines are given below – we tasted three Gewürztraminers. An obvious difference was between the pale yellow of the 2007 with the tell-tale streaks of youthful green still visible and, by contrast, the yellow to gold of the 2000. What was apparent to all was the outstanding aromatic qualities of Gewürz, some floral and mineral notes, kiwi and especially lychees, then honey and weight in the mouth in the better bottles. The surprise was that Ostertag’s 2006 tasted an older wine than the Hugel 2000. How can this be? Our most knowledgeable taster suggested low intervention wine making and minimalist use of sulphur dioxide could lead to the fast ageing of the 2006.
The colour contrast in the three Rieslings was even more marked, the first two pale to the point of colourless on the rim of the glass, the third, older, wine, much darker and pale gold. Rather less immediate sensation on the nose, floral and petrol in even the younger wines, honey, toasty, ‘floor polish’ (but only the best) on the older wine. But then an explosion of flavour in the mouth, borne along by great acidity, refreshing to some, demanding to others. For most of us, quality did reflect price. Hugel’s wonderful Jubilee 2005 is very pale in the glass but a wine of good fruit and superb balance, while Zind Hubrecht’s single vineyard Heimbourg 2001 was bold and complex, bottle ageing producing the toasty notes otherwise associated with oak ageing, a wonderful balance between still good zinginess (many years to go if you hadn’t drunk it!) and great persistence, the sensations lingering in the mouth for what seemed like minutes.
Over the supper that followed we had a further treat, Zind Humbrecht’s Pinot Noir from the same Heimbourg vineyard. This is a brilliant example of Pinot, fragrant, a clarity of fruit and balanced acidity presumably reflecting its northern latitude. Not cheap but a fine accompaniment to pork and prunes. Multiple conversations buzzed. The evening concluded with a bottle from nowhere near Alsace – Pietratorcia’s one-off dessert wine from Ischia, one of the islands off Naples. This 2002 was bought at the family winery after a particularly good lunch with the wine maker. A product of the passito method, by semi drying the grapes before vinification, this was a mildly eccentric bit of Italian creativity, the grapes here being Viognier and Malvasia Aromatica. The former presumably contributes some silkiness and apricot tones, all now knitted together in a pleasant if not outstanding pale orangey-brown sticky. It’s not just Alsace that can do the particular.
The Society’s Exhibition Gewürztraminer, made by Hugel, 2007, (Wine Society £14)
Domaine Ostertag, 2006 (Berry’s £17)
Tradition, Hugel, 2000 (WS, originally £10.50)
Collection, Kuentz-Bas, 2005 (WS £11)
Jubilee, Hugel, 2005, (WS £19)
Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, 2001 (Caviste £25)
Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Hubrecht, 2005 (Caviste £22.50)
Half the fun of putting a tasting together is in the search. We will all have our favourite places to start – in your own cellar (under the stairs), your local supermarket, on the web or in a local shop. I had already put together a tasting of Gewurztraminer and Riesling from Alsace and could draw on some bottles already. These included some 2003s, more 2005s for Riesling, some 2007s recently acquired and the odd bottle of 2000 waiting for an occasion such as this. But I didn’t want to use up all my older bottles in one go, so I went to see what Caviste in Overton (www.caviste.co.uk) might have tucked away.
The day was made by finding two quite grand bottles from Zind Humbrecht, one white and one red, the latter to go with the accompanying supper. First, the perfect find in the shop was its last bottle of the single vineyard Riesling, Heimbourg, from 2001, which should have developed in the bottle over the last eight years. Second, to complete the day, a quality Pinot Noir. A nice touch is that both bottles come from grapes from the same 4 hectare vineyard. The tasting awaits on Tuesday, but the satisfaction of the successful search already.