Taste, suffer, triumph

it's white and from 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.   

stranger in the midst

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 the white Pinoton 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 two 'noble' varietiesthe 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 chicken ...the red Pinot
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 two sweet stylesusually 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! 

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