Outside of the New World with its focus on the characteristic qualities of single grape varieties, Alsace has got to be the easiest wine to taste blind. Aromatic Gewurz, steely Riesling, more neutral but classy Pinot Gris and the odd glass of Pinot Noir (which has the decency to be red), this is going to be a doddle isn’t it? Let’s see how we got on at the late-February Bring a Bottle Club.
We started with a little flight of three whites. First up was something quite floral and then there were two wines with marked similarities. A great debate followed on whether this was one or two grape varieties or different winemakers’ approaches or vintage difference. Light began to dawn when we were challenged to re-taste glass number one and just concentrate on the aromas and taste of this one wine.
In a rare triumph … I got the muted tones of orange blossom and grapey notes of … Muscat! A young Muscat is normally an easy spot but rounded out, with some subtle ageing notes and less obvious primary fruit after five years in the bottle it is not so easy. But this was indeed Muscat 2006, Julien Rieffel. On then being told that wines 2 and 3 were, in fact, two varieties, we agreed that one was Pinot Blanc and one Pinot Gris and even got them the right way around with Pinot Blanc’s honeyed tone and quality Pinot Gris’s spiciness and exotic fruit: Pinot Blanc 2006, Josmeyer and Pinot Gris 2005 Trimbach. All three were excellent wines, subtle, complex and harmonious – and mannered partners for food.
An unintended pair of wines followed. I was supposed to be bringing a Grand Cru Gewurztraminer … but it turned out to be a GC Riesling, obviously a late night pick out of the cellar. But Grand Cru or not, the wine was in any case badly oxidised with a poor, crumbly cork. You can see something is wrong from the colour alone (right): Brand GC, Riesling 2001, Zind Humbrecht – we missed you!
By contrast, the more basic wine was everything it should be: a classic nose of green apples, mineral and petrol notes well to the fore, and sharp acidity. A huge contrast to the baked apples and caramel notes which just about survived under the oxidised version of big brother. Riesling, Tradition, 2005, Hugel. And of course, this did live up to the promise of being easy to spot tasted blind.
On to the final dry or dryish white wine: pronounced honey notes on the nose, barley sugar and a touch of tangerine. This wine had a lot of quality about it but there was no consensus on what it was: more practice needed: Herrenweg de Turckheim, Pinot Gris, 2002, Zind Humbrecht. Given the fate of the other two wines from this company, it was good that this was in top condition.
Sadly the label was the best thing about this corked bottle of Zind Humbrecht’s excellent Pinot Noir 2005. I tasted this in October 2009: ‘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.’
On to the sweeties: marked aged notes, not either very sweet or luscious, this showed good balance, some chiselled fruit, and was excellent with cheese: Riesling, Furstentum Grand Cru, Vendanges Tardives, 1989, Paul Blanck. Easy to identify but not as easy as the final wine.
A dull label but a classic wine: pronounced aromas of lychee and rosewater … do I need to go on: obviously Gewurztraminer … rich on the palate and again the sweetness modified by age, very good indeed: Gewurztraminer, Sélection de Grains Nobles, 2000, Henri Ehrhardt. A fitting climax to the evening – and once we were past the first three white wines tasted together a relatively straightforward evening as promised … it won’t last!