13%, Cork, Circa $175
|Love the medieval label. |
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Perhaps one of the most fascinating white wines to pass my lips in recent times, this wine probably deserves an essay, such is its beguiling story and complexity of character. Indeed just the label itself is worthy of a serious contemplation. Needless to say that tasting this entrancing and occasionally challenging wine is something of an experience. I hope I can do it justice.
Part of winemaker Jean-Michel Deiss' 'Vins de Terroirs' range, this white is drawn from a 50 year old vineyard on the famous Schoenenbourg hill, the plot itself located above Riquewihr next to an old sulphur mine (with the resultant levels of natural vineyard sulphur helping to add an anti-oxidative effect to the fermenting wines, though also raising the spectre of possible problems with reduction. I picked up 'sulphur' on the nose of this actually, though more elemental sulphur than S02 sulphur. Beguiling wine indeed).
In the vineyard, Jean-Michel actively embraces biodynamics, low yields (25-30 hectolitres/hectare for this wine), low sulphur regimes and notably late picking, with the grapes handpicked and pressed before a very slow natural fermentation in old oak (the fermentation further slowed due to how low in nitrogen the musts are). Most of Deiss' wines are field blends, largely because he believes such wines to be the ultimate expression of terroir in Alsace, even lobbying INAO recently to have the labelling nomenclature of a wine from the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim changed to reflect the fruit salad of grapes that go into it.
Speaking of the vineyard, Schoenenbourg itself is (historically) ideally suited to the slow (and at times difficult) ripening of white grapes, with a noted predilection towards noble rot. Jean-Michel however believes that botrytis is merely part of this terroir, with most of his wines showing at least a little rot.
Fittingly, this wine is produced in something of an off-dry mould, though the high latent acidity tends to counteract the residual sugar levels (40-60g/L RS) in the best possible fashion. It's hardly dry, though the style seems to demand the sweetness for balance.
Mostly Riesling, with approximately 5% Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris, Jean-Michel claims this particular style will typically live for 15-20 years, though in many ways this could be an even longer long-lived wine (though its evolution could be odd and overt). I think I'd like to see it with a few more years bottle age, though I'd drink this now (with pork belly I think).
Right now though this pours a straw yellow colour, looking really quite bright if deeply coloured. No sign of premature ageing on the nose though, which is still quite tight and even austere which is something of a surprise. The good bits all start to appear as this gets warmer, with layers of pear fruit with and a tin of Golden Circle pineapple juice. It's a ripe and full nose, though no hiding the slatey minerality underneath, making for a complex, intriguing, fascinating sort of nose. Or at least I appreciated its layers.
That complexity is writ large on the palate too, with orange and lemon juice, marmalade and residual, mandarin juice sweetness all edged with briny slate. It's a sweet palate perhaps, though with a concentration to carry the sugar sweetness, the underlying slate helping to counter the botrytis induced unctuousness.
A Riesling (mainly) of golden light and richness, this I thought this even looked contained at times, whilst simultaneously being an overwhelming sort of a drink, finally leaving a trail of late hefty extract, nectar like residual sugar sweetness and alcohol warmth. Intrigue+ 18.8/95