I’ve never been to Alsace.
Like Corsica, It is a missing page in my French wine region passport. I’ve got as far as Neuchâtel, circa 2hrs south, but Gamaret plots in northern Switzerland feel like a different world.
With this year’s Millésimes Alsace wine fair, however, I at least had a sniff.
For 2021, Alsace’s most significant wine trade show went digital, with the Millésimes Alsace ‘Digitasting’ offering up so much of the vibe of a traditional fair, but without the whole going to Alsace bit.
The CIVA (Alsace’s wine organisation) went full tilt, too, with 100 producers each manning ‘virtual stands’. You could book appointments with all of them, and packs of up to 40 samples (mini bottles, sealed under nitrogen) were shipped all around the world in early June.
I was primed. I had calendars, boxes from 10 different producers (focussing on BD & organic) and my map of Alsace, all ready to go…
Except life got in the way, and the same week in June as the Digitasting, we needed to move house, and my program went out the window. I missed the producer connection, the debates, the Alsace shebang.
Thankfully, I still had my ten boxes of mini samples, so I threw my attention into a tasting deep dive instead. If I can’t go to France, I’ll at least dig through my samples and an ocean of Google-translated French websites.
Despite the bottling vagaries (reduction and oxidation aplenty), I liked so many wines too, no doubt helped by producers lobbing up samples from across the Alsace spectrum – young and old, simple AOC and Grand Cru, hedonistic Gewurz, and ambitious young Pinot.
All of it just made the itch to get to Alsace grow stronger, especially after 18 months here behind the closed borders of ‘hermit kingdom’ Australia.
In other notables, the 2019 Alsace vintage sang like a siren. Believe the hype. Ripe, approachable, yet without losing acidity, so many of my favourite wines were all ’19s.
Also, this lineup reminded me how much I love Gewurz. Sure, all the love goes toward Riesling, Pinot Gris and even Pinot, but the titillation seemed to come from a Gewurz direction – let’s revel in that musky terpene glory.
Here are four producer’s wines that I liked, some of which are available here in Australia.
Please excuse the staccato notes, but these are words as written on the day back in June. Extra winery notes are in italics, verbatim (the translation loses a bit in the way, but they’ll entertain you).
Domaine Maurice Schoech
Based in Ammerschwihr, this organic estate can trace its roots back to 1650. The labels are old school, and the Complantation blend is something special – there’s an effortlessness here that belies the modest profile. This was one of the first boxes of mini samples that I opened, and the quality pushed me to take even closer notice. Not currently coming to Australia, sadly.
Sonnenberg Riesling 2019
“Real expression of the granit, lively, frank and straight wine is a perfect revealer of fishes and seafood. RS 2.5G/L, 13.5% alc.” Domaine Maurice Schoech
Fresh pure and ripe with yellow peach and more stone fruit on the carefully phenolic palate. A good solid, riper styled AC Alsace with a vitality to match. A teensy bit warm on the ripe finish, but it just adds flesh. Nice. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Riesling 2019
“Reflect(ion) of the granitic and sandstone terroir of the Grand Cru Kaefferkopf, this cheerful and lively Riesling will enhance any great culinary creations. RS 6g/L, 13.5% alc.” Domaine Maurice Schoech
Tight, racy, yet still ripe, the nose offering a suggestion of ripe fruit, but it’s more about coiled, gentle stone fruit power than obviousness. Indeed. It’s a wine of compact fruit, the finish tight, grippy, and so reserved. Much to come in this slightly raw but unquestionably powerful Riesling. Drink later. 18/20, 93/100+
Complantation Rangen de Thann Harmonie R 2017
“Pure expression of the volcanic terroir of Rangen de Thann, this meaningful, salty and precise wine of fire will reveal all types of world food. Pinot Gris, Riesling and a little Gewurz. RS 7g/L, 13.5% alc.” Domaine Maurice Schoech
Another chunky, expressive wine. Unequivocally ripe. Opulent. Such a mouthful of wine, the ripe pear of Pinot Gris, the palate lightly viscous, fleshy, and so mouth-filling. It flirts with an excess of bright nectarine fruit but is pulled back by the faint sweetness to finish. Maybe too much? Long and intense. Wonderful. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Complantation Contemplation 2018
“Historical cuvée on the Grand Cru Kaefferkopf, this field blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris reveals the granitic and sandstone terroir. The rose, spices, roundness and freshness of this wine makes him a great enhancer of Asian culinary creations. RS 18g/L, 13% alc”. Domaine Maurice Schoech
Gloriously opulent off-dry style, with flashing lights of warm apricots, the sweetness adding weight, even more weight, musky lusciousness to finish. It’s a huge mouthful of fruit that flirts with overt hedonism. Extravagant wine. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Founded in 1836, this family estate has 33 hectares on the hills of Bergheim and holds a third of the Grand Cru of Altenberg De Bergheim. Certified organic since 2012, and with 55% of the wines exported, this feels more polished, and the labelling looks ace. Available locally from Young & Rashleigh.
Grand Cru Kanzlerberg Riesling 2017
“The 3.23 ha of the Kanzlerberg (smallest Grand Cru in Alsace !) vineyard are composed of a characteristic clay-limestone soil, but also include grey and black gypsum Muschelkalk-bearing marl, something rarely seen in the Alsace wine-producing region, which creates a very heavy soil. The rather steep, South and South-West facing slope of Kanzlerberg flattens out to form a small plateau of an average altitude of 250 meters, below which flows the Bergenbach brook. RS 4.33g/L,13% alc”. Gustave Lorentz
Subtle, gently nutty, the palate tight, subtle, clean. All the fruit is understated. Plenty of acidity. Phenolic. Tangy. Surprisingly not ready, as the primary fruit sits below the surface. In an in-between phase. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Grand Cru Altenberg De Bergheim Vielles Vignes Riesling 2016
“This wine is produced from 100 % Riesling grapes from the classified Grand Cru site of the Altenberg of Bergheim vineyard owned by Gustave Lorentz. The dominant soil of this area is clay and limestone; the vines from which this wine is produced are very old, between 30 and 50 years old. The pride of Bergheim winegrowers, the Altenberg has been renowned for its fine wines since the end of the 13th century. Altenberg Grand Cru wines are remarkable for the perfect balance between their subtle, distinguished aroma and their powerful, virile body. They are gastronomic wines par excellence. RS 4.6g/L,13% alc”. Gustave Lorentz
Expressive, gently bottle-aged style. The concentrated stone fruit and yellow apple fruit just taking on the first blush of age. So many layers in this wine, gently honeyed fruit, chewy acidity, more yellow apples and an excellent tang. Long! So mouthfilling and delicious. 18.7/20, 95/100.
Grand Cru Altenberg De Bergheim Gewurztraminer 2012
“Even though July was also dominated by water, a warm and dry weather settled from the beginning of August. The vineyard also experienced a heatwave during the second half of
August. Those high temperatures allowed to maintain very satisfying sanitary conditions. RS 26g/L, 14% alc.” Gustave Lorentz
Wonderful. Still so fresh. The full Gewurz fragrance is on display. It doesn’t feel moved by age, just softer. The acidity kisses that sweetness with perfect finesse. There’s just a whisper of toast to finish, alcohol adding some sweetness. The ultimate Gewurz advertisement, in a big and enveloping style. 18.5/20, 94/100.
La Limite Pinot Noir 2015
“This wine comes from the named-place “Froen” situated between Bergheim Village and the lower “Limit” of the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim. The southern exposure and the clay-limestone soil are the same as this latter. A very severe sorting has permit to select the most matured and perfectly healthiest grapes. After a long maceration of 18 days, the Pinot noir was vinified in Burgundian wooden barrels during 24 months, so as to soften tannins without highlighting in a too much pronounced way the wooded aromas of the barrel. 13% alc.” Gustave Lorentz
Masculine Pinot! Oak drawn, with a particular sous bois mushroomy thickness, still lively at 6, firm, a little minty, has penetration, even if the tannins are a bit harder. Whole bunches, clearly. It needs more flesh but excellent savouriness. Not lacking in style, even if it could do with more fruit. Quality Alsace Pinot. 17.7/20, 92/100.
The plain packaging of the mini samples means I missed out on the big G on the actual bottle labels, but the wines are worth it. This 11ha biodynamic (organic since 2007) estate in the Andlau Valley has plots across multiple Grand Crus. I love the transparency in these wines – they feel like the sort of real, estate-led Alsace wines that you only discover by touring the region. Not available in Australia (that I can see).
Grand Cru Kastelburg Riesling 2018
“Unique Grand Cru d’Alsace terroir, by its geological homogeneity, its uniform slope, its exclusivity of schist rock, a perfect Grand Cru delimited by nature, on the left and on the right by the forest, at the bottom by the river, alone and unique Schist terroir classified Grand Cru. RS 4.14g/l, 13% alc.” Domaine Gresser.
Beautiful, slate and nectarine. Shy, smokey, appley palate is just beginning to show a little toast. In a transition. Plenty to come, given the firm finish. Class. 17.7/20, 92/100+.
Grand Cru Moenchberg Riesling 2017
“It is a rocky outcrop in the shape of a circular arc extending from the Brandhof, it is located in the towns of Andlau and Eichhoffen. Southern exposure, basin well protected from easterly winds, low slope. 37-year-old vines, yielding 30hl/ha. RS 7.2g/l, 13% alc.” Domaine Gresser.
Dense. It is aromatically subdued, but the palate is thick and almost meaty in its chunky fruit and fans out late. Real backloaded sort of powerhouse wine. But it needs a rest. Wait. 18/20, 93/100+
Grand Cru Wiebelsberg Riesling 2014
“Located in the town of Andlau, at the entrance to the valley, southern exposure, steep slope and rocks of Grès Rose des Vosges. The sandstone is crumbly and lets the roots plunge deeply to extract the minerality, the sandstone is compressed sand, very fluid, it gives the wine a beautiful vertical structure, fine, delicate, all in lace, at the top, close from the steeply sloping forest, we have Riesling. RS 6.54g/l ,13%” Domaine Gresser.
Honey and lanolin on the waxy but shy nose. Again, this picks up speed as it goes, finishing nutty and lemony and delicious. So young still. High quality. 18/20, 93/100.
Grand Cru Moenchberg Gewurztraminer 2018
RS 31g/l, 14.5%
Moelleux, but another lovely drink of concentration and late spice phenolic crunch. Far from sweet. That spice fills your nose and senses. Intoxicating perfume is almost too much. Yes great! 18.5/20, 94/100.
Biodynamic estate (certified since 2010) from Wettolsheim with holdings across Hengst, Brand, Schlossberg & more. Noted for good cremant too. Not currently available in Australia.
Grand Cru Hengst Riesling 2019
RS 4.87, 13% alc.
Expressive nose with that ’19 ripeness. This is a lovely ripe and detailed wine with real density. Not strictly perfumed, more textured. Ripe and proud. Cracking wine. 18.5/20, 94/100
Jade Riesling 2019
RS 4.4g/l, 13% alc.
Standard AOC Riesling and well executed. Concentration, zips of honeysuckle fruit, it flirts with more riper stone fruit but pulled back by acidity. Needs just a little more detail on the finish, but ostensibly a winner. 17.5/20, 91/100
H Pinot Noir 2017
Ambitious Alsace Pinot that just needs more fruit, but no shortage of style. Beetroot, blood, oak tannins step into the finish on this crunchy wine. Searching for more generosity, but I can’t fault the length and structural class. Maybe a bit hard at the very end. 17.5/20, 91/100
Rosenberg Gewurztraminer 2019
RS 37g/l, 13% alc.
Stunning perfume. Just an AOC Alsace, but from the Rosenberg lieu-dir. Lilting and pretty. The sugar drives palate concentration, yet it doesn’t taste sweet – just mouthfilling. Honey, rose water nectar, perfect balance. It’s just a little light on in the finish, but an enjoyable drink. Like. 17.7/20, 92/100
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