When Alsace Drinks Like Burgundy (Wait…Nah.)

Actually, why compare the Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir 2016 Les Jardins to Burgundy? Like in Oregon, it’s time to say Pinot Noir (especially from a storied locale like Alsace in France) don’t need that “Burgundian” comparison so abused it should really be retired because it’s completely irrelevant. (Also there’s plenty of Burgundy thats, well, not very Burgundian. ANYWAY….)

This bottle was part of a small group of Pinot Noir from Alsace sent to me as samples. One was pretty “meh” and I was a little bummed out so I didn’t go back to that well for a bit. MY BAD!

The first thing I noticed when opening this wine is, “Wow, I’m actually opening a red wine.” I almost opened up a Kumeu River Chardonay from New Zealand, regardless of the weather dictating red wine time. 

Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir 2016 Les Jardins ($34)

Photo via Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant

Initial take after pulling the cork and giving this Pinot a whiff: earthy, forest-y kind of smells. These scents were so prominent I was wondering if drinking it would be like being in a Pacific Northwest rain forest, getting down on all fours, and eating handfuls of damp soil washed down with fern fronds.

BUT NO! There’s loads of bright, yet deep, black cherry flavor.


Cool fact: Domaine Ostertag is certified biodynamic. The wines are imported by Kermit Lynch, so you know it’s real-deal. A tip I always give is if you don’t know jack shit about an imported wine: flip the label and see who the importer is. If it’s someone like Kermit Lynch, you are gold(en).

There’s an interesting blurb about this Pinot Noir in an offer from said importer’s wine shop. Here’s what Kermit Lynch’s Dixon Brooke had to say:

André’s [Ostertag’s] son Arthur has joined his father and grandfather at their domaine in northern Alsace, three generations now working side by side. Much as his father did with him, André has given Arthur a lot of freedom to experiment in the cellar….One of his other initiatives has been to add more stems to their younger-release Pinot Noir to give it a bit more structure. Mission accomplished.”

So now you know one of the reasons why this Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir is so memorable. It’s a touch acidic right now; I imagine it would settle down with a year or two in a cool, dark place. Or give it a good hour in your finest decanter or crappiest glass jar.

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You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

Lucien Albrecht’s Jérôme Keller surveys the Oysterhouse Philly bounty

Not too long ago – ok, well, actually, several months ago, but I’m just getting back around to the topic now because I’ve been busy being all self-employed and day-drinking and what-not – I was invited to lunch with the dry-humored Jérôme Keller, Technical Director/Oenologist for Alsace stalwart produce Lucien Albrecht. Now, it hasn’t been all that long (especially by my warped standards) since I devoted quite a bit of the virtual page space here on 1WD to Alsace, but when you’re a wine-geek-turned-critic-type you don’t turn down an opportunity to a) get reacquainted with one of the first three Alsatian firms to have helped launched the Crémant d’Alsace AOC (which, like me, dates back to the early 1970s), which now comprises about 70% of their total production; and b) eat at Phlly’s Oyster House restaurant.

So, yeah, I did those. And while it’s taken me a few months to get around to writing it up, if you consider that we’re talking about a producer whose Alsatian roots can be traced back to 1698 (when Balthazar Albrecht settled in Orschwihr) and whose winemaking roots date back to 1425 (when the impossibly-impressively-named Romanus Albrecht started the winery), then I think I can be forgiven for some tardiness, especially from that timeline perspective.

Anyway, Keller has done some work in the USofA, having participated in harvest at Sonoma Cutrer, so he understands (or at least is adept at faking to understand) what passes for American humor, so we got along swimmingly, popping shellfish and tasting through some of the more recent Albrecht wares (and yes, the food/wine match went as lovably, gluttonously well as you’d expect)…

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rosé Brut (Alsace, $23)

Almost no one has been doing Cremant in Alsace as long as Lucien Albrecht, and that long-standing experience is evident in this lovely, 100% full-bunch-pressed Pinot Noir bubbly, which spends about 14 months in the bottle. “Our style,” noted Keller, “is to have bright red fruits.” Mission accomplished; you get lots of red berries here, an admirably rich palate, and a finish that’s longer than you’re paying for at this price point.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2013 Lucien Albrecht Brut Chardonnay (Cremant d’Alsace , $45)

A new release, meant to showcase the “linerality” of their Chardonnay, according to Keller. Barrel aged and fermented, with malo and lees action for three years in the bottle, this sparkler is made form grapes that are selected from primarily limestone-soil vineyards. The result is intensely floral and toasty on the nose, and yeasty, peachy, perky,and textural in the mouth. It’s the kind of bubbly that makes it very, very difficult to not drink half the bottle embarrassingly quickly.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Balthazar” (Alsace, $17)

Albrecht wisely (ha-ha!) grow their PB in a warmer area of their Alsatian vineyards, and add a bit Auxerrois to the final blend; what you end up with are the tropical and melon aromas you’d expect, a pleasantly plump and sexy mouthfeel, and an underpinning of astringency and lift. Think white fish recipes for dinner.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Cuvée Romanus Pinot Gris (Alsace, $19)

Melons, stone fruits, citrus pith, astringent “bite,” great acidity, and a touch of mesquite honey… I kind of fell in love with this PG, which will wistfully make you lament as to why so many domestic US PGs taste like flat melon soda compared to stuff like this. Bear in mind that the Roman could use a couple more years of rest, to help all of that complexity meld with its ripe fruits flavors.

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)

You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases) 2012 Lucien Albrecht Riesling Pfingstberg (Alsace Grand Cru, $31)

Damn… this is good. The Pfingstberg Grand Cru vineyard has been renowned since at least 1299; ranging in elevation from 270 to 370 meters, the soils are chalk and micaceous sandstone (depending on the aspect). The key thing to remember about Pfingstberg, in this author’s experience, is florals: a plethora of perfumed blossom aromas await, including lime, along with a host of other things for which Riesling is so (justifiably) lauded by nerds like me (saline, mineral, stone fruits, pith, toast, pear, spices…). The finish is long, salty, and flinty, and even breaking thirty clams (ha-ha!) this GC is kind of a bargain.


You Say “Oyster,” I Say “Alsace” (Lucien Albrecht Recent Releases)2016 Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer Reserve (Alsace, $17)

Keller describes the southern-facing vineyards that source this Reserve wine as allowing for “aromatic ripeness” from which the resulting fresh-bouquet-of-roses floral characters derive. That, and almost maddening levels of winemaking patience (“we press, we wait; we press again, we wait…”). Like trying to avoid hyphenated phrases in this article, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more tried-and-true example of Alsatian Gewürztraminer; rose petal, lychee, toast, all moving to mineral, silkiness, and tell-tale mixture of pleasing astringency, structure, and a juuuust enough lift. The whole experience is harmonious, too, right through to the (not short) finish.


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Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Remember when I waxed all smitten-like over a tasting of Rangen Alsace Grand Cru Riesling?

Well, I do.

I was so smitten, in fact, that I did  something that I’ve only ever done twice in ten years, which was to reach out to the U.S. PR agency dealing with Alsatian wines and ask them to book me on a media jaunt to the area, so that I could get my feet directly on those Rangen rocks. Which, luckily for me, they did.

Rangen Riesling Rocks, RevisitedIn a classic case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for-vuz-you-just-might-get-it, I then had to scale the greater-than-45-degree slopes of Alsace’s southernmost (and by far its steepest) Grand Cru vineyard site, though the view (and the tastes) about 450 meters up were well worth a little breathlessness (PSA: if you consider yourself not exactly physically fit, you might want to skip a visit to Rangen). Think the Mosel, only steeper (yes, the vineyard workes use ropes to secure themselves from falling to their deaths during harvest), or the Douro (only with less terracing and more danger to life and limb). The only marring comes by way of the factories along the nearby Thur river, a holdover from the `50s. Otherwise, this spot between Thann and Vieux-Thann is thoroughly picturesque.

Rangen has a few other characteristics that distinguish it from the rest of Alsace’s (many) GC sites. It might be one of the oldest of the region’s Grand Crus, with the origin of its name being lost to posterity (the first recorded reference goes back all the way to the Thirteenth Century). The rocky soils are about 330 million years old, the result of older mountain ranges and volcanic extrusions all mixed up together. This makes for a harder-than-average vineyard soil, with dark components that help to retain heat, with a more fragile subsoil that allows deep penetration by the vine roots.

You’d think that, with the steepness, naturally low yields, and the fact that it takes new vines closer to seven years to produce fruit here (versus three years in more forgiving environments), that harvest would be a total bitch. But there’s an even bitchier aspect of the Rangen for those that tend it…

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Ok, you probably get the point by now

The yearly maintenance, I was told by those who perform it, is by far the most difficult aspect of farming the Rangen. Dry rock wall terraces don’t fix themselves, after all. That this is more difficult than dealing with the steep terrain is telling; I mean, structures at the base of the Rangen recently had to be evacuated when a truck, stuck on one of the higher-elevation roads, was in danger of tipping over onto the hillside.

Rangen is such a pain in the ass that, despite having about 500 hectares planted back in the Middle Ages, it was all but abandoned in the 1970s in favor of more easily workable sites. In an auspiciously prescient maneuver, Domaine Zind Humbrecht bought up as much of the GC as they could, transforming vineyards that had fallen into disrepair. Rangen now has about 22 hectares planted, but as you’ll see below, the difference in quantity is made up for in longevity and quality…



Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited2008 Domaine Maurice Schoech Harmonie “R” Rangen de Thann (Alsace Grand Cru, $55)

The harmony in this case is the field-blending of several of Alsace’s noble grape varieties: Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. We’re leading with this one because, in theory, the terroir of Rangen is supposed to lend itself to some of the longest-lived and finessed of Alsace’s GC wines, and this beauty does help to prove that point. Floral, heady, toasty, nutty, and intense, you will need to like lemon rind (and a hint of yeasty botrytis, courtesy of Rangen’s proximity to the Thur) or you will need to go home.

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited2010 Wolfberger Riesling Rangen (Alsace Grand Cru, $NA)

A label that betrays Alsace’s historical German connection, and accurately suggests the power within the bottle. Mandarin, lemon blossom, candied lemon peel, salinity, moving into a wonderful balance of richness and pithy structure, ending with gun-flint and a finish that’s almost as long as the climb up the steep vineyard steps between the vines from whence it came.

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited1989 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain (Alsace Grand Cru, $NA)

This is juuuuuust about perfection.  As toasty and nutty as you’d expect at this age, but there’s no lack of candied citrus peel or dried citrus fruits to counterbalance the astringent, floral edges and hints of earthiness. Stunning, gorgeous, generous, and long. Go ahead, hate me.

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited2009 Domaine Bruno Hertz Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen de Thann (Alsace Grand Cru, $NA)

By now you are probably understanding why I didn’t subtitle this post as “Recent Releases.” With almost ten years under its belt, this PG is still showing off its heady, floral side, and still has the tropical fruit richness you’d expect in the mouth, just add toast (and a hella-long, dried fruit finish).

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Winemakers and vineyard caretakers showing off Rangen’s sliiiight steepness…

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited2015 Schoffit Rangen de Thann Clos Saint-Theobald Gewürztraminer (Alsace Grand Cru, $60)

And you’d thought that I’d forgotten about Gewürztraminer, didn’t you? This wine, in particular, is difficult to forget. Roses, (very) ripe stone fruits that are presented in broad, generous palate strokes (see what I did there?); this is a sleeper, I think, in that its aging potential (courtesy of some zesty acidity) will surprise those who hang on long enough to a bottle of this.

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited

Rangen Riesling Rocks, Revisited1998 Schoffit Riesling Rangen Clos Saint-Theobald Selection de Grains Nobles (Alsace Grand Cru, $NA)

Not made often (they need about 80% botrytis to pull it off), and probably not at all inexpensive, this is absolutely stunning in just about any way that you can evaluate it. The color of orange hard candy. Aromas of quince, dried lemon, oranges, marmalade, sultana, flint, sweet tea, and petrol. Flavors of ripe, fresh citrus fruits. Despite the nearly 160 g/l of sugar, there’s low abv and high acidity, so the whole thing comes off as impeccably balanced (though one sip will tell you that this is clearly very drinkable dessert wine territory). It finishes with multiple levels of sweet dried fruits. As if you didn’t have enough reason to hate me already, right?


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DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

When I visited venerable Alsatian wine icon Hugel on a media jaunt earlier this year (2017), they were nary a year removed from the family tragedy of Etienne Hugel’s untimely death, and their CEO had left the company the week prior to my visit. When I mentioned to 13th-generation family member Marc-André Hugel that many of the faces in their most recent welcome video could no longer be found with the company, he quipped “You remember [the tv show] Dallas? It’s just like that here.”

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

Marc-André Hugel

If anything defines Hugel, it’s probably that combination of reverential, hard working focus and tongue-in-cheek, cavalier acceptance that Marc-André displayed with affable gusto during my visit. Which isn’t surprising, considering that if you took too seriously the things with which Hugel has to deal on a regular basis, you’d probably blow a gasket. As Marc-André put it, “having a company in the middle of a 2,000-year-old city is… not easy…”

Hugel makes about one million bottles of wine annually, exporting them to over 100 countries, and is fond of testing out new tech in the cellar (to wit: they claim to be the first company in the world to employ a robo-palette). But that cellar dates from 1543, and happens to be near the center of the improbably precious town of Riquewihr. The oldest barrel therein dates back to the early 1700s (full disclosure: I might have crawled inside of it… also, they generate some downright impressive tartrate deposits). The combination of relatively large production, modern touches, and ancient surroundings requires the careful use of their restricted (and highly regulated) space.

Life in the vineyards is equally “not easy.” Their most famous is probably Schoenenbourg (which Marc-André described as “my whole fortune!”); not only does it sits within spitting distance of Riquewihr, but it has, at its steepest extent, slopes that are around thirty-five degrees. Add to that farming difficulty the pressure of maintaining a site that has been revered for hundreds of years (Voltaire is said to have once owned holdings there, for example, which might explain where the Hugel clan gets some of their humor)…

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

the impossibly-cute view from Schoenenbourg

It’s no surprise, then, that the Hugels would want to blow off some steam (taste with Marc-André, for example, and you’re liable to geekily pop open mystery bottles; among other things, during my visit we tried something with a missing label that we guessed was a 1985 Vendanges Tardive Pinot Gris). The good news is that the wines not only don’t show any worse for the wear of creating them, but at their best are downright sublime), sporting a seriousness that is belied by the quick wits of their creators.


DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)2011 Hugel Estate Riesling Marnes-Marl (Alsace, $40)

The grapes for Hugel’s Estate Riesling are from a cooler portion of the Schoenenbourg Grand Cru; the wine is linear and focused, with lime blossom, limestone, and ripe lemon notes, and a heaping helping of piquant acidity. The kind of piquant acidity that makes you want to taste it again after a decade of aging. For all of the joviality of the Hugels, this is all serious business.


DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)2007 Hugel Riesling Schoelhammer (Alsace, $140)

Organic as of about ten years ago, Hugel’s Schoelhammer vineyard holdings measure a hair over half a hectare, and this wine comes from about thirty rows of those vines (the label hints at this exclusivity – see inset pic). The wine is on allocation, but I’d almost consider killing someone on the existing list to get it (that is a joke, by the way). Stone, citrus, tropical fruits, chalky minerality, wet slate, white flowers… the nose delivers almost as non-stop as Marc-André’s comic quips. The mouthfeel is taut but its edges are smooth and ripe. Fresh as can be, but with brioche and lemon peel on a very (very) long finish. Incredibly, at ten years on it is still an infant.


DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)2010 Hugel Pinot Gris ‘Grossi Laue’ (Alsace, $85)

Marc-André described the origins of this PG as “great terroir;” it includes grapes from the Sporen Grand Cru, which in somewhat unique in Alsace in that it sees more morning sun due to northern and eastern exposures. Tropical, with hints of saline, oyster shell, yeast, lemon, melons, toast, citrus pith, and plenty of minerality, this wine gets even more interesting on the palate. There you find richness, verve, and spices in a way that makes the whole package quite serious, while still being approachable.


DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

old barrels = impressive tartrates

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)2012 Hugel Estate Gewurztraminer (Alsace, $NA)

Also from Sporen Grand Cru fruit, and mostly from clay soils, Hugel’s Gewurz has some great salinity, astringency, and structure, while also delivering the requisite lychee, stone fruits, and spices. The rosewater action in particular is ultra-strong here, so if you’re one to stop and smell (and sip) the roses, you’ll want to make haste for this.


DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)2007 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives (Alsace, $90)

In 2007, the SPoren GC saw the longest grape maturation period in nearly a quarter of a century; the result here is a late harvest that is exuberantly aromatic, even by late harvest wine standards. There’s lemon candy, orange marmalade, roses, jasmine, fresh and ripe stone fruits, and all of them are coming at you with both purity and forcefulness. There’s perky structure here, too, a bitter-sweet interplay that is rare among dessert wines, followed by a long trip through the mouth that’s all round ripeness and zesty candy. This will likely age well for decades, but I’m not sure that I would be able to wait that out given how deliciously it drinks right now.


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Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

“We are very cheap for a Grand Cru!”

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Thomas Schlumberger

It could be said that Domaines Schlumberger‘s Thomas Schlumberger doesn’t fully understand the negative connotations of the word “cheap” in the English language. I write that because, as he told me the above quote during a media visit to the Guebwiller property that has been in his family for about 200 years, he phrased it in a tone that was at once proud and matter-of-fact.

The bottom line is that no one really offers a smoother glide path into the vinous world of Alsatian Grand Cru that Schlumberger. First, they have the typical history portion covered: Domaines Schlumberger is still a family business (7th generation export manager Thomas lives across the street from the winery, “where I grew up,” having come back to the family business after a stint in the perfume industry at the behest of his uncle), and still operates out of the area in which the family settled from Germany (choosing the site because of its access to water, needed for their textiles business). From a desire to make wine for their own consumption, they gradually expanded and replanted their plantings in the area to about 70 hectares (this took the purchase of 2500 plots in a single decade, along with ten years of replanting, much of it on terraced slopes so steep that a special breed of horses that don’t experience vertigo were needed to work the vineyards).

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

obligatory winery dog photo…

From a Grand Cru perspective, Domaines Schlumberger has the raw material to offer inexpensive Grand Cru action: about ten percent of all Alsace Grand Cru wines are sold by them, and they are the largest independent winery in the area, exporting 2/3 of their production to 50 countries (so chances are good that you can find some of their wares).

Maybe most importantly for an ultra-competitive, information-saturated wine market, they have what might be the simplest Alsatian SKU category formula: you can try “classic” versions of Alsace’s principal grape varieties in their Les Princes Abbés line, or the Grand Cru single-site versions, and that’s basically it…

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2015 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $NA)

You know me, so it will come as no surprise that we’ll kick off with a wine that contradicts most of what I just mentioned above. You’ll have a harder time finding this little gem of Alsace’s lesser-known red production, which according to Thomas has benefited in quality improvements driven by the Chinese market’s thirst for all things French Pinot-related. Aside from maceration, vinification for this Pinot is performed in exactly the same way as their whites. The result is spicy, lithe, and transparent in the prettiness and expression of its fruit.


Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $18)

This range is named after the Benedictine Murbach Abbey, who were so dominant in the Guebwiller area that at one time they had their own currency. Today, it’s Riesling that dominates, and it’s tough to find a more solid example of quality Alsatian Riesling at this price. Limes, flowers, petrol, citrus, flint… it’s all here, presented in a super-clean, crisp package that benefits from having about 40% of its fruit come from Grand Cru vineyards.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)


Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2015 Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $25)

Floral, expressive, broad, and textural, this is a Gewurz that is insanely, dangerously difficult to stop drinking. Lychee, stone and tropical fruits, spice… textbook stuff, along with being delicious. You need know next to nothing about the grape to get behind this.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Saering (Alsace Grand Cru, $30)

This is more than a fair price for a GC in Alsace, but more importantly it’s a fair price for a Riesling this pithy, mineral, and crystalline in its presentation. That it is also fascinating in its texture and pure in citrus fruitiness are bonuses. The most interesting thing, however, is that DS’s Rieslings from this limestone-rich GC site do so well in bottle repose. We tasted back to the 2002 (a cooler year), and it was focused, lemony, long, fresh, and still above all else maintaining its purity. Movie stars don’t age this well.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Spiegel (Alsace Grand Cru, $27)

What you (well, what I) typically want most from a PG is for it not to be boring. So when it’s actually sexy, that’s got to make you stop and take notice. This PG is downright spry, full of melon and apple flavors and wet stone aromas. You also get hints of white flowers and spices, topped off with generous richness and almost voluptuous roundness. I might need a cold shower now.


Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Kessler (Alsace Grand Cru, $46)

Ok, so this one isn’t “cheap;” but it is spectacular. Kessler has sandstone soils, and DS own 75% of the site, which is formed by a small valley about 300 meters high in between hills that protect it from the cooler drafts of the area’s north winds. This equates to pretty good ripening potential for Gewurz, and if anything the DS Kessler version is expressive. The nose is, in a word, great: lychee, pear, roses, honey, spices, and marmalade. The palate is rich, with about one ton of lemon drop, but is buoyed by a freshness that is rare for more pedestrian renditions of this grape.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Thomas Schlumberger’s Kitterle GC terraces

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2013 Domaines Schlumberger ‘Cuvee Christine’ Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives (Alsace, $NA)

This sweet wine takes its name from Schlumberger’s great-grandmother (as Thomas explained, “we never name the wines after the kids; what if one of them ends up in jail?”). The original Christine managed DS for about twenty years with ” talent and firmness.” This Christine, also made from Kessler grapes, has a sweet-tooth; baking spices, marmalade, mandarin orange, lemon drop candy, dried roses, and honey all mix in the nose, along with a pleasant flinty note. The palate delivers in spades; it’s spicy, rich, full of sultana, lemon candy, and tea flavors. While it doesn’t lack viscosity or richness, there is good balance here with vibrancy. Queue up the Roquefort.



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Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)

Jean-Michel Deiss, talking spit

Jean-Michel Deiss likes to talk spit.

That his family, winegrowers since 1744, are established as the Alsatian version of winemaking royalty probably helps him to get away with it.

“Wine today is an industrial project,” he told me (through interpretation) during a media tour visit to Domaine Marcel Deiss‘ Bergheim winery. “But great wine is not a question of taste. Great wine is like a [good] book; as soon as you finish reading, you look for someone you love [to share it with].”

Or, in my case, you put it on the Internet to share it with total strangers. But the point is a solid one. Anyway, we were talking about spit.

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)

Busker Du on the streets of Alsace…

“Salivation is how you measure a wine’s energy,” Deiss continued. “You don’t need to be an expert for that. And there’s no salivation without terroir. It’s like geography in the mouth. Where you get salivation, you get terroir.”

“It’s not an efficient concept,” he added, at which point he showed multiple rips in his pants, presumably the result of his efforts in the vineyard and the cellar.

Domaine Marcel Deiss is still a family-run outfit, utilizing about 20 people and overseeing about 30 hectares of vineyards, many of which are old vine field blends (or, as they like to call them “companion planted” vines) of Alsace’s key grape varieties, with roots deep enough that the different varieties essentially ripen around the same time. Deiss’ focus is now solely on vineyard site (rather than on variety), as well as on biodiversity, minimal sulfur additions, and no filtration. Lest you think that this ostensibly hands-off approach should make life at Deiss easier, Jean-Michel’s son Mathieu echoed his father’s sentiment regarding the amount of extra work required by their approach; “with ‘natural’ wine, you have to be more precise in the cellar, not less.” At which point, he offered up the next generation’s version of dad’s ripped pants: according to his cell phone, he had logged the equivalent of 100 kilometers of walking in the last four days alone…

The result of all of this grit and focus are wines of high quality and intense, glistening purity of expression. And, yes, salivasjɔ̃. A spit shine on fine wine, if you will.

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2015 Domaine Marcel Deiss Blanc (Alsace, $20)

This is a great place to start with the overall Deiss concept, not just in terms of affordability, but also in terms of philosophy. This white is a blend of thirteen different varieties, including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Pinot Beurot, Pinot Noir, white and pink Muscat, Sylvaner, Chasselas, and (naturally) Riesling. The plantings are from pre-phylloxera massal clones, and the result is much more delicious harmony than it is kitchen-sink-dilution. Tropical, pithy, mineral, astringent, and delicious.

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2012 Domaine Marcel Deiss ‘Rotenberg’ Bergheim (Alsace, $45)

This site sits on iron-rch Jurassic limestone, making it one of the oldest soils with which Diess works. Essentially, this is a blend of Reisling and “the whole Pinot family” as they put it. Lemon, earth, citrus peel, flowers, honey, lemon drop candy, limes… this is at once fleshy/fruity and astringent. For Alsace, it’s downright seductive.


Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2014 Domaine Marcel Deiss Engelgarten (Alsace, $38)

The soil here is gravelly, at a spot that is a “cannon shot” away from the medeival fortress in Bergheim, with naturally dry soils that stress the vines (in partciular the Riesling) and help to limit yields. Orange peel, pear, white flowers, and yes, a hell of a lot of mineral and stone notes are present. It’s intensely linear and vibrant, with the Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot, Muscat, and Pinot Noir blending together damn-near seamlessly.

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2012 Domaine Marcel Deiss ‘Schoffweg’ Bergheim (Alsace, $50)

A softer limestone soil dominates at this site, which is also rocky and windy (helping to minimize rot). It’s a fleshy wine by Alsatian standards, with hints of vanilla and slate, and a bit of mild tannic bite. Floral and flinty, spicy, and round without being overtly fruity, yet somehow staying overtly flirty.


Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2011 Domaine Marcel Deiss Grasberg (Alsace, $46)

Deiss’ Grasberg vines are on a high (280 meters elevation), south-facing, cooler-area slope, planted on compacted limestone. Personally, I would consider trying to live on that hill in a tent if all Grasberg wines aged like this. This is tropical, nutty, toasty, earthy, vibrant, minty, citric, heady, perfumed, and, above all, fresh. Bonus points for the dried citrus peel and lemon jam action, courtesy of some residual sugar and botrytis on the Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer.

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2011 Domaine Marcel Deiss Gruenspiel Bergheim (Alsace, $NA)

You’ll have a difficult time finding a bottle of this field blend of Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Gewürztraminer; which is a shame, as this wine is a singular experience. The site’s name basically means “draughtboard,” and is meant to describe the varied topsoil there, including deposits of granite, gneiss, and sandstone over marl. As Mathieu Deiss put it, “we assume some people won’t like it; once you have personality, you assume not everybody will like you.” I can assure you that this wine is not in any way attempting to be friendly. It’s broad, expressive, ripe but also lively, bitter, young, and at turns even brooding. Stone fruits mix with smoke, spices, and flowers into something both funky and delicious.

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2013 Domaine Marcel Deiss Mambourg (Alsace Grand Cru, $90)

Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)Oligocene limestone, magnesium, and marl mark this site, which has had a reputation for making good juice since at least the Middle Ages. Structured, pure, and pithy, this Pinot-family blend offers deep citrus flavors, a sense of power, and a presentation in the mouth that is almost Burgundian. In a word, it’s fascinating (spoken with Mr. Spock inflection).


Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)2012 Domaine Marcel Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim (Alsace Grand Cru, $87)

This site benefits from a mix of soils, including ferrous limestone and clay-calcareous deposits. Tropical fruit and citrus flavors combine with marmalade, honey, and a broad mouthfeel that has sweet candy and resin notes, with aromas of white flowers and vanilla added to the mix. All of the permitted Alsatian varieties show up in this field blend, and somehow it all adds up to a sweet sum much greater than we should expect from its constituent parts.


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Wine Reviews: Alsace

Alsace is primo Pinot territory. Not just Pinot Noir, of course, but its related varieties, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, have long and heralded histories in this region. I recent tasted through a few Pinots from Alsace and, unsurprisingly, I found a lot to like.

I love the vibrancy, tanginess and minerality of this wines. But, especially in the whites, there’s such enjoyable interplay between plump texture and rich fruit flavors. There’s always some level of difficulty determining how sweet an Alsace white wine will be (demonstrated by the two Pinot Gris wines in this tasting). If it says “vendange tardive,” meaning late harvest, you know you’re in for some sugar. But determining sweetness isn’t easy unless you’re well versed in the specific producer’s style.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc - France, Alsace
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Smells like fresh limes and white peaches topped in crushed chalk, limestone and intense white and yellow flowers. Medium-bodied with brisk acidity and a pleasant, slightly honeyed texture. Tangerine and peach nectarine blend with chalk, saline, white pepper, cut flowers. Deep, lingering sense of minerals. Crisp but lots of flavor and texture. (90 points IJB)

2014 François Baur Pinot Blanc Herrenweg - France, Alsace
SRP: $18
Light gold color. Pretty and rich on the nose with lemon curd, lemon oil and tangerine, also some crushed shells, floral perfume and vanilla potpourri. Deep texture with bright acidity. Complex, balanced, rich and honeyed but lip-smacking and vibrant. Apricots, lemons, orange marmalade, the fruit blends with spiced white tea and salted almond. Very long, impressive in depth and complexity. I’d love to see how this ages over the next three to five years. (90 points IJB)

2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés - France, Alsace
SRP: $20
Light gold color. Nose of lemon curd, apricot, pineapple, notes of crushed shells. Plump texture with fresh acidity, just a hint of sweetness, and it all lines up in balance. Juicy fruit (apricot, orange, lemon curd), mineral water, quinine, mint and sea salt notes with elements of white flowers and clean laundry. Very delicious but also precise and age-worthy. Long, lasting, mineral-encrusted finish. 13.5% alcohol and about 7 g/l residual sugar. Pure Alsace Pinot Gris goodness. (90 points IJB)

untitleduntitled2010 Maurice Schoech Pinot Gris Mambourg - France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
SRP: $30
Rich golden color. Smells like candle waxy, quinine, honeycomb, slight oxidative notes but woven in well with the bruised yellow apple and orange marmalade. Plump and richly textured with significant sweetness and moderate acidity. Flavors of apricots, orange marmalade, lemon pith, with notes of lamp oil and wax. Finishes with minerals and floral complexity. It seems a bit too sweet for my preference (40 g/l sugar) but quite nice. (87 points IJB)

2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés - France, Alsace
SRP: $26
Very pale ruby color. Smells bright and refreshing with pomegranate, sour cherry and wild strawberry along with pepper, mushroom and lots of roses. Medium-bodied with fresh, lip-smacking acidity and subtle tannic structure. Crisp, chilled red fruits mix well with earth, mushroom and rosebush notes. Bright, refreshing, open for business and near-term enjoyment. (88 point IJB)