On Monday 20th July the WING group met to taste Alsace Grand Cru Riesling, guided by John and Ann.

Regular readers will know how highly I rate Riesling, especially its Mosel and Alsace incarnations (although – to be fair – that’s followed pretty quickly by its Rhine, Nahe, Austrian and [even, whisper it…] New World versions…). So it was with eager anticipation that I attended this tasting.

As our presenters reminded us: in Alsace the Grand Cru classification is not without controversy. Coming late to the classification game the designation in Alsace has been beset with vested interests, which has led to a mechanical approach in designating sites (presumably in an effort to solve the vested interest question). In turn this has led to what seems like too many designations, and an opportunity for the appellation to excuse lazy winemaking (although that’s not confined to Alsace).

So we are thinking of two questions in this tasting: Is there a Grand Cru style? Is there really a Grand Cru quality level?

Here are my notes (prices are “from the grower”, I guess UK prices would be 80% – 100% more…):

Alsace Grand Cru Riesling GOLDERT 2010 (Bernard Humbrecht)   – £8.30
Goldert is near Gueberschwihr in the centre of the Haut-Rhin GC vineyards West of Colmar. This wine has quite a tropical fruit nose, with a rich honey note – later fennel appears. The first palate is rich with even a hint of sweetness followed by an oily Riesling acidity slightly separated from the richness – a little simple.

Alsace Grand Cru Riesling KAEFFERKOPF 2011 (Martin Schaetzel)   – £13.80
This is from Ammerschwihr, a little further North than the previous wine. Lighter in colour, with a warm nose and a diesel hint, with a floral and citrus note, warming to orange, and continuing to reveal complex flavours… The palate has much more precise acidity with a warming citrus pith finish, much more food friendly and interesting.

Alsace Grand Cru Riesling KESSLER 2008 (Schlumberger)   – £14.40
This is from Guebwiller, at the start of the most Southerly sector of GC vineyards. Oily diesel nose with a sweet white fruit hint. Palate is a little less concentrated with zingy acidity offset by slightly sweet fruit in a rather more Germanic package, light but long and lip-smacking, a great aperitif.

Alsace Grand Cru Riesling BRAND 2007 (Francois Baur)   – £15.30
This is from Turckheim, the very focal point of the AGC vineyards. Diesel first note then rather heavy hints with citrus, fennel and other herbs emerging. Palate has warm long line of grapefruit acidity – this seems to have quality and power but restrained at the moment – although quite well aged already it seemed to have the longest time to go!

Alsace Grand Cru Riesling ALTENBERG DE BERGHEIM 2007 (Gustave Lorentz)   – £18.60
This is from Bergheim, a lovely town at the Northern entrance to the Haut Rhin vineyards. I have long admired this grower and this wine. I rate the 1990 version (I had a case, the last of which I drank in 2010…) as one of the most pleasurable wines I have ever cellared. This didn’t disappoint: a slightly nuts & seeds first note with a hint of diesel and herbs quietly developing. Palate has restrained power and a completely integrated line of warm acidity, supporting understated white fruit. A pleasure to drink, with a few years more development and then perhaps 8 or 10 years at peak.

Alsace Grand Cru Riesling RANGEN DE THANN 2009 (Martin Schaetzel)   – £27.50
This is from the very South of the AGC line, and right at the margin stylistically too. This has a very rich nose with slightly oily and smoky hints. The palate is rich and smoky too with a warm acid line and a spicy, ginger, finish like a fleeting memory of Gewurz…. A very different style, very impressive and certainly pleasurable with promise of even more with the right food – though not a typical Alsace Riesling IMO.

An absolutely lovely tasting, which gave us some answers I think. Is there an Alsace Grand Cru Riesling style? Not really. Is there an Alsace Grand Cru Riesling quality? Well, perhaps… with the exception of the first wine, I doubt one will find many examples at this quality level without an Alsace Grand Cru Riesling designation. Those that are will probably be a recalcitrant grower that has deliberately eschewed the Appellation. However I am sure there are, and I have tasted, many Alsace Grand Cru Riesling which weren’t this good. A fact that is testimony to the careful selection of growers exhibited by John and Ann. So – with one or two exceptions Alsace Grand Cru is a necessary but not sufficient indication of quality….

Thanks so much, John and Ann.

Until next time…