Archives for category: Alsace

On Thursday 18th May 2017 the ICC group tasted 3 Alto-Adige varietal wines (Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer) against “reference” equivalents from Alsace. The idea being to see if the “lighter, drier, cleaner” reputation for the former was justified – and/or if it implied a “less characterful” other side to that coin? I chose mature Alsace wines to emphasise this, and to ponder if the Alto-Adige wines would ever develop to a similar degree.

The wines were served in pairs, so the notes below will contain both-way comparative comments. However only the first pair were served blind as I thought the relative ages of the wines would make the other pairs too obvious anyway.


Here are my notes:

KAEFFERKOPF RIESLING 2008 (Schaetzel)      –   13%     –     Grower €17  (Approx £25 in UK)
Only showing a slight hint of diesel, despite its age – floral hints and an apple blossom note in a more aromatic wine. Palate is rounder and richer with a long warm acidic line supporting a fruit phase reminiscent of dried apricots. Rather satisfying and still quite young.
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  15/20

PACHERHOF RIESLING  2012 (Valle Iscaro)   –   13%     –     £15 Le Langhe
The nose has a light but more evolved diesel element, but is quite quiet overall with a hint of citrus. The palate is actually less dry than the Alsace wine, clean with warm acidity and a pear hint – but a mineral, slightly bitter, line grows through the wine, supporting the middle but somewhat unbalancing the finish.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

It seemed the older wine was on a much longer evolution, and had more depth and interest. However I felt the A-A was not shamed by comparison, and would work as well or better in some contexts.

BRAND GRAND CRU PINOT GRIS 2005 (Turckheim)         13½%    –      £19 Noel Young
Instantly recognizable Alsace PG, much darker than the Alto Adige but still fresh. Hints of flowers (roses?) and ginger with smoky notes. The palate only a little off-dry with an integrated fruit-acid line (passion fruit, quince, mango) held well together for a long time. Long and complex – a lovely wine…
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  17/20

ERSTE + NEUE PINOT GRIGIO 2015    –  14%   –      £15 Noel Young / Highbury Vintners
This has a some PG character but only about a third as intense as the Alsace. Similar profile to the AA Riesling: clean; warm acidity; fruit (peachy in this case); mineral at the end… not all that interesting and certainly nor compared to the Alsace PG.
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  14/20

This was even more telling a comparison than I imagined. With ten years between the wines, I wondered that the Alsace might be too old… Far from it – it positively shined with flavour and complexity and supported its slight sweetness well. The A-A certainly paled by comparison, although not a bad wine – I thought it had more interest than most Grigio, but here the least interesting of the A-A wines anyway…

HEIMBERGER “SOL GRANITIQUE” GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2007 (Beblenheim)     –    13%    –      Grower €12
No lychees on this nose but ginger and (surprisingly) pear. Palate is rich and viscous with some sweetness and a gingery spicy warmth and a “granitique” mineral line. Long warmth and a food-demanding grip.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15.5/20

ELENA WALCH GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2015   –   14%      –    £16 Bottle Apostle
Slightly nutty nose with a slightly bitter herb notes. Palate has citrus and peach, with a hot spice line giving structure and a chalky (tending to creamy) mouthfeel. As long but cleaner than the Alsace and equally food-demanding…
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

This seemed the closest comparison – both had clear Gewürztraminer characteristics – focusing on the ginger and floral more than the stereotype lychee. The A-A was a hotter wine, both in the foregrounding of its ginger flavours and its alcoholic weight. Also the mineral character was different: the A-A chalky, whereas the Alsace had drying salinity that held up the relatively low acidity.

Overall an interesting comparison in which the reputation of the Alto-Adige wines is justified: vibrant, leaner with a mineral frame. They are good wines with preference a matter of taste for most of the pairs we tasted. However the Alsace Pinot Gris was a long way ahead of the A-A Grigio (IMO) – maybe one needs to go up a notch to find a really characterful example… Also I can’t imagine any of the  Alto-Adige wines have as long a development time in them as the Alsace, so – personally – in most cases I’d rather buy Alsace and wait a while…

Until soon!

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Most wine enthusiasts will be familiar with Alsace Wines. We have explored the area often and become familiar with their main grapes: Riesling; Pinot Gris; Gewürztraminer (of course)… but also Pinot Blanc; Sylvaner; Auxxerois; Muscat and Pinot Noir… Many fewer wine lovers will be as acquainted with Alto Adige, however.

Alto Adige is actually only the northern third of the full Italian region: Trentino-Alto Adige. That itself is the northernmost Italian region, comprising two areas with very different personalities: the Germanic Alto Adige (or Südtirol), which borders and once belonged to Austria, and right below it the more Italian but still very Alpine Trentino. The region’s capital and largest city is Trento, followed closely by the Südtirol provincial capital: Bozen (Bolzano). The breathtaking valley of the Adige River is renowned in the wine world for varietal labeled cool-climate wines, mainly white. It has no DOCGs, eight DOCs and four IGPs.

In fact the full region, Trentino–Alto Adige, is a similar size to Alsace in terms of area under vine and volume of wine production. In 2015, Trentino–Alto Adige produced about 2.5% of Italian Wine (13.7 million cases),  but Alto-Adige has less than a third of the Regions vineyards – mostly small growers unlike large co-operatives and producers further South – and it’s contribution is about 0.7% (3.9 million cases).

The Alto-Adige area is Y-shaped: Valle Iscaro is the right arm,  following the Iscaro river from nearer Austria until it meeets the Adige River near Bolzano. The Adige above Bolzano constitutes the left arm from the Valle Venosta, flowing though Terlano. Below Bolzano, going  due South towards Trento and the “tail” of the Y, fuller versions of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanco Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürtraminer are more common.

Terlano focuses more on international varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinots.  Valle Iscaro majors on the Germanic grapes: Riesling; Müller Thurgau; Sylvaner; Kerner; and Grüner Veltliner.

Overall white grapes varieties occupy about 60% of Alto Adige’s wine-growing area and are vinified into the best wines. There are 20 varieties common: Pinot Grigio; Gewürtraminer; Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay lead the way, but Sauvignon Blanc; Müller Thurgau; Sylvaner; Kerner; Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are also significant in Alto Adige.

So Alto-Adige has many grapes of Germanic origin: Riesling; Gewürztraminer; Sylvaner; Kerner; Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner. The first three are shared with Alsace too – as are the Pinot Family – so comparison seems attractive.

It may be said that the most obvious comparison: Pinot Gris/Grigio is actually the most complicated. First of all there may be clonal or selectional differences in the grape plantings although they are the same variety. Secondly the “target” style is different: richer complex wines in Alsace and fresher lighter wines in Italy. Finally,  yields are often much higher in Italy resulting in a neutral “quaffing” wine. That’s being generous,  a lot of the Italian version – possibly two thirds – could be called Pinot (e)Gregious, wines that are often thin, inoffensive occupants of the early parts of Restaurant wine lists, where they offer (I would say) characterless wines for people who don’t like wine…

Actually some of the better examples, though of a radically different style, do come from Alto-Adige – and I think the comparison is one we are going to have to try.

So the varieties I have chosen to show in comparison of the two areas end up being the Alsace big three: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The Alsace wines will act as a style reference to see what we think of Alto Adige versions. I think the next time I approach a tasting focusing on Alsace I’ll make sure basic versions of those three grapes are entirely omitted and concentrate on all the other styles and varieties .

The wines will be in pairs to aid comparison, although it’ll be immediately obvious which is which – not least because the Alsace example will have more age. So only the most similar pair – the Rieslings – will be tasted blind… We’ll see how these – vaguely Germanic – wine areas deal with those grapes.

Notes will follow in 3 or 4 days…

Until then….

On Monday 18th July 2016 the WING group met for a tasting of some Rolly Gassmann wines, led by Janine.

The Rolly Gassmann estate dates back to 1676 and the winery is in the village of Rorschwihr in Alsace and is in the process of converting to biodynamic viticulture. The estate has around 50 hectares of vines (40ha in Rorschwihr, 10ha in Bergheim and a few in Rodern). They produce on average 300,000 bottles per annum and they only export 20% of their annual production. 10% of wines are sold annually to Michelin-starred restaurants in France, who judge them to be very food-friendly.

Rolly Gassmann wines generally have high levels of residual sugar (even Auxerrois and Sylvaner are generally noticeably sweet here). However, they manage that sugar without obscuring vineyard-specific characteristics or fatiguing the palate; the estate typically releases its wines after anywhere between 2 and 10 years in bottle.

I was unable to attend this tasting myself (instead I was tasting other wines  – principally Rosé  as it was 36°C – in Bourgueil), so the notes below come from the those present – mainly Janine and Ralph, I understand.

Thanks to them:
20160716_134538
Terroir des Chateaux Forts 2012   –   12.5%   –   25% Gewurz / 75% Auxerrois blend       £10.50
Buttery apple aromas. Rich in style, with an oily texture on the palate. Soft and nutty. Caramel, ginger spice, apple strudel. Off-dry, with just enough acidity to balance the richness. More like a new world Gewurz than Alsace.

Moenchreben de Rorschwihr Auxerrois 2013   –   13.5%   –   100% Auxerrois      £11.95
Not as rich on the nose as the previous wine. Aromas of hazelnuts and herbs/green leaf. A rich style again, but drier on the palate and a firmer structure. Orange peel notes at the end.

Riesling Silberberg de Rorschwihr 2007   –   12%      £21
Pale gold. Faint diesel aromas and a hint of peach. A touch of sweetness on the palate with honey and melons. Not quite enough acidity to balance, but good length. Might be a touch old? Has less of an impact than the previous wines.

Riesling Pflanzerreben de Rorschwihr 2010   –   13%      £26
Pale gold. Not as rich on the nose than than previous Riesling and more diesel aromas. Drier on the palate, with a touch of honey, minerality and grapefruit.

Pinot Gris Reserve 2007   –   13%     £24
Medium gold. Ginger spice, caramel and buttery aromas. Vey rich style, almost like caramel popcorn. Lower acid than the Rieslings, but balanced and with good concentration and length. Unusually old for a Pinot Gris, but doesn’t suffer for it.

Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Gewurztraminer 2012   –   13.5%      £30
Medium gold. Soapy aromas at first, then rosewater / turkish delight and mango. Persistent aromas. A very rich style again. Sweet on the palate, with lychees, rosewater and gingerbread. Just enough acidity and great length. Made in a late-harvest style.

Prices shown are current UK – Wines 1,3 & 5 are still available from the Wine Society.

Conclusion: we agreed that there was probably too much of the winemaker’s individual style showing through the first four wines, which masked the varietal qualities to some extent (RG’s house style is rich wines with residual sugar). But the Pinot Gris and Gewurz were much more interesting.

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…

Another two-for-one posting this month.

The WING Tutored Tasting Group met on May 12th to taste Alsace wines courtesy of John and Ann, and two days later 20 of the wider WING network attended a Food and Wine Pairing event at our favourite Indian Restaurant: Mem Saab. So here are brief notes on both evenings.

The Alsace tasting focussed on wines from one of my very favourite producers – Domain Martin Schaetzel, a biodynamic, minimum intervention winemaker in Ammerschwihr. I’ve visited and purchased wine at the Domain 6 or 7 times since I first found  it, inspired by a Decanter review of their Kaefferkopf Riesling, in 1996. John and Ann visited a year or so ago and were similarly impressed, so we had a range of the Domain’s wines. All the wines are from the grower and prices shown are in Euro.

Cremant d’Alsace        12%     € 8.50
This Cuvée is made with 100% Chardonnay. The wine has a quiet, spirity nose, slightly toasty and nutty tones with an undertow of apple. Lemon zest and apple flavours on the palate, expressed mainly through the acid line. As the wine warms the mousse fades, but a peachy fruit appears. Very good value.

Silvaner Vielles Vignes 2011      12%      €7.66
Nose is light but with floral and a crisp character. The palate has quite a “malic” sharpness with a bitter twist at the finish. Clean but simple.

Auxerrois 2010     12.5%     € 8.50
An interesting nose, linseed and oily wood. A soft, off-dry palate with beguiling floral notes that focus and fade, a surprisingly long mineral line and some structure. Would work well with a Paté starter?

Pinot Noir Cuvée Mathieu 2010        13%     € 11.30
Quite dark for an Alsace PN. Very  herbal nose at first and then elements of red Cherry, more Mercurey than Beaune! Refereshing acidity and enough body  and fruit to offset the typical, slightly green, tone of the wine. Good

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2010    14%     € 17
Wonderful nose: almonds, peach and notes of a floral honey, vying for prominence. Palate has warm smoky spice as well warmth from alcohol , a dryish palate hiding rich soft fruit. Mineral notes too, typical for this site. Supple and complex – a very good wine at a very good price.

Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Cuvée Catherine 2010          13%     € 19
The bottle had spritzy and yeasty flavours from the first – a sign of a secondary fermentation in the bottle, and hints of oxidation just beginning. Underneath there were rose petals aromas and a rose water palate. Palate is fizz at first and a more typical Gewurz finish – but the wine is incorrect. Very odd, as I mentioned above I have been buying from this domain for years but this is the second faulty bottle of Gewurz out of the last 3 tasted ( I too had an oxidised wine – although another Cuvée bought on another occasion). What gives?

Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2011          13%     € 34
Initial suphury nose (no oxidation here then), then burnt wood then rose petals. Palate is rose and honey, the sweetness tinged with ginger, cardamom, dried apricots… Cries out for food (a strong cheese maybe?) and just fabulous. A lovely finish to a fab tasting.

Thank you so much John and Ann for the presentation and wine.

Mem Saab Wine and food Pairing Event

Two days later many of us were at Mem Saab for the Wine and Food matching event, the third in an annual series. The evening, by unanimous acclaim, was wonderful.

We matched:

  • the Poppadom and relish starters with Fino Sherry;
  •  a Scallop and Prawn (Jingha Hara Masala) dish with an Alboriño and a Clare Valley Riesling;
  • Venison Sheik Kebab and Tandoori Chicken Tikka with a Jadot Rosé and a US Chardonnay;
  • Chicken Tikka Masala and Goan Vegetable Curry with Pilau Rice with two Marlborough, NZ wines – a Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir;
  • Zaika Gosht (Lamb off the bone) and Saag Aloo with a Lamb Biryani and Nan Bread with a Malbec and a Australian Shiraz;
  • and finally a Fruit and Gulab Jamun dessert with a sweet, Late Harvest South African Chenin.

The evening was much too pleasurable to try and make objective notes on the wines. Suffice to say that the style of wines matched the wines very well (IMO the only let down being the Shiraz!). Opinion was pretty well divided, in most cases, as to which was the better wine of each pair matching each dish; and as to which was best between all the wines over the evening. These are good signs that the matching was very well done.

One small thing struck me is that since the first of these evenings two years ago the food has improved a couple of notches and now genuinely merits the term fine dining. The wine styles were good choices, but several wines were not as good examples of their style as the food was of its style. In other words – in a few cases – the food merits better wine, in my opinion. Although that would have price implications. Nevertheless this small caveat didn’t diminish the pleasure of the evening and a big vote of appreciation must go to Amita, and her staff at Mem Saab, for a memorable evening.

I have just sampled a prototype menu for the Champagne and Indian Cuisine evening, at the same restaurant – on Wednesday June 25th, £69. I must tell you the food is wonderful, and if you are a lover of Champagne , or of Mem Saab’s distinctive and excellent style… or of both… you are in for a treat!!!

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