Thu 04 Oct 2012

Notes From an Alsace tasting at Chandos House

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Alsace TastingThis was a tasting on former Wine Society territory and I could have sworn I saw a ghost or two of members past. Not a bottle of Old Chandos tawny port in sight but instead a fascinating tasting of some 75 wines from Alsace.

This was put on by CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) and provided a real showcase for the wines. Only pinot gris and pinot noir were shown and the fact that the tasting focused on just two grape varieties was refreshing and helpful

The tasting was in two parts. First current vintages, 2011 back to 2008. Then a small selection of older vintages going back to 1961 which as expected was really very interesting, even magical.

Pinot Gris
This is a much misunderstood variety and if I’m honest, not my favourite. Yes it is, ostensibly at least, related to pinot grigio though they are unlikely to be from the same plant selections. Closer will be the pinot beurot from Burgundy and closer too in style of wine.

It used to be called Tokay d’Alsace and then Tokay Pinot Gris until Hungary joined the EU and put pressure to have ‘Tokay’ reserved for its own wines. A sad decision in my view but perfectly understandable. There is nothing in common between Alsace Pinot Gris and Hungary’s furmint variety from Tokay. As a by the by, Hungary also produces pinot gris and very good they are too

In Alsace, pinot gris can make wines in any number of styles, from dry and steely to sweet and opulent and of course it can also make wonderfully rich dessert wines. Those rare nectars are sold under the Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles appellation and not on show at this tasting.

This is what I liked
Léon Beyer 2011:
Very low residual sugar. Fully dry, clean, full flavoured and utterly gorgeous. We are still on the 2010 but will almost certainly buy this next year.

Muré Clos Saint Landelin 2011: Richer, southern style, more or less dry, crisp and clean. Lovely.

Ribeauvillé Co-op, Collection 2011: Very well made, a touch sweet but finishing dry. Full and long

Albert Mann, Cuvée Albert 2010: Rich, even opulent, but with enough acidity to cut through the sweetness. Has grip and quality.

Kuentz-Bas GC Eichberg 2010: Brillant. Real character, concentration of flavours and very long.

Domaine Weinbach, Ste Catherine 2010: Gorgeous, unctuous. Sweet but finishes dry and not in the least bit heavy or cloying.

Dom Zind-Humbrecht, Rothenberg 2010: Sumptuous.

Dom Pfister, Tradition 2009:
Good grip, appley and rich. On the dry side so gastronomically more useful than some others

Dom Ostertag, Zellenberg 2009: Utterly glorious!! My style of pinot gris, bready, yeasty and clean. Fully dry

Dom Gresser Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 2008: Sandstone vineyard makes broad tasting wines which always need a little time. Lots here, complex and rich but with enough grip

Dom Schlumberger GC Kitterlé 2008:
Also sandstone but different. An amazing vineyard, very steep, difficult to work but what results. This is still a baby and will need two or three years to come round. Great potential.

Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is the only red grape planted in Alsace with a long history of making great red wines. After phylloxera, plantings of pinot noir were greatly diminished and then what was left was often turned into rather thin, almost rosé-like wines of little quality. That has now completely changed and this variety is very much back in favour. Some of it is used to make sparkling Cremant d’Alsace but more and more producers are trying to make proper red wine in a style that is very much Alsace and not a Burgundian copy.

The Alsace style is usually pale in colour, rarely oaky, cherry like fruit, slightly bitter, sappy and refreshing.

This is what I liked
Léon Beyer 2011:
Cherry-like, round, fruity and delicious

Dom Zink 2011: nothing special but perfectly decent

Muré Clos Saint Landelin “V” 2010: A pinot noir specialist and from the village of Rouffach which has always been famous for its reds. This is gorgeous. Rumour has it that one or two vineyards may soon be granted Grand Cru status for pinot noir. Surely this one should be a candidate.

Dom Pfister, Barriques, 2009: Proper pinot. Real quality here

Now For the Older Wines…
These all came from CIVA’s cellars in Colmar and were anonymous with just the vintage showing on the label. I was told that they all represented the middle range in quality. CIVA uses this stock, which I believe is donated by the producers, for educational purposes, training sommeliers and young winemakers for example.

Pinot Gris
1998
, served from a decanter: in great shape, truffle, and lots of flavour and very long. Loved it.

1992:
Mediocre vintage but this was still lovely. Very fresh, dry and long. Beginning to loose its fruit.

1990: Great vintage but this was disappointing. Very mature but with still a lot of sweetness. I’ve tasted better elsewhere.

1985: A favourite vintage for pinot gris. I still remember Hugel reserve personnel! This was wonderful, delicate, a touch salty, sensuous and long. Loved it.

1979: Pretty good vintage and this was very good with still some vigour and interest.

1971: Outstanding vintage but I did not like this at all. Past it. Yet I’ve tasted wonderful ‘71s recently.

1967: Fabulous vintage and this was an outstanding bottle indeed. Truffles and baked apple, full flavoured, very fresh with plenty of middle and length. Hats off!

1961: Great vintage too and again a wonderful bottle from the past. Still has sweetness on the finish.

Pinot Noir
1999:
Volatile. Did not like it.

1998: Didn’t like it either. Drying out.

1990: Great vintage for pinot: iconic, when many growers realised the full potential of pinot in Alsace. Lovely example. Still rich and sweet.

1987: Mediocre vintage. This was honourable but clearly past it.

1979: Good vintage but this was past it.

1976: Very good vintage. This was lovely. Still sweet and fruity. Delicious.

1971: Oh dear. But must have been good at some stage in its life.

The last taste was reserved for a second sip of the ‘67 pinot gris.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

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