Wed 25 Jun 2014

Spring In Alsace

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What a coincidence! The day the 2012 Alsace offer got underway, there I was, on cherished ground in Alsace for a huge trade tasting with nearly 100 growers in attendance.

From the top of Schoenenbourg with Riquewihr below.

From the top of Schoenenbourg with Riquewihr below

This was the second such event and, like the first, the idea was to showcase Alsace riesling in all its various styles and their multiplicity of flavours. About half the wines were riesling and the rest was everything else. Young wines were on show but many brought older wines too, in order to prove the longevity of this extraordinary grape. (Regretfully I missed out on a chance to taste a 1945 riesling from Schlumberger. Too busy trying to sample at least one wine from each table!).

Last year, The Wine Society was fortunate to be rewarded as best Alsace Wine merchant by the IWC (International Wine Challenge) so this was a good opportunity to taste from a large number of producers with a view to deepen the range still further. I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to identify several producers that will warrant a second visit. This year we introduced a grand cru sylvaner; next year there may be a rare klevener de Heiligenstein, a cousin of gewurztraminer found only in the village of Heiligenstein and making a delicately perfumed and spicy white wine.

The view from my south-facing hotel window in Riquewihr

The view from my south-facing hotel window in Riquewihr

Most of the wines on show came from the 2012 vintage which is not surprising as that is very much the current vintage for most producers. I had already tasted a fair few back in February when making the selection for The Society’s current offer. This week I added to my knowledge of this vintage with the best part of 200 more wines. And what a delight they are.

Alsace vintages tend to come in three vintage styles. There are the weighty vintages like 2011, 2009 and 2007, marked by heat and high levels of ripeness that make full-flavoured, generous wines. Rarer are vintages like 2010, 2008 and 2001 that are the result of a very long growing season; these wines are steely, marked by both high levels of ripeness and also acidity, a perfect combination for long keeping. The third group, typified by 2012 and 2004, produces wines that are relatively light with charm and an abundance of fruit.

On a day like last Tuesday, what better way to spend lunch than with a knuckle of pork and a glass of 2012 riesling, generously poured by our friend Jean Trimbach? The restaurant, by the way, for anyone with an idea of visiting this fairytale countryside, was the ‘Pfifferhus’ in Ribeauvillé, on the main street, which I think makes an especially good choucroute that has a little sharpness and clean, refreshing flavours.

In the course of a day I probably tasted a little short of 300 wines from nearly 100 producers. Standards were high, surprisingly so, and of course helped by the excellence of the 2012 vintage.

Exhibition Alsace RieslingAnd the 2013s are looking similarly good. Isabelle and Céline Meyer of Josmeyer, knowing that I was coming, brought a sample of 2013 Exhibition Riesling (pictured right).This is going to be something quite special, though we will have to wait till the autumn to try it. Josmeyer were among the standout producers at the tasting, able to demonstrate depth in their range and also the longevity of their wines. I loved 2000 Riesling Pflanzerreben from Rolly-Gassmann and was bowled over by a 1976 Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg from Domaine Louis Sipp. And there were equally exceptional wines from Leon Beyer, Trimbach , Schlumberger, Weinbach and Zind Humbrecht among others.

Alsace is an extraordinarily polyglot region of France and there was as much English spoken at the fair as French, with visitors from all over the world. Of note was the contingent of Japanese, no doubt on the quest for the most precise and pure examples of riesling to match their exquisite cooking!

And the 2014 vintage is about 100 days away!

And the 2014 vintage is about 100 days away!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer for Alsace

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