Grapevine Archive for Dining Club
Evidence of war is ever present in Alsace with innumerable castles and war cemeteries to prove it, but mercifully all that belongs to the past. The 30 Years War had brought to an end a golden age for Alsace wines. But today we are surely at the beginning of a new golden age, and members of the Wine Society Dining Club went out for a week?s tasting and dining to find out more.
I am of coursed distinctly biased in all this, strongly believing that Alsace is fully capable of producing exceptional wines. Challenges abound. First the fact that, notwithstanding the fine climate, Alsace is France?s most northern wine region after Champagne. Another complication is that though Alsace enjoys very low annual rainfall, most of it falls during the summer when the grapes are trying to ripen.
There is as well a human element to Alsace?s complications. Growers, remembering the hard times of the past, fall into two schools. There are still those that believe in quantity as the best sort of insurance. Most of Alsace?s grape varieties are quite capable of producing big crops but the results are invariably disappointing. A growing number of producers have gone the other way, becoming perfectionists and optimising the full potential of their vines. Alsace growers were among the first to take up biodynamic farming practices, and with them much reduced yields and bigger, more concentrated wines. Sometimes, too concentrated for their own good and as a result these wines can seem unbalanced. But that is the down side and in reality there is more and more coming out from Alsace that is spectacular.
This year I will have visited twice and am delighted to report that we will be buying wines from Albert Boxler in Niederhaussen; and that means a first listing at The Wine Society for a wine coming from the Grand Cru Sommerberg. We will also introduce wines from André Kientzler, another great house from the historic town of Ribeauvillé.
Back to Dining Club visit. The vintage uppermost in tastings was 2010 which from the start, I believed to be one of Alsace?s greatest vintages. That impression was more than reinforced by a week tasting in Alsace. This was not an easy vintage and the crop was tiny. Everything was late and the perfect Indian summer only really benefited the best exposed sites.
It is in such a vintage that the Grand Cru system suddenly becomes abundantly clear. The aim of the visit was to take in some of the great vineyards, starting with the Kitterlé and Rangen in the south, then via the Hengst, Brand and Eichberg to the Schoenenbourg in Riquewihr. The wines throughout the week were often astonishing with several producers choosing to pull out examples from the 1989 vintage to prove another point: Alsace wines keep very well!
Dining Club members were there to learn as well as profit from a memorable week going from cellar to cellar. At the end and after André Hugel had taken us on an architectural tour of Riquewihr, members were subjected to a blind tasting. Bravo to Ann Edwards who gave in a near perfect answer, winning herself a bottle of 1988 Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles from Hugel.
The Society?s current offer of the 2010 Alsace vintage is open until this Sunday, 17th June.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to speak when The Wine Society Dining Club celebrated their 250th dinner in Draper?s Hall in London.The location is splendid and the wines, which included Château Margaux 1983 and 1990, and the outstanding Pavillon Rouge 2000, were memorably magnificent. The bottles had been wisely laid down by the club en primeur when they cost very much less than they do today.
80 members and 40 guests attended and a very good time was had by us all.
Such bottles are meant to be shared and discussed among like-minded companions.
Sebastian Payne MW