The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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Page 19 of 119

20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 { letter from London } FIVE DAYS SPENT WITH A TOUR group in Alsace in the second week of June found this beautiful region in fine spirits due to a successful flowering that, after two reduced vintages, will give them a large crop that is needed in the face of increasing international recognition for their wines. In the U.K., Alsace used to be known as "a wine merchant's wine," for the merchants loved the place and the people, bought lots of the product, found it hard to sell and so drank it themselves. Today the top producers, many of whom I visited, are spoken of in the same tones as their colleagues from Burgundy, their best cuvées being both expensive and on allocation. This said, Alsace has so many small producers along the 170-kilometre wine route from Strasbourg in the north to Mulhouse in the south, plus many well- run caves-cooperatives, that price-wise there is something for everyone, and it is rare to find a poor bottle. In the north-east corner of France, the Alsace vineyards are sheltered by the Vosges mountains and enjoy practi - cally the lowest rainfall in France (just 500–600mm [19–24 inches] a year) and is blessed with a sunny and dry climate. Situated on the sub-Vosgian foothills at an altitude of between 200 and 400 metres (650–1,300 feet), the vines ben - efit from superb exposure, particularly as the vines are trained along high wires. The geology is a real mosaic of soils and subsoils from the Jurassic era, made up of granite, limestone, gneiss, red volcanic rock, sandstone and much else. There is just one appellation, Appellation Alsace Contrôlée, and the wines are recognised by their grape varieties. While indicative of style, this is limiting and many produc - ers stress their holdings in the 51 grands crus, to be joined soon by a new range of premiers crus. Alsace is much, much more complex than at first glance. Off the flight from London to Basel, our first visit was to Schlumberger in Guebwiller, the most southern of the great estates, with 140 hectares mostly on terraced vineyards created in Roman times and now still ploughed by horses, of which half are classified under the grands crus Kessler, Kitterlé, Saering and Spiegel. Séverine Beydon-Schlumberger showed us Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris 2012 and Riesling, Gewurztraminer 2011 under their excellent Les Princes Abbés label, moving to Riesling Kitterlé 2010 ("the best vintage of my career"), Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer Kessler and Kitterlé 2008 and 2007, before ending on their benchmark Gewurztraminer Cuvée Christine 2008 Vendanges Tardives, an explosively exotic grand vin. These wines are stunningly satisfying. We then checked into our hotel, the 17th-century Maison des Têtes in the his - toric centre of Colmar, (which is to Alsace A Week in Alsace

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