The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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Page 21 of 119

22 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 { letter from London } bouring Ribeauville), but the following day our first visit was to Domaine Blanck in Kientzheim, home to the grands crus Schlossberg, Furstentum and Mambourg. The family dates back to 1575. Philippe Blanck took us through the very differ - ent soils in his vineyards, including three lieu-dits—Rosenbourg, Patergarten and Altenbourg—which are about, with many others, to be classified premier cru, making Alsace even more like Burgundy. The Riesling Rosenbourg 2010 from granite soil showed beautifully textured stone fruits, only to be outclassed by a magnificent Schlossberg 2010 with 20 years in front of it and a sublime rose petal Gewurztraminer Furstentum 2008. Another classic estate. Hugel needs no introduction, with grapes from 30 hectares of their own vines and 100 hectares under contract, and Etienne Hugel showed just a few family benchmarks: the lovely "Gentil" 2012, a blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and a touch of Muscat, the perfect vin de carafe; then three Rieslings: Hugel 2012, Jubilee (from Grand Cru Schoenenbourg) 2009 and Jubilee 2004; a sumptuous Gewurztraminer (from Grand Cru Sporen) Vendange Tardive 2007 and two exceptional SGNs, a 100% botrytis Pinot Gris 1999, and the first-ever SGN made in Alsace, the INAO rules hav - ing been set by Étienne's Uncle Johnny, a deeply golden and still marvellously vig- ourous Gewurztraminer 1976. With lunch we had two Pinot Noirs from Burgundy clones planted in 1966, a lovely blackcur - ranty 2009 and a deeply concentrated 2003 from that heat wave year. Trimbach are known as the Grand Masters of Riesling and the 2009 Clos Ste Hune, from just 1.67 hectares (4.13 acres) on "fossil-flecked" limestone in Grand Cru Rosacker, justifies in itself this reputation, though the 2009 Cuvée Frederic Emile runs it close, as did the splendid mag - num of 2001 over dinner at the Auberge de l'Ill. The Trimbach range starts with Les Classiques, varietal wines from the 80 hectares of grapes they have under contract to complement their own 43 hectares, some of the region's best value wine, continues through Vins de Réserve to end on their Réserve Personnelle and special cuvées of Vendange Tardive and SGN. The tasting hosted by Anne Trimbach, now travelling the world as the 13th generation, was an education, her description of their 2011 Gewurztraminer Classique as "disciplined" epitomising the Trimbach style. Our first visit on the fourth morn - ing was to Domaine Weinbach at the historic Clos des Capucins ex- mon- astery at Kaysersberg, with holdings in Grands Crus Schlossberg, Furstentum, Mambourg and Marckrain making up much of their biodynamically-farmed 30 hectares. I have known Colette Faller for 40 years and this visit was a very sad one, due to the recent untimely death of her winemaker daughter Laurence. Her elder daughter Catherine, who handles the commercial side, showed us 12 wines with my notes ranging from 17/20 to 19/20. Four 2013s—a vintage described by Catherine as "gothic" as opposed to the "flamboy - ant" 2011s—set the tone with the best Pinot Blanc and Muscat of the trip and a stunning Riesling Schlossberg, Catherine adding that "Riesling is to white wine what Pinot Noir is to red wine: neither can cope with mediocrity." The Pinot Gris 2012 Ste Catherine and the Gewurztraminer 2011 Cuvée Laurence were breathtaking and the tasting ended with the Pinot Gris 2010 Cuvée d'Or Quintessence de Grains Nobles of such amazing concentration yet described simply by Catherine as "liquid Tarte Tatin." Domaine Weinbach repre - sents a pinnacle of quality in Alsace. Our afternoon visit was to Domaine Marcel Deiss in Bergheim, the owner Jean-Michel Deiss being recognised and admired by his peers as being "completely crazy." This has come from his long-held belief that it is the cru (or the soil, subsoil and exposure of the cru) that produces the style of the wine, not the grape and his subsequent refusal to vinify individual grapes separately in the Alsace tradition. For Jean-Michel, a "field blend" repre - sents the true expression and the INAO has made an exception for him, but for him alone! His partner and oenologue Marie- Hélène Cristoforo, who gave us perhaps the most fascinating tasting of the trip, was dismissive of the administrative rules that Jean-Michel has overturned: "the ter - roir is not limited, it is the people who are limited." On the Mambourg Grand Cru Deiss produces a floral yet concentrated wine from all five Pinots—Blanc, Auxerrois, Beurot, Gris and Noir—planted at the density of 12,700 vines per hectare against the local average of 5,000. His Grand Cru Altenberg is a blend of every single grape variety allowed in Alsace, even pink Chasselas, the creation of which Deiss describes as "a milestone in my life, mark - ing a break with the variety-over-terroir dominance under which the Alsace region has suffered so greatly for the past 100 years." Crazy or not, Jean-Michel Deiss deserves to be heard. That evening we dined at the Auberge de l'Ill, which has held three Michelin stars for more than four decades. Serge Dubs, the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde, was there to advise on the wines to com - plement a meal of the highest possible quality. Our final visit the following morning was to Domaine Muré in Rouffach, where the family have been producing wine since 1650 and are proud owners of the 12 hectare Clos St Landelin, whose terraced slopes can be seen from their tasting room. Véronique Muré began the tasting with a beautifully lifted Riesling/Chardonnay Crémant d'Alsace with zero dosage, to fol - low with 2012 Clos St Landelin Pinot Noir, a variety that has always been planted in this south-facing Clos, recognised as Alsace's best Pinot Noir. From the same vineyard the Riesling 2012 and Pinot Gris 2012 showed impeccable balance of fruit and acidity, while even the humble Sylvaner 2010 Cuvée Oscar, named after Véronique's grandfather, showed what great terroir can bring. My next trip to Alsace may not be for a few years, but in the meantime, many bot - tles have been ordered for my cellar. Steven Spurrier escorted Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours' Reserve Alsace Tour. See for more info.

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