Aromatic Alsace (Part 1)

My 2014 tasting season kicked off with the first leg of an Alsace double-header at the West London Wine School. This session was all about the traditional wines of the region and included bottles from the famous domains of Trimbach, Josmeyer and Schlumberger – and there were some great wines on show. Next week’s tasting is about “modern” Alsace… but there will plenty of time to discuss that at a later date.

Alsace is a revelation in many ways. It is a wonderful region, with interesting and aromatic grape varieties. The key grapes here are Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc… and it will say that on the label. It is also one of the most beautiful regions of France, with it’s chocolate box villages and wonderful rich and gutsy food; I haven’t visited the area but certainly look forward to a trip in the not too distant future.

The wines are immediately recognisable on the shelf in their tall, thin, Germanic bottles and I hope you grow to love them like I have. These are wines of character, depth and individuality.  It has a small production compared to other French regions, with around 15,000 hectares under vine (compared to 120,000 in Bordeaux, 75,000 in the Loire and 30,000 in Burgundy) and there is a very high level of consistency in the quality of the output. Of the planted area, around 78% is classified as AOC Alsace wines, 4% for AOC Alsace Grand Cru (only Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat – tiny production – can be labeled Grand Cru) and 18% for AOC Crémant d’Alsace (the sparkling wine of the area).

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Our tasting took in all of the key grapes and styles and certainly improved as the session progressed. I was a little disappointed by the Trimbach wines as I have enjoyed many a good bottle in the past, but the bottles from Josmeyer and Schlumberger more than made up for it:

Bestheim Prestige Cremant d’Alsace NV (N/A UK @ £16.00)

Since my introduction to Cremant on my first visit to Burgundy a couple of years ago I have become more and more impressed by these regional sparklers (a Cremant de Loire made my wines of 2013). This one is made from 100% Pinot Blanc grapes and was a lovely way to start the tasting. There were very few bubbles in the glass but the nose had a good blast of citrus, a hint of melon and the faintest hint yeastiness (although it did intensify given a bit of time). On the palate the wine is fresh with a good citrus hit but there is also a touch of astringency – a touch too much pith perhaps. Overall a fun and light bubbly that was very enjoyable. 88 points

Trimbach Reserve Pinot Blanc 2009 (The Wine Society £9.50)

The wine is actually a blend of 80% Pinot Auxerrois and 20% Pinot Blanc (and I said it was an easy region to understand) but let’s not dwell on it. There is plenty of citrus and a touch of melon on the nose but I also picked up a hint of almond, marzipan even. On the palate it was a bit muted upfront but then the acidity kicks in and gets the juices flowing with lashings of citrus and apple fruit. The wine is very fresh and easy drinking – one for the summer sun, for sure. 88 points

Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling 2007 (The Wine Society £35.00)

There was a lovely green tinge to the golden juice and the nose was like a lazer beam of citrus and crisp green apples. There was also a hint of plastic (will evolve into classic petrol aromas) and plenty of wet slate minerality –very clean indeed. On the palate the wine is bone dry with a big clout of acidity – it is pure and fresh but I’m struggling to find the fruit or minerality that was promised by the smell. The wine is still very close and a few years off reaching it’s true potential. 90+ points

Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling 2006 (Majestic £32.00)

So much more development than the 2007 – ripe peaches as well as citrus on the nose and a good dose of honey sweetness too – smells very rich and round. The richness follow through onto the palate – the fruit is apples and the acidity is far more restrained than the 2007 with just a touch of oxidative notes. The wine is wide open but there is a lack of balance – the alcohol, although only 13%, really shouts loudest. 86 points

Josmeyer Les Perrieres Riesling 2008 (Drinkshop.com £25.12)

And just when I was starting to get dis-heartened along comes this beauty. Honey tinged apples, delicious ripe peaches, a touch of the tropics and a clean slateiness really gets the senses aroused. On the palate there is a landslide of fruit with peaches, citrus and green apples, all held together with precise acidity, a touch of white flowers and a hint of petrol on the very fine and long finish. This Riesling really delivers with a delightful balance of fruit and acidity, and a long, fine and seductive finish. Fabulous. 93 points

Josmeyer “H” Pinot Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2011 (Drinkshop.com £21.54)

Although this comes from a Grand Cru vineyard it cannot be labelled as such (only Riesling, Gewurtz, Pinot Blanc and Muscat are eligible). The nose is rich and honeyed with some floral notes hitting your nostrils before the peaches – like sweet tinned peaches – come along. A bit astringent on the attack but a nice streak of acidity and peachy fruit, along with a hint of nut and ginger bring it all together. Very rich and round, lots of complex but the warm alcohol sticks out a little too much for the whole thing to knit together perfectly. 89 points

Sclumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Noir 2011 (N/A UK @ £12.00)

How about a red wine, just to shake things up? It’s not a world beater but this is a very elegant and fresh Pinot with a bright, translucent colour in the glass – like a deep rose. The nose is all about red fruit – cherries and strawberries, very light and fragrant with just a touch of earthy leather. The palate is all about the same fruit – very delicate with just a touch of smoke. Simple, bright and fresh – very easy drinking, bright and enjoyable. 87 points

Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2008 (Fortnum & Mason £22.50)

I bloody love this wine. Crisp green apples – almost sherbet like, with a very mineral backbone and the first hints of petrol development. The wine is so clean and pure on the entry before the peach, apple and acidity kicks in – this is pure, almost glacial in it’s elegance. The finish is delightfully long and everything comes together in beautiful balance – I think this is a bargain at £22.50 and I am making a trip for Fortnums very soon. 94 points

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Schlumberger Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kitterle 2007 (Fortnum & Mason £32.50)

Is this really the same grape that makes that dull and dismal Pinot Grigio monstrosities that the supermarket shelves are filled with? Believe it or not it is! Beautifully golden in the glass, the nose elegantly unfolds peaches, nectarines, tropical fruit, honey-drenched pastry… no, it’s caramelised crème brulee. The first thing that hits the tongue is the rich honey, then the acid glides across your palate, with beautiful peaches and nectarines, then some smoky backnotes. The overall impression is of a peach & nut pastry dessert that just goes on and on with delightful elegance. Splendid. 95 points

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Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Kitterle 2006 (Fortnum & Mason £27.44)

Aromatic, exotic and floral. The classic aromas of Turkish delight, pink roses and lychees are there in spades, along with a touch of honey and nut – this is textbook Gewürz. The attack is sweet but nicely balanced by the richness – the flavours are floral, tropical fruit with a hint of sweet spice and candied nuts. This is one of the most balanced and complete gewürztraminers I have come across. 92 points

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Another tough night complete!

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Posted on January 12, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great post! Have visited Trimbach, Josmeyer and Schlumberger in the past couple of years, some really excellent wines amongst beautiful villages and scenery. Had the Cuvee Frederique Emile 2004 a few months ago and it was developping nicely. Still have all 4 Rieslings made by Schlumberger to open one fine evening!

  2. I’m a big fan of Alsace, too! I find it interesting that I’ll jump at an Alsace Pinot Gris, but run a mile from an Italian Pinot Grigio; despite the fact that they’re the same grape!

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