Rolly-Gassmann is based in Rorschwihr, a small Alsatian village close to Ribeauvillé; a ten minute drive along the D18 takes you past André Kientler on the outskirts of Ribeauvillé and close to Gustave Lorentz and Marcel Deiss in Bergheim. Even amid Alsace’s highly diverse soil types Rorschwihr is something of an extreme case; the faultline that passes through the village created 21 different soil types, and so there are lots of small climats with their own peculiarities and specificites. These are so important to the local vignerons that, when the powers than be tried to amalgamate them into larger plots for grand cru classification purposes, they refused and said that “either there would be 12 Rorschwihr Grand Crus or none at all”. So none it is!
Rolly-Gassmann’s Domaine dates back to 1611 but the current name is decades rather than centuries old after two wine families became intertwined through marriage. The estate includes 40ha in Rorschwihr plus 10ha in Bergheim, all run on organic and biodynamic lines. Despite the lack of grands crus, there are lots of lieux-dits belonging to the domaine, each suited to a certain grape variety.
- Silberberg – Riesling
- Kappelweg – Riesling
- Pflaenzerreben – Rieslings
- Rotleibel – Pinot Gris
- Oberer Weingarten – Gewurztraminer
- Stegreben – Gewurztraminer
Rolly-Gassmann is well known among Alsace cognoscenti but aren’t seen outside France that much; it transpires that only around 20% of sales are exports, and that the domaine has a large cellar of bottles including many older vintages, so well worth a visit.
The bottle I review below was a very kind gift from my good friend Peter Dickens. I had saved it for a special occasion and shared it with my wife last weekend, though didn’t manage to take a photo before the bottle was whipped off to recycling (first world problem, I know) so I even nicked Peter’s photo!
Rolly-Gassman Alsace Pinot Gris Rotleibel de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 1996
When you open a bottle of white wine that’s over twenty years old there’s a definite pang of nervousness: will it be totally oxidised? corked? vinegar? While good Alsace Pinot Gris definitely benefits from a bit of bottle age it’s not normally regarded as having the longevity of Riesling. This bottle had also been in and out of the wine fridge several times as it was going to be opened on a few previous occasions .
But thankfully the wine was amazing! Not even a cracked cork!
Vendanges Tardives (VT) is the Alsace term for “late harvests”, a sweet wine from grapes that are left on the vine for several weeks after the regular harvest so that they continue to ripen and produce more sugar. Rotleibel de Rorschwihr is the name of the lieu-dit, literally meaning “red soil” – which I imagine includes plenty of iron oxide – that are perfect for the extravagance of Pinot Gris.
And extravagant this wine is – so powerful yet fresh, full of ripe tropical fruits, ginger, cinnamon, honey and marmalade. It’s a sweet wine without any hint of flabbiness, and one that could happily pair with certain main courses as well as desserts. The complexity is mindblowing.
Thanks again Peter for an amazing wine!