Single Bottle Review

Gustave Lorentz Pinot Blanc

When I received the list of the wines to be included in the SuperValu French Wine Sale, the wine I was most keen to taste was this Pinot Blanc.  Why?  Well because it’s from Alsace, of course!  And not only that, it’s also a wine I haven’t tried from a producer that I rate.  This is one of ten “special guest wines” which are available on a limited basis only during the event which runs for three weeks from 3rd to 23rd September.  For the first two weeks there is also an additional €10 off any six bottles – so get them while they last!

Disclosure: this bottle was kindly sent as a sample, opinions remain my own

Gustave Lorentz Pinot Blanc Réserve 2019

The Lorentz family can trace their origins in Alsace back to the 1650s, moving to Bergheim in 1748.  Maison Lorentz was founded in 1836 and this is the date which adorns their bottles.  The current custodian of the family estate is seventh generation Georges Lorentz.  Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim is the jewel in their crown – they own 12.8 out of the total 35 hectares.  Grand Cru Kanzlerberg is less than a tenth the size at just hectares – it’s the smallest in Alsace.

The Maison produces a huge array of wines (see below) across a total of 33 hectares, including the two Grand Cru sites, several Lieux Dits and other terroirs close to Bergheim.  I reviewed L’Ami des Crustacés blend two years ago and loved it (see here) and have had several bottles of the Riesling Réserve over the past few years and enjoyed its chalky minerality.  Now we turn to another wine from the Réserve range, Pinot Blanc.

As you may know, wines sold in the EU have to contain 85% of more of a variety if they are labelled as such.  However, there is an exemption for Alsace Pinot Blanc as it can be made with anything up to 100% Auxerrois Blanc.  For centuries Auxerrois was thought to be a type of Pinot, and was often called Pinot Auxerrois.  However, DNA testing showed that it is actually the offspring of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, and therefore a full sibling of Chardonnay.  Pinot Blanc is just a colour mutation of Pinot Noir – and the two can be difficult to distinguish genetically.

As Crémant d’Alsace has become increasingly popular, much of the true Pinot Blanc grown in Alsace has been diverted from still wine production to sparkling.  Thus Auxerrois has become a growing component in Pinot Blanc-labelled wines, here accounting for 65% with the balance Pinot Blanc.  In the glass it’s a pale lemon in colour.  The nose has upfront peach and pear with a strong mineral streak, backed up by citrus elements – there’s a lot going on!

These elements return on the palate but are joined by red and green apples, with the citrus resolved as lemon and grapefruit.  There’s a juicy, almost voluptuous mid palate and a very long, crisp finish.

Even as an Alsace fanatic and Pinot Blanc lover this wine exceeded my expectations.  It’s a versatile white wine that could be served as an aperitif or with many types of food, yet tasty enough to enjoy on its own.  At its normal price this is good value but at the offer price it’s an absolute steal!

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €18.68 down to €11.80 from 3rd to 23rd Sept (plus buy any 6 bottles save €10 from 3rd to 16th Sept)
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

 


The Gustave Lorentz range of wines:

    • Grands Crus: Kanzlerberg (Riesling), Kanzlerberg (Pinot Gris), Altenberg de Bergheim (Riesling), Altenberg de Bergheim (Pinot Gris), Altenberg de Bergheim (Gewurztraminer)
    • Lieux-Dits: Burg (Riesling), Schofweg (Pinot Gris), Rotenberg (Gewurztraminer), La Limite (Pinot Noir)
    • Réserve: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner
    • Cuvées Particulières: Pinot Noir, Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir (oaked)
    • Évidence (organic & vegan): Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir
    • Special wines & blends: Fleurelle (Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner), Pinot Noir Rosé, L’Ami des Crustacés (70% Pinot Auxerrois, 30% Pinot Blanc)
    • Crémants d’Alsace: Brut Blanc, Brut Rosé, Zéro Dosage
    • Sweeter wines: Riesling Vendanges Tardives (VT), Gewurztraminer VT, Muscat (VT), Pinot Gris (VT), Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN), Gewurztraminer SGN, Pinot Gris SGN

 

Single Bottle Review

Rolly-Gassman Alsace Pinot Gris VT 1996

Rolly Gassmann
Rolly-Gassmann tasting room (Credit: Pays de Ribeauvillé & Riquewihr)

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

Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives 1996
Credit: Peter Dickens

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!

 

 

Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #9 – Melanie May

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

Our ninth contributor to this series is the magnificent Melanie May.  Amongst other wines she mentioned that Riesling is her favourite white grape so of course I had to select an Alsace Riesling.  But not any Alsace Riesling, Sipp Mack’s Grand Cru Rosacker which has been a favourite of mine for the best part of a decade.  The 2011 was an amazingly big and heady vintage (at 14.0%!) which will remain in my top wines tasted, but the 2014 is a more elegant and subtle expression at 13.0%.  At around €30 in Ireland it is sensationally good value for money.

On the music side I chose a perennial favourite from the mid ’80s which straddled the rock and goth genres.  Billy Duffy’s powerful riffs help propel the song forward but for me it’s Nigel Preston’s pounding drums which really make the song excel.  This was Preston’s last track with The Cult, and didn’t even feature in the video as his replacement Mark Brzezicki featured instead.

Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2014 

wine_music_melanie_may_ (5 of 5)
Credit: Melanie May

When Frankie asked me to contribute to his wine and music blog series I jumped at the chance. Not only because it gives me an opportunity to combine my love of writing, wine and music, but also my love of psychology too.

A little background, I used to take photographs of musicians and travelled around the UK snapping bands like The White Stripes, Razorlight, Stereophonics and The Libertines. My life revolved around going to gigs and backstage parties. Of course, that rock and roll lifestyle is well behind me now but my love of music is still as strong as ever.

Nowadays, I am a food and drink and travel writer and I have a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. Before becoming a full-time writer though, I was studying to become a Clinical Psychologist and did my dissertation in Neuroscience.

Through my studies in psychology, I became aware of how different sensory experiences complement each other. There has been a few studies showing how music effects the perception and taste of wine. Did you know that people will buy significantly more expensive wine if classical music is playing than if the Top 40 is on? Apparently classical music encourages consumers to look for quality wines. Try it in your wine shop and see!

So, this pairing wine and music challenge is right up my street! I love this stuff.

I told Frankie that Riesling was my favourite white. So, when he asked me to pair a song to the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker my mouth instantly started watering. I had not tried that particular wine before, but knowing Frankie’s love of Alsace wine, I knew this was going to be a cracker.

And I was right. What a beautiful wine.

On the nose, the wine is floral with loads of juicy apple and bright citrus notes and a hint of petrol coming through too. The flavours are granny smith apples, cut red apple and baked apple too, lemon and lime. There is a wonderful chalky minerality to it too. It has an elegant mouthfeel and a long finish. It is super delicious.

The bright acidity and citrus notes of this wine are well matched to an upbeat pop song. The minerality and high acidity give this wine great structure, so I picked a song with a similar tight structure. The wine, with its delightful floral aromas and fruity flavours, is playful on the palate and even though it is high in acid it is quite smooth too. So, again, the song I chose is playful and smooth. The wine also has a great purity, it’s not encumbered with oak or other interfering wine making techniques, much like the matching song.

The song I paired with the 2014 Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker is Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles – quite possibly my all time favourite band.

Good Day Sunshine is a bight and breezy, structured pop song – it is one of just a handful Beatles songs to use contiguous choruses. It is a pure pop song with no exotic instruments or tape loops. It is just Paul singing, Lennon harmonising and a piano and drums and very little guitar on the backing track. So, like the wine, it is bright, has great structure and is pure in taste and style.

Both the wine and the song capture the essence of carefree sunny days and both are good-mood enhancing. What a combo.

This wine is perfect for a barefoot picnic in the grass and this feel-good song is a magic, musical accompaniment.

I truly believe that when you pair the right wine with the right music, you get a heightened sensory experience that hits all the right notes. Maybe, one day, wine labels will say: ‘pairs well with shellfish and The Beatles’.

She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult

When Frankie asked me to pair a wine with the song ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult I knew exactly what wine to choose: Château Vincens Les Graves De Paul Cahors 2014 

wine_music_melanie_may_ (3 of 5)
Credit: Melanie May

She Sells Sanctuary has been described as ‘a goth milestone’ and ‘quite possibly the most famous goth-rock song’. So, a fitting pairing is a ‘black’ wine. Well, I was hardly going to choose a Champagne, goths aren’t exactly known for being bubbly now, are they?

Black wine is Malbec from Cahors in France and its dark colour is caused by a high concentration of polyphenols from the Malbec grape skins.

This particular wine I choose has a dark label and gothic script – goths love flourishes like that. This bottle will therefore co-ordinate perfectly with their crushed velvet jackets and the writing is big enough to read though all their eye makeup.

This wine tastes best if you let the air at it for a little while, so pour it into your best chalice or goblet and leave it to breathe whist you go write some awful poetry.

When you listen to She Sells Sanctuary you’ll notice the soft build-up of the intro and then Ian Astbury’s impassioned vocals before the drama of the instrumental break hits. There is a great structure to this song and that’s thanks to pop producer Steve Brown, he worked with Wham!.

The wine also follows a similar trajectory. When you first sniff you get a soft build up of aromas like dark fruits, bramble, tobacco and woody spices. Then, when you first sip, you taste the fruit but it is balanced out with lovely savoury, smoky and spicy flavours. Then the drama of the mineral backbone, hint of oak and smooth tannins hit. This wine is intense, rich and elegant with great structure. Just like the song. As for the impassioned vocals? Well, this is a heartfelt wine with a sense of place. You can taste the terroir. It also has a restrained power, much like the vocal style of the lead singer.

Like most goths, this wine isn’t fully mature. The oak and tannins means you could age it for a few more years. I think ageing would smooth everything out just a tad more and let those lovely savoury flavours develop too.

With a wine this intense and rich you can pair it with big intense food. I chose to pair mine with steak because of its high iron content, cause, let’s face it, most goths look anaemic.

I think pairing a goth-rock song with a black wine helps keep the proper morbid mood, don’t you think? However, as this particular song has expressive pop overtones, I think this expressive, fruit-driven wine with smooth tannins and good structure is a harmonious match.

Overall, it’s a rich, complex and age-worthy wine that is delicious to drink now but could be something even more special if left to age for a few more years. It might even get a cult following!

It’s not hard to see why some wines from Cahors have a cult following! Get it? Cult? The Cult?

I’ll get my coat.

Melanie May

Melanie May is a food and wine writer and travel journalist from Dublin. She won the ‘Best Newcomer’ award at the 2019 Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards and she is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and is a Guild of Fine Food, Great Taste Judge.

Her love of wine began in her early 20s when she worked in a wine shop in Dublin and she has been developing her palate and tasting skills ever since. She has a WSET Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits and a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and uses this knowledge to inform the wine articles she writes for her blog, Travel Eat Write Repeat.

You can also follow her gastronomic adventures on Twitter and on Instagram.

 

Single Bottle Review

Riesling With a Difference – Marc Kreydenweiss Andlau Riesling

Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss

The Domaine dates back to the 1600s but gained its current name when Marc took over in 1971.  His son Antoine has been involved for over 20 years and took over running the Domaine in 2007.  The total area under vines is now 13.5 hectares including four Grand Cru sites in the vicinity of their Andlau base.

Alsace Wine Route

Here’s an extract from the Alsace Wine Route map to help you get your bearings:

Andau, Eichhoffen and Mittelbergheim are just below the town of Barr.

See the full Alsace Wine Route map here

One of the defining features of Alsace is its mosaic of thirteen soil types, the result of complex geological activity over time.  The term mosaic is particularly apt as the soils can change over very short distances.

There are, however, some groupings which can act as a guide.  The Sub-Vosges hills have six of the thirteen soil types and Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss has several across its small holdings.

From their website:

The diversity of the soils is an added advantage for the wines. The vineyard is planted 80% on slopes or half-hills, in south-south-east exposition.

The soil composition is complex, with pink sandstone, granite, schist gray/blue or black, sediment, limestone that bring finesse, minerality and freshness to the wines.

The vineyard is located in a radius of 10 km around the village of Andlau, but also to the neighboring villages as Eichhoffen, Mittelbergheim and Barr.

Like most Alsace producers they make sweet wines (Vendanges Tardives (VT) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN)) and spirits, but still dry wines are the focus.  There are three main ranges of wines, in ascending quality:

Fruit [Driven] Wines:

  • Kritt Pinot Blanc
  • Andlau Riesling
  • Lerchenberg Pinot Gris
  • Kritt Gewurztraminer
  • Kritt Klevner
  • Pinot Boir Alsace Blanc (a white blend)
  • Pinot Boir Pinot Noir

Terroir wines

  • La Fontaine aux Enfants – Pinot Blanc
  • Stierkopf (Pinot Blanc & Riesling)
  • Clos Rebgarten (Gewurztraminer)
  • Clos du Val d’Eléon (Riesling & Pinot Gris)
  • Clos Rebberg (Riesling)

Grands Crus

  • Wiebelsberg Grand Cru (Riesling)
  • Moenschberg Grand Cru (Pinot Gris)
  • Kastelberg Grand Cru (Riesling)
  • Kirschberg de Barr Grand Cru (Pinot Noir)

The Fruit and Terroir wines are made from their own grapes and those of close friends, but the Grands Crus are entirely Domaine grapes.

In terms of viticulture they have nearly a full house of postmodern winemaking terms: Organic, Biodynamic and Natural.  Conversion to biodynamics started under Marc himself in 1989, with certification from 1991.

I have tried the Kritt Gewurztraminer several times (and liked it), so when I spotted a bottle of the Andlau Riesling I had to extend my empirical knowledge of the producer:

Marc Kreydenweiss Andlau Riesling 2017

marc-kreydenweiss-andlau-riesling

This Riesling is made from grapes of the Domaine and from growers André and Yann, over 2.2 hectares in the foothills abutting the Grand Cru Wiebelsberg.  The sub-soil is a pink sandstone known as “Grès des Vosges” which is known to impart a minerality to Riesling.  The wine is certified Organic by Demeter and certified Biodynamic by Biodyvin.

On pouring it is clean and clear, a light lemon colour and a little lighter than the Kritt Gewurz.  The nose is a big surprise, given the conventionality of the Gewurz: it has a distinctly “natural” aspect.  For those not familiar with natural wine, it often has a certain rawness or earthiness which defies easy description but is very recognisable.  Beyond that there are juicy stone fruit aromas.

The default flavour notes for Riesling are lime and lemon, but this wine is different – fleshy stone fruit appear again, with suggestions of fruit sweetness but actually resolutely dry.  The finish is long, mineral, slightly sour (though not unpleasantly so).  I found this wine improved over the course of an hour so it needs a bit of air and not to be drunk too cold.

Conclusion

This wine may be a little strange for the uninitiated, but if you already like natural wines or are willing to be a little adventurous then this is an excellent example to try.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: ~ €22
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores

Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #3 – Avril Kirrane McMorrough

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time.  As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –>  they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!)  Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

For the third installment in this series we are back to Dublin with the well-travelled Avril Kirrane McMorrough (see her bio below). For Avril’s wine there was an obvious choice – the Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve that I recently wrote about myself and which Avril mentioned she is a fan of.

The track I selected for Avril is one of my favourites: “Don’t Know Why” from Norah Jones‘s debut album Come Away With Me.  I could ramble on about this song for ages with its understated elegance, but really all I need to do is show the chorus lyrics:

My heart is drenched in wine

But you’ll be on my mind

Forever

Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve

Joseph Cattin Alsace Riesling

Riesling is arguably one of the world’s finest white wine grape variety. It can produce a range of styles to suit every palate ranging from light and floral to dry and spicy, rich and fruity or absolutely bone dry. It is also a wine with amazing cellaring potential. The North Eastern French region of Alsace produces some of the world’s best aromatic wines.

The Cattin family of Swiss descent have a long history in the Alsace, dating back to 1720. With knowledge and experience that has been passed down through the generations, the family now own 60 hectares of vines around Voegtlinshoffen, 10 kms South of the Alsatian wine capital of Colmar. Joseph Cattin became renowned for his pioneering work in grafting and is widely credited for saving some of Alsace’s best vineyards from Phylloxera.

Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve fits into the dry, minerally, floral with lots of citrus lemon and lime category. On the palate there are expressions of apple and peach with a vibrant acidity and a long finish.

Our sense of taste, smell, hearing and sight can lead one to a magical memory that especially in these times can seem like a very long time ago. This Riesling reminds me of days spent in balmy summer evenings, out in the open air, carefree and laughing with loved ones while cooking seafood over an open fire. The liveliness of this wine is a perfect accompaniment not only to the food but to a happy atmosphere.

The track I have chosen “Time of the season” by The Zombies, with its psychedelic keyboard and vague jazzy feeling summons those exact joyful and warm memories. Its heady ambiance would make you get up, glass of Riesling in hand and boogie your way around that open fire. Both bring a sense of carefree gaiety, they are my perfect music/wine duet.

Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why

“Don’t Know Why” was recorded in one take in October 2000 for it was deemed good enough. The producer used the original demo as the final vocal take and added guitars and vocal harmonies to make it sound as if Jones was harmonizing with herself.  I have chosen to pair this song with Domaine Les Yeuses Syrah ‘Les Epices’.

Located in Mèze in the Languedoc region of France, between the Mediterranean and the Etang de Thau, Domaine Les Yeuses was built in the 13th century by the Templars at the site of an ancient Roman villa. The estate gets its name from a forest of evergreen oak trees (‘Yeuses’ in the local dialect). Today they have nearly disappeared, replaced by a path of olive trees. The estate has been in the Dardé family for more than 30 years. Jean Paul and Michel, brothers, share the vineyard and winemaking responsibilities. Their winery is continually recognised for its wide range of varietal wines; indeed, the geography of their vineyard gives their wines a lively acidity and distinctive profile.

Domaine Les Yeuses Syrah Les Epices

Their Syrah ‘Les Epices’ has been compared by some critics to a young Crozes-Hermitage, so value for money is achieved with this wine. A luscious dark garnet colour with purple hues, Les Epices is round and harmonious with an elegant softness. Hints of spice and notes of ripe black fruits, cherries and sweet liquorice and toffee lends itself to a velvety, sensual feeling in the mouth.

Elegant, soft ,round and structured can describe both wine and song. My perfect wine & song pairing.

Avril Kirrane McMorrough

Avril is the business development manager and in house sommelier for Boutique Wines and is WEST 3 qualified. Having previously gained 20 years experience working in the restaurant business, most notably St John (London) and The Vintage Kitchen (Dublin), she provides a unique understanding of people’s needs with an emphasis on customer service and thrives on guiding people through their wine selections. Contact avril@boutiquewines.ie for more information.

Single Bottle Review

Hauller Alsace Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2017

Last year our family holiday (remember them?) was in Brittany which, although convenient for the ferry ports, isn’t a quality wine producing region.  My vinous needs therefore have to be met by trying various wines from the supermarkets, and of course many of those were from Alsace.  Two rules of thumb were therefore brought into play:

  1. French supermarket wines aren’t always great; they tend to be sold on the appellation name and at a low price, so the bottle contents (especially without a reputable producer on the label) tend to be very average.
  2. Alsace has many family names shared by different wineries – so don’t assume it’s the same one.

On the second point, when researching the producer of this wine I found Famille Hauller in Dambach-la-Ville, but there was no sign of Hauts de Hauller on the website.  A forensic review of the back label found that it was bottled by “JHF”; that turned out to be J. Hauller et Fils, a different company entirely!

Hauller “Hauts de Hauller” Alsace Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2017 

Hauller Alsace Sylvaner Vielles Vignes 2017

Sylvaner can be a bit meh, but this bottle sported the magic words “Vieilles Vignes”.  Old vines are prized for the additional concentration and depth of flavour they can bring to the finished wine, offset (for the vigneron) by lower yields.  A modest price premium over wines made from younger vines is the balancing factor and looks after both the consumer and producer…happy days!

I picked a bottle of this up in Intermarché and liked it so much I managed to bring a couple home as well.  I’ve often posited that Alsace Sylvaner is somewhere between the out-and-out raciness of Riesling and the rounder fruit tones of Pinot Blanc.  These aspects are true for this Vieilles Vignes example, but it also has richness and some weight – almost like a dash of good Pinot Gris was added to the recipe.  The end combination is a wine that is dry, crisp, refreshing yet incredibly appealing.  I just wish I’d brought more back with me!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: ~ €7
  • Stockists: Intermarché (France)
Single Bottle Review

Château d’Orschwihr Pinot Gris 2014

It’s fair to say that all châteaux, castles and palaces have history – they’ve generally been around a long time – but some have more than others.  The first recorded mention of Château d’Orschwihr dates from 1049 – almost a thousand years ago, and even before the Battle of Hastings – so that’s old in anyone’s book.  It has changed hands many times over the centuries, but one notable owner was royalty: at the end of the 13th century it was bought by Rudolf Habsburg, founder of the Habsburg dynasty, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor.

Wine has been made in the area since Roman times, but the earliest existing record of wine made at Château d’Orschwihr is from the 16th century.  Viticulture waxed and waned over the years, but the Hartmann family reestablished it in the 1950s (Martin) and significantly expanded it in the 1980s (Hubert).  Gautier joined the family business in 2006 and took over as head in 2011.

The Alsace Wine Hierarchy

Most wine lovers know that there are three appellations in Alsace, namely:

  • AOC Crémant d’Alsace
  • AOC Alsace
  • AOC Alsace Grand Cru

Since 2011 each Grand Cru has its own AOC rather than just being mentioned after Alsace Grand Cru.  Other changes were introduced in the same year; unknown to most, there are three “sub-divisions” of AOC Alsace which have increasingly stringent regulations to improve quality.  They are:

  • Regional – just AOC Alsace
  • Communal / Inter-communal – AOC Alsace followed by a name (normally that of a commune)
  • Lieu-dit – AOC Alsace followed by the name of a specific vineyard

There are around 130 of the communal labels – they are specifically mentioned by name in the regulations – but there is no official list of the lieux-dits.  The best and most consistent of them have the chance to be part of the future Alsace Premier Cru designation, whenever that comes to pass!

Château d’Orschwihr Alsace “Bollenberg” Pinot Gris 2014

Pinot-Gris-Bollenberg

Bollenberg is a lieu-dit, and is one of the highest climats in Alsace at 363m (see also Agathe Bursin’s L’As de B, Assemblage de Bollenberg).  Château d’Orschwihr make five different varietals here including this Pinot Gris and an excellent Riesling.  The Gris vines were planted in 1963 (80%) and 1990 (20%) so a Vieilles Vignes bottling would certainly be possible!

When poured it shows as medium gold in the glass, mainly due to age as it sees no new oak and is dry.  The nose is complex and spicy, with hints of lemon and lime twisted around quince and peach.  These notes continue onto the palate where they are joined by (preserved) mixed peel.  The wine is technically dry but has a real richness about it that comes with top drawer Pinot Gris.  This wine would definitely deserve a Premier Cru label!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RS: 2.4 g/L
  • RRP: ~ €20
  • Stockists: currently unavailable in Ireland

 

Single Bottle Review

Cattin’ for Riesling

Even as a passionate fan of Alsace and a reasonable French speaker, I’m not confident of my ability to pronounce Voegtlinshoffen, the home village of Maison Joseph Cattin.  The firm’s origins lie at the end of the 17th century with Francois Cattin, a Swiss builder who subsequently turned winemaker in 1720.  “Depuis 1720” thus surrounds the family’s crest on their bottles.

130 years later his descendant Antoine Cattin became a full time vigneron; it was common then for grape growers to also have other crops or animals, so this was a significant step.  Antoine’s son Joseph followed in his father’s footsteps and became a major figure in Alsace wine.  The firm’s success was helped by being featured in Parisian Alsace-themed restaurant La Cigogne, run by Joseph’s brother Théodore.

Major expansion took place in the last quarter of the 20th century; holdings of 7 hectares were expanded to over 60 by Joseph’s grandsons Jacques and Jean-Marie.  Cattin is now run by Jacques Cattin junior and his wife Anaïs – the eleventh generation of the Cattin family.

Cattin AOC Alsace wines consist of:

  • 2 Rieslings (the regular Riesling below plus Lieu-dit Elsbourg
  • 2 Pinot Noirs (red and rosé)
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Muscat
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Sylvaner

They also make several VTs and SGNS, Crémants and other special bottlings.  Their Grand Cru holdings are all in the Hatschbourg, where they make wines from all four noble varieties.

Joseph Cattin Alsace Riesling Réserve 2016

Joseph Cattin Alsace Riesling

Although a few years on from release, this Riesling is still pale in colour, very light gold with flecks of green.  The nose combines citrus with mineral and floral notes.  The palate is crisp and fresh, full of racy lime and lemon, a hint of peach and a long mineral finish.  If this 2016 doesn’t exhibit the rapier-sharp freshness that it would have had on release, then perhaps sabre-sharp freshness, if such a term exists, is the best descriptor.  Maison Cattin suggest an ageing potential of five years, but I think this will be lovely well after that.  A delicious Alsace Riesling!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 3.9 g/L
  • RRP: ~ €20
  • Stockists: contact Boutique Wines for availability
Single Bottle Review

Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Alsace Gewurztraminer 2015

In common with tight-knit communities the world over, there are several common surnames in Alsace – including those which are common affixed to the door of wineries – so often first names are added to surnames, or another family name such as a mother or wife’s maiden name, to distinguish one Sipp or Meyer from another.

Dopff & Irion are based in Riquewihr, a contender for prettiest village in Alsace (and that’s saying something!) and certainly one of the most visited.  As alluded to above, they have a (semi) namesake in their home village with the respected producer Dopff au Moulin, a specialist in crémant.

Riquewihr_-_2016
Riquewihr in 2016 (Credit: Elekes Andor)

Dopff & Irion have 27 hectares of vines at Riquewihr – including those bottled as Château de Riquewihr – plus the Clos Château d’Isenbourg near Rouffach.  Their holdings break down as three key varieties: Riesling 35.8%, Gewurztraminer 29.4%, Pinot Gris 23.5%, plus smaller amounts of Pinot Noir 5.5% and Muscat 4.3%.

Cuvée René Dopff is the “everyday plus” label of Dopff & Irion; it’s not the best range they make but is of a high standard.  There are seven single varietals in the range: the five mentioned just above plus Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc, these two I presume from bought in grapes.

Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Alsace Gewurztraminer 2015

Dopff-Irion-Gewurztraminer1-500x500

Gewurztraminer is one of the most expressively aromatic grapes around, so needs to be handled with kid gloves during the wine making process.  For this wine the press was deliberately set at low pressure to minimise extraction from the skins and fermentation was at a controlled temperature.

The depth of colour in the glass gives a strong indication that this is something with a bit of oomph.  The nose is textbook Gewurz – Turkish delight (the rose flavoured one, not lemon) and lychees, with a little exotic spice.  These notes follow through on the palate which is generous, rich and round.  There’s some residual sugar but it’s certainly not “sugary”, still fresh with a crisp finish.  The overall sensation is one of balance – often difficult to achieve with this grape – and excellence.  The company’s website gives an ageing potential of five years for this wine, but it is nowhere near tired and has several years left in it.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €21.99
  • Stockists: Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; JJ O’Driscoll, County Cork
Tasting Events

Lidl French Whites Spring 2020

Lidl Ireland have just launched a range of French wines which will be available for a limited time only – until stocks run out.  Below are brief notes on six whites that would be making their way into my trolley: two from Burgundy, two from the Loire and two from Alsace.

Wally AOP Touraine Sauvignon 2018 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Wally Sauvignon Blanc

There are several different Touraine appellations in the Loire Valley but this is the one which removes any doubt as to which grape variety you will be drinking.  While not reaching the heights of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy and the other Sauvignon based wines further east, Touraine is the French standard bearer for inexpensive fresh, tasty Sauvignon Blanc.

Wally has a very expressive Sauvignon nose – grass, gooseberry and grapefruit.  These notes continue through to the palate, but there are no rough edges – it’s (almost) smooth in texture.  Great value for money!

Comte d’Ardières AOP Sancerre 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Lidl Sancerre

Probably the most famous Sauvignon appellation, Sancerre is one of the most prestigious wine regions of France.  Despite that, quality and style can vary as there are multiple soil types and aspects.  I don’t know who the Count of Ardières was, but the wines named after him are very elegant and mineral in style.  There’s also lots of fresh citrus and a long tangy finish.  Worth trying with delicate white fish or oysters.

Collin-Bourisset AOP Coteaux Bourguignons 2018 (13.0% €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Collin Bourisset Coteaux Bourguignons Blanc

For those not familiar, Coteaux Bourguignons is an appellation that covers the whole of Burgundy proper and Beaujolais, for both red and white wines.  It can thus be made with fruit from all over the region, but is often a label used for wines from the south around the Maconnais / Beaujolais border.  The grapes for this white are not given, but on tasting it appears to me to be substantially or totally Chardonnay.  It has some oak on the nose and palate plus citrus and stone fruit.  This is proper white Burgundy, a steal for a tenner!

AOP Chablis 2018 (12.5%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Lidl Chablis 2018

After the trials and tribulations of frost and hail over consecutive years, Chablis producers had to put up their prices so that they could still make a living.  The phrase “there’s no more cheap Chablis” was uttered many times.  Thankfully, the 2018 harvest was the best in 20 years according to the president of the Chablis Commission, so things are returned to normal.

At €12.99 this would definitely be considered a “cheap Chablis”, though I’d wager Lidl’s average bottle price is several Euros less.  It has the classic Chablis nose of citrus and soft malolactic character.  The palate shows red and green apples, lemon and lime fruits plus stony minerality.  This is an excellent wine for the price and was the standout wine of the tasting!

Camile Meyer AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2018 (13.0%, €10.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Alsace Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes

When it comes to wine Irish people rarely have a sweet tooth, and usually eschew anything with more than a few grams of residual sugar.  Perhaps this is because of ‘Nam-like flashbacks from sweet, unbalanced, flabby German whites from decades past (you know the ones I’m talking about), who knows.  This means that the limited number of Alsace Gewurztraminers available in supermarkets are usually quite dry.  There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – each to his own – but for me Gewurz needs a bit of RS to complement its round, rich character.

And here’s the perfect example at an inexpensive price point.  It’s VERY Gewurz on the nose, with lychees, Turkish delight and rose petals.  The aromas continue on the palate but a little more subdued, but matched nicely by an off-dry finish.

AOP Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (12.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Crémant d'Alsace Brut NV

France’s second best selling sparkling wine is represented by this fresh and fruity little number.  It’s made in the traditional method and is fully sparkling so is a steal at this price (given the double duty on such wines in Ireland).  This is a great alternative to Prosecco; fun and fruity but drier and better balanced.