Getting Dirty with Alsace Riesling

Visitng Alsace has been on my bucket list for years. I have researched and written many articles on the region and the wines. From a book perspective I know Alsace. However, I have never been to Alsace – until now. I returned last night from a wonderful week in Alsace.

Ironically, because I had to write this article before my Alsace research trip, nothing in this article will be about my  trip. I am once again relegated to sharing with you information from books. Have no fear, first hand articles will be forthcoming.

This month our French Winophiles group is digging into Alsace – literally. We are participating in a June campaign called #AlsaceRocks. Our group has been broken up into three categories: Pinot, Pinot, Pinot; Terroirs and Riesling; and Food Pairing Challenge. I strongly encourage you to read each of the articles below to get to Alsace.

http://www.alsacerocks.com

I see Alsace as a mosaic of both soil and history. Lying on the border of France and Germany, it knows all too well the realities of war. Imagine living with your parents your entire life in the same village without sharing the same nationality. Since World War II, Alsace has been part of France, but between 1870 and 1945, Alsace changed hands between France and Germany four times.

The region was hard hit by war, as seen in this WWII photo of the Haut Rhin department, circa 1944. via http://www.butterfield.com

Following WWI and revitalized after WWII, Alsace vignerons started a “quality first” policy, signaling a return to producing indigenous, high quality grapes. These efforts were officially recognized in 1962 by the AOC Alsace, followed by AOC Alsace Grand Cru in 1975, and AOC Crémant d’Alsace in 1976.

http://www.winesofalsace.com

Each wine region is unique. Here are a few details that make Alsace unique:

  • Alsace sits on the same latitude as Champagne but experiences a different climate.
  • The Vosges Mountains shelter the vineyards from prevailing westerly, rain-bearing winds, the lack of clouds results in sunny summers and dry autumns.
  • These conditions insure the grapes achieve high level of sugar ripeness.

Alsace has experienced a dramatic geological history, resulting in a mosaic of soil types. This geological complexity is a key factor, contributing to the style of wines produced here. There are 13 different soil types in Alsace, including: granite, limestone, gneiss, schist, sandstone, volcanic, and clay to name a few. These soils vary from vineyard to vineyard and even vary within a vineyard, creating wines with distinct flavors and aromas, influencing the seven main grape varieties produced in Alsace.

Many people have had wine epiphanies while drinking Riesling. It is one of the most long-lived white wine varieties. It is also one of my favorites. Riesling is capable of producing a variety of wine styles, but in Alsace it is typically dry. It is the most widely planted of the noble varieties in Alsace. In its best Alsatian expression it is medium to full-bodied, dry, medium alcohol, high acidity, and offers notes of citrus, stone fruit, and crushed stone. Because Riesling is a late-ripening grape, when left hanging on the vine it is capable of accumulating sugar without losing acidity. In Alsace, late-harvest Riesling can be crafted into Vendanges Tardives (VT), a delicious sweet wine; or with the occurrence of botrytis (noble rot) is crafted into Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN).

Disclaimer: media samples; all thoughts and opinions my own.

Today, I have to share with you four different Grand Cru Rieslings from four different producers, four different vineyards, and four different soil types.

2016 Domaine Schoffit Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St Theobald Alsace France ($60): This is a smoky, stony wine – loads of citrus (ripe and peel) and under-ripe stone fruit are wrapped in crushed stone and pencil shavings; off-dry with a kiss of mid-palate sweetness beautifully balanced with high acidity; refreshing finish; I could drink this wine for days.

This wine is made from special biodynamic vineyard. Known  all  over  Europe  at  least  since  the  12th  century,  the  Rangen  vineyard  was  first  exploited  by  the  monks  of  the  church  of  Saint-Théobald,  an  important  place  of  pilgrimage  at  that  time. Rangen is a mountain of volcanic  schiste  and  the only Grand Cru with volcanic soils. Roots deeply penetrate the soils  to  obtain  the  wealth  of  minerals  available,  while  the  dark  stones  are  ideal  for  heat  retention. This  southernmost  Grand  Cru  has  the  highest  elevation  (culminating  at  1,476  feet)  and  is  the  steepest  (up  to  55  degrees). Incredibly  hard  to  work,  it  is  a  very  demanding  terroir  but yields some of the top Rieslings in the world.

2015 François Baur Grand Cru Brand Clos de la Treille Riesling Alsace France ($32): Lemon all the way; zest, juice, bright and refreshing, add in crushed stone and minerality and you are in for a treat; not as complex but certainly delivers with bright acidity and a long, mineral driven finish. (I had to the opportunity to visit this producer and taste a vertical of this wine dating back to 2004 on Wednesday in Alsace.) Not only are the wines amazing but the aging potential is incredible. At $32 this wine is a steal!)

The  Baur  family  has  been  producing  top  wines  in  Alsace  for  9  generations. The house  style  marks  intensity  of  fruit,  pureness  of  terroir, balance and longevity. The  Brand  Grand  Cru  is  known  for  its  steep  slopes  (853  –  1,181  feet),  south/southeast  exposure  and  ample  sunshine.  The  soils,  though,  are  what  truly  distinguish  it  from  other  Grand  Crus:  largely  granitic  with  a  topsoil  mix  of  sandstone,  granite  and  marlstone,  and  in  parts,  two  types  of  mica  which  contribute  to  the  wines’  complexity  and  finesse.  The  site  is  comprised  of  Riesling  (41%),  Gewürztraminer  (31%),  Pinot  Gris  (25%)  and  Muscat  (3%)

2014 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg Alsace France ($45): Opens with a unique nose driven by the schist soil, it quickly gives way to elegant floral and citrus notes; intensely dry with high acidity, super fresh and elegant, in fact the elegance is in tension with its power; this wine will age for decades, I would love to taste an older vintage, wow.

The Kastelberg Grand Cru vineyard is biodynamic. The  schist  soils  of  this  Cru  offer  a  strong  acidic  backbone,  while  the  deep  root  systems  allow  the  vines  to  find  nourishment  even  in  drought  years. “Ageworthy” often describes wines from this unique site. Steep  slopes  allow  for  maximum  sunshine  but  ocean  winds  from  the  Champ  du  Feu  massif  and  north  winds  from  the  Crax  mountain  regulate  temperatures. Riesling is exclusively grown in Kastelberg’s blue and purple soils.

2012 Joseph Cattin Pur de Roche Riesling Sec Alsace France ($38): Fruit driven and floral nose; notes of bright citrus, orchard fruit and acacia with a vein of chalky crushed stone running through the aromas and onto the palate; dry, bright mouth-coating acidity, elegant and refreshing, long crisp mineral-driven finish.

This  Riesling  is  produced  from  a  selected  plot  located  in  the  southern  part  of  Alsace,  near  the  village  of  Voegtlinshoffen.  Comprised  of  marl  and  lime stone  soils,  it  exudes  a  pure  expression  of  mineral  terroir. The vineyard is sustainably farmed. This is not a grand cru Riesling but it is a beautiful wine  I had the opportunity to visit Cattin on Thursday – walk through two of their organic grand cru vineyards and taste many of their wines  It was a wonderful visit

To learn more about Alsace terroir, wines, and food pairings please read these articles:

My Song Selection: Can you guess the two reasons why I selected this band and song?

Please join us this morning at 10CST on Twitter to either learn or share why #AlsaceRocks!

Get your own bottle of Alsace Riesling and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!

17 comments

  1. Four very special wines – it’s so interesting to compare and contrast similar bottles side by side. It sounds like this flight amply demonstrated the diversity of the soils in Alsace. Can’t wait to read about your trip!

  2. Such a complex, interesting even beguiling variety. I’m curious what you learned about the winemaking — so much ancient knowledge in Alsace!

    #AlsaceRocks

    • Yes but most techniques very modern. Aromatic varietals tend to made in the same way – lots of stainless, little to no oak, very limited use of sulphites only at bottling to control oxidation.

  3. Great post – I LOVE that green chart that shows how the soil type makes itself known on the palate. This project has transformed me into a huge fan of Alsatian Riesling. Now I can’t wait to try some more wines from the region.

  4. The soil chart with the influence on the wines is very interesting. I need to find more Alsatian wines to further my tasting with your chart as a reference. Can’t wait to read more about your trip to Alsace!

  5. Alsatian Riesling is probably my favorite of all Rieslings. I’m not familiar with any of these but they all sound wonderful.

  6. Must have been fun to sample and compare this group of Rieslings! Until reading your post, I didn’t pick up on the fact that the Alsace Rieslings generally tend to be dry, setting them apart from those from Germany. good info! I look forward to reading more about your trip!

  7. I am so ready to did into more information on the soils of Alsace. You have really wet my whistle! And how glorious is it to speak of vines only planted in “blue and purple” soils? I am really looking forward to hearing all of your first hand experiences from your trip!

  8. The hubby and I hiked through (literally) the vineyards from Colmar to Ribeauville tasting Riesling along the way. It is one of my, if not the favorite variety with many expressions and so food friendly. I followed your trip after this post, catching myself in a never ending grin. Cheers to Riesling and Alsace Michelle!

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