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Escape from lockdown - Alsace visit

I promised a summary of our experiences last week in Alsace, and here it is :slight_smile:

Overall
Life felt surprisingly normal. France is a few weeks ahead of us in reopening, and while there are clearly fewer people in the tourist areas, there were still a reasonable number. Restaurants, cafés and shops were all open, with the obvious restrictions on the number of people, mask wearing indoors, etc. The social distance in France has always been 1m, and having got used to 2m this felt like people were quite close together - in normal life, you rarely come closer than 1m anyway, other than in crowded places like bars. After months of lockdown, it was dangerously easy to relax back to normal behaviours, even though keeping 2m when out has become so much of what we do. It required vigilance, and will do here.

Kientzler
This was our first visit. We weren’t sure at this point whether tasting would be allowed, or just buying, and how long we’d able to stay. It turned out that tasting goes on as normal, albeit with whoever is running the tasting in a mask, and everyone keeping their distance from each other. We’d come with the intention of getting some of their classique gewurztraminer, and the 2017 GC Geisberg riesling if possible. Mission accomplished on both fronts: the gewurz is dry, floral and peppery, while the riesling is a magnificent wine - intense, concentrated, saline and very long. We also ended up dipping our toes into their pinot gris, and wondering why we haven’t before - very versatile, and on the dry and spicy side. And they’re making a lovely new riesling from young (planted in 2011, and not monoclonal) vines in the Muhlforst lieu dit at Hunawihr (right on the boundary with Ribeauvillé, actually), which is already excellent and showing a good balance of minerality and fruit, in keeping with the wines we’ve had from other producers of that vineyard.

Rolly Gassmann
Slightly dangerously, we chose to visit here in the morning before a lunch we had booked in a restaurant. While we saw Pierre briefly, we were served by a young lady who has clearly been trained in the Rolly Gassmann way of wine tasting - you start at the top, and taste everything down to the bottom. Discipline was required to say “No”! Social distancing is not a problem in the 800 square metre tasting room, and we found out some more interesting facts about the new building. The total cost was €20 million, on a turnover of €2 million. The total surface area is 15000 square metres, and two thirds is underground. The roof is covered with 14 tonnes of copper. And so on - the scale is just massive, but Pierre evokes the spirit of his 17th century ancestors in building for the future. The Covid-19 timing is obviously awful, but hopefully just a disruption in what is a very grand scheme of things here. It would be terrible, if not. The wine, of course, is still excellent and a reflection of both the varied terroir of Rorschwihr and the house style of residual sugar and balancing acidity, which gives excellent ageing potential. For example, we came away with a spicy, appley, golden 2003 pinot blanc, which is about 15 years older than you would normally drink the grape.

Mittnacht Frères
We came here looking for recent vintages of the Rosacker GC pinot gris and gewurztraminer, and ended up buying both. The 2016 pinot gris is drier and longer than 2015, which is going to make it easier to pair with food. Hazelnuts and pink grapefruit, and really quite peppery and smoky to finish. We tried both the 2016 and 2018 gewurz. The vintage really suited the 2018, but the comparison did show one of the problems that can occur with Alsace wine if you haven’t tasted it - 2016 had 16 g/l sugar, 2018 43 g/l. Same wine, but quite different characters. In this case we wanted the sweeter one, so took the 2018.

Bruno Sorg
This was quite a quick visit - we were after GC Florimont riesling, Vielles Vignes pinot gris, and the 2018 GC Pfersigberg muscat. We got some of the first two in their 2016 and 2017 incarnations, and they’re both as reliably good as ever - the Florimont drinks well really young for a GC riesling and is truly floral in keeping with the name, and the pinot gris has a great combination of mirabelle fruit and spicy, smokey finish. As for the muscat, François Sorg decided that the 2018 wasn’t up to what he wanted, so it’s all been declassified and put in the classique. So a good year to buy that, if you see it (the same thing also happened in 2016)

Dirler-Cadé
I already wrote something about this in the weekend drinking thread. We had three or four wines in mind to buy, but had reckoned without Jean-Pierre Dirler’s tasting style. While you’re tasting one wine, he’s readying the bottle for the next, and they have a lot of wines, some of them in multiple vintages. The final total was 31 tasted, and in pretty rapid time. Standouts - sylvaner, classique riesling as ever, classique muscat which is 100% declassified Grand Cru, Grand Cru muscats, GC Kitterlé and GC Kessler “Heisse Wanne” riesling, and Schimberg pinot gris. We did end up buying quite a lot more than we first intended… They’ve started to make a natural wine riesling, but Jean-Pierre seemed almost sceptical - he posititioned it very much as a bit of an experiment that they need to do as the rules are requiring them to use less sulfur, and they want to find out how to do it, and how they age. I’m not a massive natural wine fan, but this one was good as far as it went - some of that bruised appleness that you get, but not too much. There was a thunderstorm while we were there, and he kept on getting up to check that it was just rain and not hail. If you’re trying to reduce sulfur, even a little hail can be a disaster this close to harvest, as it only takes a few damaged grapes to let rot or bacteria set in, which can spoil the whole thing.

Vintages
Vintage-wise, 2018 is rounder and more fruit driven than either 2016 or 2017, both of which tend to be more floral and higher acidity. Much closer to 2015 in style, and it’s a good year for classiques, but I suspect that the ageworthy wines will drink before the 2016 and 2017s, and may not have the legs to keep going as long. 2020 is going to be an early harvest - they were talking of an anticipated start on 20th August - so may well turn out to be fruity again.

We’re hoping to be back at the end of August, Covid-19 allowing, but will be doing less wine buying. The cellar is at a new high water mark already!

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Absolutely fantastic review of your tastings :+1: sounds like a wonderful time was had and I enjoyed reading about it. I visited the Alsace for the first time 2018 and it was magical.

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Love your despatches from Alsace, @robertd! :heart_eyes: can’t wait to be back there, hopefully next spring… :pray:

Must seek some of that Bruno Sorg Muscat and the Mitnacht Frères Rosacker PG…

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Fingers crossed you make it out there, @Inbar, :crossed_fingers: And those two wines are certainly worth seeking out.

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@robertd Sounds fabulous. Alsace isn’t a region that I know - perhaps that’s another entry for me in the Your secret wine shame… - but I feel I should get to know it better.

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Many thanks for taking the time trouble to post your insightful thoughts @robertd, that was a treat to read. Should you ever write a book on Alsace I’d be one of the first to pre-order.

Vins d’Alsace should sent you a complimentary case too !

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Incredible post and many thanks. Would have loved some prices on those bottles you bought for comparison etc. By the way, sounds like it was a ‘very’ heavy tasting trip. how did you get around? Chauffeur?

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I wish I had a chauffeur! I’m very disciplined about both spitting everything and about pouring excess, and we always take a while between the tasting and driving. It was only really at Dirler-Cadé that the number got very heavy, and we only did one per-day.

A few sample prices, all per-bottle
Kientzler
Gewurz classique 2017 €11.20
Riesling GC Geisberg 2017 €34.00 (this keeps on going up in price :cry:)

Rolly Gassmann
Pinot Blanc 2017 €7.00
Pinot Blanc 2003 €14.00
Gewurz 2016 €13.00
Gewurz Oberer Weingarten 2016 €17.00

Mittnacht Frères
Pinot Gris GC Rosacker 2016 €20.50
Gewurztraminer GC Rosacker €20.50

Bruno Sorg
Pinot Gris Vielles Vignes 2017 €10.00
Riesling GC Florimont €14.70

Dirler-Cadé
There’s a price for a whole order of less than 12 bottles, and one for more than 12 (can be mixed). We also benefitted from 10% existing customer discount on top of these prices until the end of September.
Sylvaner Vielles Vignes 2018 €14.00/€11.20
Riesling 2017 €15.30/€12.20
Muscat 2017 €16.30/€13.00
Riesling GC Kitterlé 2017 €28.80/€23.00
Riesling GC Kessler “Heisse Wanne” 2017 €37.50/€30.00

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I’ve always found the vagaries of the Alsatian cru classification fascinating. They certainly don’t make it easy for the wine-lover to understand it, despite having tried many times to de-mystify it. As it is such a picturesque area to visit, not everyone is a wine expert. Thanks again for this great report.

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I don’t know. Compared with Burgundy or Germany it’s a walk in the park! :wink:

What is a problem is not knowing how sweet a wine might be. There’s progress in that there’s now a standardised indication on the bottle, but there can be so much variation. There is communication between producers in some places to try to reduce this - for example the producers of Riesling GC Altenberg de Bergbeiten have agreed that it must have less than 10g/l sugar - but it’s not always easy.

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This is a most interesting and professional report, maybe it should be on the main WS website ?

Well done for escaping lockdown; we had planned a trip to Burgundy with my son who was due to visit us from the US. Sadly all was canned (maybe do it next year)

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Many thanks for all the nice comments, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. We certainly enjoyed being there and tasting and buying the wine!

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Many thanks for such a detailed and helpful report. Lockdown permitting I’m due to visit Alsace in late August so to hear that tastings are open and operating is really helpful. Rolly Gassmann is definitely on my list along with Boxler but I’m tempted by those on your list near Ribeauvillé where I will be staying.

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Let’s just hope that things stay stable enough to get there. Kientzler is just to the north of Ribeauvillé, and Mittnacht Frères are in Hunawihr, which is very close. In Ribeauvillé, Louis Sipp is well worth a visit, too. And when you go to Boxler, make sure to stop off at Christine Ferber’s Relais des Trois Epis in Niedermorschwhir for jam, patisserie and one of the best chicken pies you’ll eat :yum: They say to heat it up, but we think it’s even better at room temperature, so perfect for a vineyard picnic.

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I have just tried to google for more information of this, but could find nothing. Could you please post a link or give more details?

When you say “so much variation”, I presume you mean from one end of the scale to the other, for wines that are not VT or SGN? Or was it variation in how the standard is interpreted by producers?

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This is the sort of thing I meant, Steve:

While now allowable, and found increasingly frequently, it’s not mandatory. I’d talked to producers about it and had the impression that it’s standardised, but having just Googled in both French and English, and had a look around the CIVA website, I can’t find anything official either. The closest is this:

and this

https://www.alsace-du-vin.com/vin-alsace/actualite-vin-alsace/Derriere-les-etiquettes-des-initiatives-et-des.html

(both in French).

What I meant by variation is that even a wine made by the same producer, from the same vineyard, can have very different sweetness from year-to-year, let alone wines made by different producers in the same vineyard in the same year, or wines made by the same producer in different vineyards - and so on. Compared to buying (say) white Burgundy - I don’t deny that there’s variation in the latter, but the level of difference in what could arrive in your glass when you buy an Alsace pinot gris is of a different order of magnitude. So I mean your former - variation from one end of the scale to the other.

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Many thanks.

I found something from 2019, which said progress was being made towards standardisation (whatever that meant), but presumably there would be quite a fanfare when it was achieved…?

Perhaps the producers meant that there is now general agreement on which sweetness scale to use? I remember that when they were first being introduced no two producers seemed to use the same one.

On our trip we went to Boxler twice - both times their was no-one home…

Probably saved yourself quite a bit there, @Richard!

The southern part of Alsace (the Haut Rhin) is on the main tourist trail of Europeans (often in camper vans) touring the scenic areas of the Rhine, they are usually well set up for casual visits.

It’s worth remembering, though, that many small producers have to juggle their time and may be in the field if you arrive unannounced. This is particularly true for the northern part of Alsace (the Bas Rhin). Best to book ahead in such cases.

Great write-up, @robertd - many thanks.

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Robert,

As a late adopter to fine wine, I’ve yet to fully appreciate the qualities and variation in wines from the Alsace particularly the Rieslings though this will change soon when I start to explore a selection of Rieslings I have just purchased from TWS.

Your very detailed report has certainly piqued my interest in visiting this unknown to me wine area.

Thank you very much indeed!

Cheers Mikey C :yum:

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