I promised a summary of our experiences last week in Alsace, and here it is
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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!