Alsace Day 4 - Kayersberg & Riquewihr
A cold, dull morning greeted us today as we set out for our first tasting. Another short trip to Domaine Weinbach in Kayersberg: a winery purchased from a monastery back in 1898 and operated as the Faller family business every since. Our host Catherine Faller runs the winery with her mother and sister as a biodynamic vineyard. With only 30 hectares of vines, their philosophy is to make wines that show a good concentration of fruit but still well balanced. The grapes are picked by hand and matured in old oak vats of between 50-100 years of age.
An atmospheric tasting in the cellar among huge oak vats, began with the Pinot Blanc Reserve 2010. Made with 70% Pinot Auxerrois and 30% Pinot Blanc grapes grown on a sandstone soil on top of a granite base, this wine was full bodied and fresh. A good start to any tasting or meal. Next, we sampled the Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2011 from the hillside overlooking the winery using vines that are 45 years old. It was a very subtle, light wine with hints of white peaches and floral tones. This was followed by another Riesling, this time the Grand Cru Schlossberg 2009 Cuvée St Catherine. These vines were even older (up to 60 years) and gave a richer, dryer style of wine which had a mineral taste with citrus flavours and a bouquet of honey.
Next up were two Pinot Gris. The first a 2010 Cuvée St Catherine picked late with some Botrytis infected grapes to give it a potential alcohol level of over 15%. With a sweetness on the nose the wine is dry and well balanced on the palate with a long finish. The other was the Altenbourg 2009, another later harvested wine which has caramelised pear tones and some residual sugar.
On to the Gewürztraminers, and the 2009 Cuvée Laurence, from vines at the bottom of the Altenbourg on a limestone base, with real lemon zest on the nose and hints of Bergamot. The 2008 Furstentum Grand Cru also from the base of the Altenbourg was more subtle with a only a slight sweetness detectable. When Catherine produced the Pinot Gris Trie Special 2009 Vendanges Tardives, we were warned that it was like drinking tarte tatin from a glass and she was not wrong. The taste and sweetness of caramelised apples perfectly describes this wine.
Finally we had two of the domaine's top wines. The Gewürztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru 2009 Vendanges Tardives is not only a mouthful to say, but a mouthful of flavours as well. Notes of orange, liquorice and Parma violets with a very long finish made this my favourite wine of the day. It could only be followed by their Gewürztraminer Mambourg Grand Cru 2006 Selection de Grains Noble. Described as 'a fragment of eternity' it was a sweet wine with minerality, freshness despite it's age with a taste of quince jelly.
The standards of the wines that Catherine gave us today were reflected in the prices, but the general opinion is that this has been our best tasting of the trip so far. The remaining wineries will have to go far to beat this.
After a hearty traditional Alsatian lunch in Kayersberg, we were headed back to Riquewihr to a winery based just 100 feet from the hotel! Based right in the middle of the town you'll find Hugel & Fils. A family business since 1639 now being run by the 12th & 13th generations of winemakers, their pressing rooms and cellars lie beneath a block of sixteenth century houses on the town's main cobbled street, it produces 1.4m bottles each year mainly for export from 180 hectares of vines. Each bunch of grapes is hand picked and graded when it arrives at the winery fir use in one of three standards of wine: Classic, Tradition or Jubilee.
The cellars contain huge oak casks of between 100-150 years of age, each of which had to be taken apart, passed through a small window, and then re-assembled in the cellars to avoid any damage to the listed properties above! Their biggest barrel, from Switzerland, was made in 1870 and holds 16,150 litres of wine. However, the biggest attraction in the cellar is St Catherine. Officially the oldest vat in constant use today since being built in 1715!
Our host David Ling, well known to the NIWSI took us on a fascinating and fact filled historical tour of the cellars prior to our tasting. Little known wine fact: wine is produced in 750ml bottles as that is an average capacity of a human lung, crucial when blowing bottles out of glass.
We started with the Hugel Gentil 2011, a blend of grapes and now their most popular wine has a sweetness on the nose and is uncomplicated to taste. Next came the Pinot Blanc 2009 made with 100% Pinot Blanc grapes. Their 2011 Riesling was a very dry wine with a crisp, clean finish, and the Gewürztraminer 2011 was bone dry, with a light hint of apples and still has 5 years until it's best. Moving up to the higher level of wines we tasted the Pinot Gris Tradition 2009, a dry wine but with roundness and recommended as a good match with Asian cuisine. Incidentally, this grape has the greatest aching potential of all the Alsace varieties. The Riesling Jubilee 2007 from the Grand Cru vineyard on the Schoenberg is made with old vines over 35 years old. Hugel actually trademarked the term 'Grand Cru' but donated the term to the governing bodies for use all across France to designate high quality wines made under strict standards of control. The irony is that Hugel no longer use the term on any of their bottles!
Our final two wines are from over-ripened, last harvested grapes, usually infected with the "noble rot" botrytis. The 2006 Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive was our penultimate wine. The patchy vintage in that year produced wine with a low alcohol content (11%) and high amounts of residual sugar after fermentation. However, due to the wine's acidity, it has a great balance and is my favourite of the tasting. We finished up with the Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 1998. By no means the oldest wine in the cellar as some date back to 1834 (and would have been older if not for the Prussians in 1870) but is the oldest wine they currently sell. It is a very sweet wine but again has a good balance. Tomorrow is our last day of tastings with our final two visits before our long trek home. Bonne nuit