Alsace Day 5 - Kientzheim & Wintzenheim
Our final day. Another morning to blame on those "Cloches" as we set out with a drop or two of rain in the air. Today's first visit took us to Kientzheim and the Paul Blanck winery. This was undoubtedly our biggest tasting - both by personality and by quantity! Phillipe Blanck one of two cousins who are the current winemakers, graciously greeted us on what was their first day of harvest for the year. After a brief introduction to their philosophy of producing terrior based varietal wines, of the "Classique" varietals, Crus and Grand Crus as well as the Late Harvest and Noble Rotted sweet wines, we were underway with the first wine - their Cremant d'Alsace, comprising of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. It was a lovely wine to start with, with strong hints of sweet cider apples. Their second from the "Classiques" was their 2011 Riesling. Phillipe explained that with a colder vintage such as this, a higher crop is produced with actually ages better than those years that are considered "good" vintages. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, this was a very light wine with zesty lemon flavours. The first of the Cru wines was the Patergarten Riesling 2009. The vineyard has very gravelly soil and after nine months spent on the lees and then two years in bottle, this wine maintains smooth smokey notes, with a smooth, creamy feel in the mouth but with little fruit. This was followed by the Rosenbourg Rielsing of the same vintage and the contrast in the soil content to Patergarten (Rosenbourg is a blend of chalk, silica and silt) gives this wine a more harsh feel on the mouth. It is less smooth, dry and with more green, fresh flavours. We were then introduced to the Grand Crus - the Schlossberg Riesling 2008 spends a full year on the lees before maturing 3 years in the bottle before release. The granite soil produces a light bouquet but with minerality and green citrus flavours on the palate but with a dry but balanced finish with some residual sweetness. The Wineck-Schlossberg Riesling 2007 is another from granite soil. This vineyard is slightly more sheltered than the Schlossberg resulting in greener grapes and more botrytis. This wine had a creamy feel with floral tones and left a minty bouquet in the glass after drinking. This was the first of two Rieslings that I had to bring home to sample in different climes. The second was the Sommerberg Riesling 2007. Another granite soil with very low yield - only 15 hectalitres per hectare - which produces only 900 bottles per year, half of which go to a single restaurant in Paris! The vineyard is so steep that the pickers have to use ropes to climb to the top. This was a lovely delicate wine, with little bouquet and a great balance in the mouth with flavours of peach and apricot and a little almond. Our final Riesling was the Furstentum Grand Cru 2005. Grown on a limestone soil, these vines produce a very austere wine, with hints of lime on the nose with a highly acidic, dry feel on the mouth with strong mineral flavours. Despite it's age, this wine could keep for a long while yet. We then moved on to the Pinot Gris, beginning with the Grand Crus of Furstentum 2005. A pale wine with a strong bouquet of citrus fruits and strong sweet flavour in the mouth of peaches and honey. The Wineck-Schlossberg 2007 was another of my favourites. Floral aromas on the nose give way to a balanced, mouth filling sweetness and apricots with hints of spice but which end with a little dryness in the mouth. Just in case you were starting to lose count, that's 10 wines already! And Phillipe was keen to bring out more! We had one more Pinot Gris - the lovely Patergarten 2010, a Silver Medal winner at the International Wine Challenge no less. A subtle flavour of white fruits and spices with a good balance also. Then we were on to the Gewurztraminers. We started with his Classique 2011 - a wine with floral, violet tones repeated on the palate along with grapefruit and a little sweetness. The Altenbourg 2007 from clay soil produces a sweet, floral bouquet and with a lightness on the mouth, another wine that I had to purchase just to check that it would taste as good back home. The Mambourg Grand Cru 2007 only produces 900 bottles due to it's magnesium rich, limestone and marl soil with a nutmeg, walnut and clove flavours with some bitter orange as well. Finally we had the Furstentum Grand Cru 2007 Vieilles Vignes (Old vines) from the limestone soil of the vineyard. The floral and almonds nose produces a spicy mineral flavour in the mouth with a hint of white pepper also. As if those wines weren't enough, Phillipe insisted that we had a few more with our lunch - the only winery that we actually ate in. The buffet style food of local meats and salads was just what we needed after some of the big lunches we'd had during the week.
Our final tasting of the trip came at Josmeyer in Wintzenheim. A small winery with only 26 hectares, we were greeted by Christophe Ehrhart, the managing director. He revealed that he joined his own family's half hectare with those of the Meyer family when he arrived back in 1995, bringing a biodynamic culture to a business that had been producing wine since 1854. By 2001, they were able to produce their first vintage of organic and biodynamic wines by using traditional methods like using willow, nettles and horsetail to combat disease in the vineyards. The wine is fermented in oak vats dating back to 1895, however stainless steel tanks are also used to lower the temperature of the wine. In a tasting room which more resembled an art gallery, we started off with the Pinot Blanc "Mise du Printemps" 2011. In keeping with the surroundings, the wine labels depict the wine as imagined by an artist, in this case using the colours yellow and green to reflect the springtime, and the freshness of this wine. Apples on the nose and a dry, fresh finish. Next up was the Riesling "Le Kottabe" 2009. A traditional Riesling with aromas of citrus fruit and petrol but with a creamy feel in the mouth and lots a good acidity. This label is blue to reflect a colder climate favoured by the grape. The Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2008 followed - a terrior driven wine with the limestone and marl soils producing smokey aromas and a slight sweetness on the tongue but again has great balance through the acidity. A Pinot Gris "Le Fromenteau" 2009 was a light wine but again with residual sugar balancing the acidity to give a lovely fresh feel in the mouth. The red/brown colours of the label showing the colour of the grape. Finally we sampled two Gewurztraminers. The first, Les Folastries 2010 (the follies) gives a hint to what this wine would bring. A surprising Gewurz with classical characteristics of lychee and floral notes, but with a great deal of acidity accentuating the spiciness in the mouth. To finish, we tasted the Gewruztraminer Vendage Tardive 2006, a sweet late harvest wine. Golden in colour with a nose of pineapple and honeydew melon, the balance of sweetness and acidity leaves a lovely clean finish. And with a short tour of the cellar and a visit to the shop, the tasting part of our trip drew to a close. All that remained was an organised dinner for the touring party at Table de Gourmet, a renowned local restaurant where Raymond Blanc had filmed his tv show just a few months before. We were treated to a incredible, specially chosen 10 course dinner of local cuisine with local wines. By midnight I think it's fair to say that we'd all enjoyed ourselves so much that we'd forgotten about the early start for the long journey home. At the end of a thoroughly enjoyable week, all that remains is for me to give thanks from my fellow travellers to those who deserve it most. To Alister & Mildred for the hours they put in towards the organisation of the trip which went so smoothly from start to finish. To Richard Bampfield and his wife Jackie for being our guides in Alsace and picking out eight incredible wineries for us to visit - each one different in it's own way but all so intriguing. To Alan Davison our driver for the entire event, without whom it wouldn't have been possible. And last but by no means least, a big thank you to our pourer en route! Our Secretary Sue who did a fine job serving the wines onboard the moving coach without spilling a drop. This was my first tasting trip with the Institute, but it certainly won't be the last. Hopefully next time you'll be able to join us too.