Aah, memories. Those of an industrial looking town in south Alsace (Thann), standing in a carpark looking across the Thur river to a 60 degree sloped vineyard on which crouched a chapel with a cross. That was, and still is, the Grand Cru Rangen vineyard. It is the most southern of the Alsace Grand Cru vineyards and sits on volcanic rock – quite unique in Alsace. The wine R kindly opened was Zind Humbrecht’s 2010 offering Clos Saint Urbain Riesling.
It was luminous green-yellow coloured and very bright with a very fresh, aromatic nose of honeysuckle, lime and jasmine. Interestingly, it had none of the petrol notes one associates with older Rieslings. The palate was a beautiful rich concoction of both sour and sweet notes, not completely dry with a lower acidity level – presumably because of its age. All was in balance and what was significant was its low alcohol level yet it still had bags of flavour. This and the Chinon belied the modern idea of high alcohol is a prerequisite of flavours. Two older wines, really well-made and not a fuzzy head to be had. Lovely.
(Even Richard, who bridles at any sweetness in wine, liked this. Even more remarkable)
[Richard, lovely wine, fully mature and well balanced. If you were fanciful a flinty note from the volcanic soil was evident. Not sure where I purchased it or what it cost. Possibly one of the last wines brought back from Alsace in 2013. The Rangen is a famous vineyard site in Alsace and has been recognised as producing quality wine since about 1300.]
First riesling for a while. Decanted and tasted blind on a warm sunny evening, in Geoff’s garden. It was Domaine Saint-Remy’s Grand Cru 2009 from the Hengst site.
Bright yellow. I recognised, but couldn’t quite place the nose, which was lemony and smokey. The taste was lemon again, quite rich, of medium length, a good mouth feel, but with not quite enough acidity or complexity. I was sure it was from Alsace but the off-dry edge persuaded me it was pinot gris rather than riesling. As the wine developed I think I caught some of the well known ‘petrol’ aroma the grape produces but that may have been auto-suggestion. As the wine warmed up it started to cloy and we both felt it needed to be fridge cold to show at it’s best.
[I bought this from Gauntleys in Nottingham. It was lying rather forlornly, alone and slightly dusty in a wine rack. To me, it was not off-dry just rather rich in body and I can see why it could be mistaken for a PG. Later on, and cooler, it was still full-flavoured with little of the characteristic ‘petrol’ nose – or limes for that matter – but more cooked apple and pears, moving into more tropical fruits; I enjoyed this richness. 2009 was the third of three successive good vintages in Alsace – it showed in this wine.]
Richard and I visited Alsace in 2012, staying in Colmar and touring round the wine districts. We visited Domaine Schoffit and became acquainted with the family (brother and sister) who own the Clos St Theobald site in Rangen (pictured). Bernard Schoffit (their father) cleared the site some 30 years ago and started planting vines on the steep slopes, Pinot Gris at the top, Riesling in the middle with Gewurztraminer at the base. Rangen has now become a famous white wine site, the wines are in much demand, commanding prices of £40 upwards – Bernard Schoffit obviously saw the potential.
Schoffit’s Rangen Clos St Theobald 2011 was what we tried on Sunday. Richard had purchased it in Alsace (he thinks just one bottle, but you never know, there could be more squirrelled away) so it was good to check on the progress. Btw it’s a whopping 15% ABV.
Colour: pale green, minimal legs. Nose: a very much restrained citrus, very slightly perfumed, austere and no hint of the typical kerosene smell. Palate: very weighty, richer citrus, but much too alcoholic which dominated the taste so all subtle flavours were lost. This wine is too young and needs at least another five years to start showing at its best. It’s a pity that it didn’t stay under the bed/in the sock drawer/at the bottom of the wardrobe a little longer.
[Richard: researching the visit to Alsace I came across this sentence, ‘if I were forced to select one wine to drink the rest of my life, it would very well be Riesling Grand Cru Rangen Clos Saint-Théobald…’, so when we realised that Schoffit was only a few minutes drive away from our apartment we had to visit. I bought a bottle – possibly more – of this wine. Can’t remember the price and it is not available in the UK. A shipment for Russia was being readied when we were there. It wouldn’t be my desert island wine being slightly too sweet for me, not to mention too alcoholic. It was more typical when first opened – Geoff tried it 24h on – but, as you might guess from the just-about-legal bottle shape, Schoffit is nor a typical Alsace producer. Ultimately disappointing and if I do find another bottle I hang on to it for a while. Edit: found two more, Geoff has taken one off my hands.]
The second wine of our retro-Friday was the Trimbach Clos Ste Hune 2005 vintage (12.5%). Most of the literature I’ve read state that this wine is the pinnacle of Alsace Reisling. Who are we, mere oenological foot-soldiers, to argue with that? Stunning it was. And surprisingly, not obviously Riesling in style. Or, more likely, all previous Riesling tastings were banally typical compared with this. (All the background info. can be seen on the previous blog).
Looks: lemon yellow colour, beautifully clear and bright with some viscosity.
Bouquet: lemon freshness but not overtly so, a strong whiff of waxy flowers. I thought jasmine but also quite a ripe melon note. No petrol, which was a surprise and would have been a giveaway. Very slight honeyed edge.
Taste: very long, acidity balance, powerful but restrained, dry but again with slight richness, weighty. A wine to sip and roll round your mouth.
Re-reading the above I feel I don’t do this wine justice as other tasting notes (and there are a lot) list so many smells and tastes as to cover a flower and fruit market on a hot Saturday. My offerings seem so curt as to be rude. I need to brush up on my descriptions. However, this was a wonderful wine, balanced, powerful and obviously with a very long life in front of it (Well, not this bottle, but you know what I mean). Richard, the last one, I believe?
[Richard: still four left, from three different vintages. I can’t help but think we drank this too young but it was still wonderful. Objectively, even subjectively – it’s overpriced but that doesn’t take into account the rarity and the demand.]
Preceding the unusual Pinot Noir we tasted a Riesling, Martin Schaetzel’s Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Granit 2011. Richard purchased this wine during our visit to Alsace; I can remember him saying the wines were renowned for their acidity levels – which usually determines a long drinking window.
The pronounced lemon yellow colours held no trace of green and there was little evidence of its high alcohol level of 14%. Initially, the dominant bouquet was of more general stone fruit rather than the aromatic, kerosene Riesling smell, though this did develop later but not greatly. There was some acidity in this weighty wine and a fullness that (again) was more typical of southern rather than northern French. And, once more, there was a lack of obvious fruit but more a loosely defined richness in style.
Like the 2003 Bonnes-Mares, the 2011 wine was the result of a dry year with the resultant lowering of acidity levels and somewhat uncharacteristic style. Another good wine, well made if a little lacking in obvious charm.
[Richard: as Geoff says, this wine was brought from the maker, in Ammerschwihr, after a tasting. Around €18 a bottle. The Granit indicates, as you might expect, a soil type, although you can’t taste any minerality even assuming vines can pick up flavours from the underlying bedrock. Not all that typical – possible too old or not quite old enough – and it is certainly different from my memory of the tasting. I’d be interested to try a bottle in 10 years time.]
One of my selections from the Co-op Fine Wine rack was from the Thelema Vineyard. These vineyards are just to the north-east of Stellenbosch, under the Simonsberg mountain in South Africa’s most well-established wine region. Previously noted for Chenin Blanc, there is now greater diversity into Cab. Savs, Merlots, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc – and this Chardonnay. The area is described as being cooler with well-drained soils.
The colour was an attractive very pale lemon with green hints. There was a lime/lemon bouquet balanced by a slight oakiness – both delicate and well-defined. This balance was continued in a palate of medium-weight, refreshing acidity and slight creaminess. The finish was long and dry but, as Richard noted, there was a final sweet touch. It was definitely Burgundian in style, the Cote de Beaune Burgundies rather than the riper flavours of further south. It hadn’t got the hard edge I can sometimes detect in south African wines
At a shade over £9 this was excellent value. It would match lighter flavoured white meat dishes, fish and cheese very well.
[Richard: I’ve always liked Thelma reds and this was equally nice, with a touch of distinctiveness – something my choices lacked.]
Ribeauville contains two winemaker Sipps – Louis and Jean. This wine is from the latter and, as Richard will testify, the less easy to find, being further away from the large car-parks that dominate one end of the town. The wine is from 2009, named Les Terrasses du Clos and is also labelled H.D. Riesling. H.D. stands for higher density as Sipp’s website proclaims so, presumably, the potential yield per hectare is higher. That is certainly true of the ABV which is a lusty 14%, helped, no doubt, by the hot summer weather that year.
I tasted this blind and could not find any characteristics on the nose apart from a slight melon freshness. This did not change as it sat in the glass. The colours were a bright distinctively lemon yellow but its legs were not apparent. The palate was rich with the acidity staying high throughout the taste yet it was lacking in any fruit flavour (Richard called it ‘hollow’ in the mid-palate). What was almost unpleasant was its hardness, which was our abiding impression, unfortunately. The expected pronounced smell of petrol was nowhere to be seen – if that makes sense.
Richard was left with the majority of the bottle – he’ll report below.
[Richard: I have a clear memory of buying this wine. I asked the vivacious serveuse – a woman d’un certain age – which was her favourite riesling and she recommended the above. It was, I think, the most expensive as well, maybe around €14. Perhaps the two things are related. Given that 2009 was a good year in Alsace this wine was a disappointment with all the negatives Geoff mentions. Perhaps the first Sipp was the right one after all. The bottle has been vacuum corked so more to come.
Tried again on Thursday: more riesling character on the nose, increased lime flavour, smoother, less hard. An improvement.]