We tried two dull white wines at the weekend from different countries made with different grapes and sold at very different prices.
The one I blind tasted was a Pinot Gris from Alsace (Pinot Gris Lieu-dit Muehlforst MWW at £15/£9 for a single bottle/six bottles), which I eventually recognised through a process of elimination. Pale straw yellow, limpid in appearance, shy nose. So far so good but on the palate – much too sweet for me, albeit with a rather bitter finish. I’ve found that, as I’ve got older, I’ve lost interest in sweet or dessert wines, especially if, as in this case, there was no balancing acidity, making for a simple, rather cloying drink which is not worth even the lower price. MWW claim the vineyard used is ‘approaching grand cru quality’ which is a considerable exaggeration on this evidence. A shame because the wine was produced by the Hunawihr co-op, one of the best in France. We had a memorable visit there in 2013 – Geoff bought a map.
[Geoff: Yes, I agree with Richard. The attraction of a richer/sweeter wine lies in the acidity otherwise it can be likened to drinking a sugar solution. The lack of refinement on the finish was also a minus point.]
I taste and drink a lot of wine in a professional as well as unpaid capacity. I enjoy many, dislike fewer and can’t remember most of them. Occasionally – and it is occasionally – some stick in the vinous memory. These are individual bottles that evoke an immediate ‘wow’ response followed by ‘This is good!’. Sunday’s wine was one such wine. Trimbach’s Clos St Hune 2004 was generously supplied by Richard and tasted blind.
Piss-coloured with some viscosity, it sashayed round the generously sized goblet releasing the subtle Riesling nose. I had a sense of restrained power and richness with lovely floral hints. (Why is it that excellent wines encourage extravagant – or overblown – language?)
The palate was a meld of furniture polish, beeswax, honeysuckle and jasmine flavours but overladen with a wonderful acidity which kept all fresh and prevented the cloying that the richness could bring. An extremely long finish and medium-heavy weight were my other noted qualities. In one word – superb.
Clos St Hune is a Trimbach estate in the Grand Cru Rosacker area in Hunawihr, north of Colmar, Alsace. The ageing potential is 10 – 20 years, which accounts for the restrained power this wine had. 04 was a bit of a challenge, being very wet, but it takes a good wine-maker to make good wine in a poor year. Thank you Richard – and Trimbach.
[Richard: we’ve tasted this before, in 2015. That review has a lot more information about the wine. Three years on, I felt it was heavier and more powerful. Another lovely drink on a summer evening.]
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.]