Photo ©Tom Hyland
Continuing with my series of posts on Riesling (click here for the last post on Germany), this article will deal solely with Riesling from Alsace. Tucked in a far northeastern corner of France, not far from the border with Germany, Alsace is one of the most northern wine regions in the world, making this an ideal home for most white varieties, especially Riesling.
Alsatian Riesling always displays healthy acidity (even in a warm year such as 2011) along with beautiful varietal purity. Aromas and flavors tend to be of apricot, yellow peach and yellow flowers; these perfumes are a bit more intense in Riesling from Grand Cru vineyards.
The Grand Cru vineyards by the way are quite special, as they are generally situated at a slightly higher elevation than other vineyards and also must be farmed to smaller yields. These sites have a great deal of vine age, as many Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace are 30-40 years of age. There are currently a total of 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace, although not all of them are planted to Riesling.
As you might imagine, the wines from the Grand Cru vineyards are not inexpensive; for a Riesling, $70-85 is not uncommon. These wines can be incredible (see the review of the Josmeyer below), so if you are a lover of Riesling, you owe it to yourself to try a Grand Cru bottling at least once in your life.
Vineyard near Ribeauvillé (Photo from Jean Sipp website)
The nice thing about the Alsatian Rieslings that are not from Grand Cru vineyards is that they are good values; there are many excellent Alsatian Rieslings available at retail in the US at $16-$20. They are not as rich as the Grand Cru offerings, of course, but they still age well. Aging potential is a strength of Riesling, so look for these wines in even average vintages to drink well for 3-5 years, while in excellent vintages such as 2009, 2010 or 2012, that can be anywhere from 5-10 years, with the Grand Cru wines having the potential of 12-15 years of drinking pleasure. (There are other Rieslings made in Alsace, rare wines such as vendage tardive (late harvested grapes) and sélection de grains nobles, made from berries that have been infected with botrytis, the noble rot, that are quite lush and very sweet; these are extremely limited wines and are rather expensive. I'm not writing about these wines for now; perhaps down the road, if I'm fortunate enough to try a few of these wines!)
2012 Albert Seltz Riesling - Straw color; appealing aromas of white flowers, white peach and a delicate hint of ginger. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Lovely texture, very good acidity and excellent varietal character. A lovely introduction to Alsatian Riesling - 2012 is an excellent vintage. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years. $17, a very good value. (Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates)
2012 Domaine Ehrhart Riesling "Herrenweg" - Bright yellow; aromas of yellow peach, apricot and a note of liniment. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, very good ripeness, balancing acidity and very good persistence. Fine now, but will improve with a few years as it rounds out; best in 3-5 years. $25 (Robert Kacher Selections )
2011 Muré Riesling "Signature" - Light yellow; aromas of yellow peach and apricot. Medium-bodied, this is dry with tart acidity and good persistence. Lighter than the first two wines above, so drink over the next 1-2 years, but nicely balanced with good varietal character. $25 (Robert Kacher Selections)
2011 Marcel Deiss Riesling - Deep yellow; aromas of apricot, almond and dried yellow flowers (magnolia). Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Good acidity, impressive varietal focus, excellent persistence. Earthy, lightly herbal finish. Quite distinctive, this is powerful and lacks a bit of finesse (due in some part to the warm 2011 vintage), but this is quite stylish and should improve with time. $30
2010 Paul Blanck Riesling Gran Cru "Schlossberg" - Light yellow; aromas of white peach, melon and Bosc pear. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Lovely balance and structure. Beautifully made with great varietal purity, this is perfectly balanced and delicious. This is not as powerful as some Grand Cru Rieslings from Alsace, but this is a lovely wine! Enjoy over the next 5-7 years, perhaps longer. $40, which represents an excellent value. (Michael Skurnik Selections)
2009 Josmeyer Riesling Grand Cru "Hengst" - Straw/light yellow; beautiful aromas of dried pear, apricot and hibiscus. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent persistence, very good acidity and outstanding complexity with textbook varietal character. Just a classic style of Alsatian Riesling with a delicate minerality; vibrant with great focus, this is an outstanding wine! Enjoy now, but better in 7-10 years. $88 (Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates) - note: the word Hengst in French means "stallion." This is definitely a stallion of a wine and one of the most memorable Rieslings I have ever tasted!