Saturday, July 13, 2013

Alsatian Riesling - Textbook wines

There are some who will tell you that Riesling is the world's greatest wine grape. I may opt for Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo (or even Gewurztraminer when I'm in the mood), but clearly I too feel very strongly about Riesling as the source of so many great wines.

Germany has always been recognized as the spiritual home of Riesling and it's unlikely any country produces as many great examples. Elsewhere, the dry Rieslings from Clare Valley in Australia, with their petrol aromas and racy acidity, are remarkably striking and there are also some beautifully made examples in northern Italy, not only in the northeastern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli, but also in Piemonte (yes, Piemonte).

Let's not forget Alsace, home of some of the most magnificent white wines in the world. Several grapes, such as Pinot Blanc, Muscat and the aforementioned Gewurztraminer vie for top honors in any given year, but it is Riesling that more often than not is regarded as the signature grape of Alsace. This cool area, located in far northeastern France, is ideal for white wines that combine striking aromatics with excellent structure and Riesling performs magnificently here with even the most basic examples drinking well for 2-3 years with many types of foods, while the finest versions offer pleasure for a decade or more.

I recently tasted four Alsatian Rieslings - three from 2011 and one from 2010 - that gave me a better understanding of the status quo of this wine in this zone. 2011 was a very warm year, delivering wines of excellent richness and quality. The acidity levels are slightly lower than in an ideal year such as 2010, so the wines may not age as long as is typical, but as with any wine from any area, one needs to look to the best producers.

2010 was a first-rate year in terms of overall balance. The Rieslings are a bit lighter on the palate than those from 2011, but the aromatics tend to offer greater complexity, while there are better levels of acidity. The 2010s as a rule will tend to age longer than the 2011s, but there are excellent wines from both vintages.

Here are notes on the wines I tasted:

2011 Meyer-Fonné Reserve - Straw-light yellow color; expressive aromas of Bosc pear and chamomile. Medium-full, this has a rich mid-palate, very good acidity and impressive persistence. There are notes of yellow spice in the finish along with a touch of minerality. This is quite dry and has impeccable balance; it is rich with a nice sense of lightness at the same time. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. This is not a well-known producer, but based on this wine, it should be!

2011 Domaine Weinbach "Cuvée Theo" - While Meyer-Fonné is not a household name among Alsatian producers, Domaine Weinbach, managed by Colette Faller and her daughters, is world famous. Much of this is based on their amazing quality, while some of it derives from the fact that the wines are very rich, in some cases, quite lush on the palate. This "Cuvée Theo" from 2011 is prime evidence of the house style; offering aromas of apricot, Anjou pear and hibiscus, this is very ripe and rich and comes across quite differently on the palate and in the finish than the Meyer-Fonné from the same vintage. That's not to say that one wine is better than another; rather, these two wines are meant for different food preparations, with the Meyer-Fonné arguably a better match for terrines and lighter fish, while the Weinbach seems as if it would be better paired with crab, lobster or even a lighter veal preparation. I don't see much point to aging this wine, so enjoy it now and over the next year or two with food.

2011 Ostertag "Vignoble d'E"- The "E" in this wine's name stands for Epfig, the town around which the various vineyards that are the source of this wine are located. Offering pleasant aromas of lime, chamomile and melon, this is a distinctive wine that combines lovely varietal purity with finesse and charm. This has good natural acidity, excellent persistence and is elegantly styled. I'd love to try this wine with delicious, but uncomplicated dishes such as vegetable terrine or sautéed scallops. André Ostertag is a biodynamic producer who is at the top of his game.

2010 Trimbach Riesling - Trimbach may be the most famous and successful wine estate in Alsace and why not? After all, they've been in business since 1626! This 2010 Riesling is a lovely wine, one that displays beautiful varietal purity and balance with a vibrant finish with lively acidity. Offering aromas and flavors of pear, melon and yellow flowers, this is medium-full with a rich mid-palate and a long finish with excellent persistence. This firm's "Cuvée Frederic Emile" Riesling is an amazing wine that has been recognized as one of Alsace's best examples of this variety, but this classic Riesling is also something very special. Enjoy this over the next 2-5 years with dishes such as pork medallions, roast veal or even Oriental cuisine.