If ProWein had gone ahead this year one of the many highlights would have been the presentation of the 12 most exceptional wines from Alsace as judged by an august group of experts, Steven Spurrier, Rebecca Palmer, Kelly Stevenson and our own roving editor in chief Roger Jones. 120 wines were tasted over the course of two days in Alsace, the focus being on Crémant, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling – the style and varieties which are currently the focus of the Alsace wine body’s marketing campaign for 2020. In this, the first of two parts, Jones sets up the tasting and reveals which 12 wines were unanimously judged to be Alsace’s finest.
If rules had allowed we would have put forward more Gewurtztraminers as the quality was quite exceptional, writes Jones.
As part of a new initiative for International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), a team of four diverse wine experts was to Alsace in February as guests of Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) to give an outlook on their wines and search out 12 wines from a selection of over 120 to showcase at (the unfortunately cancelled) ProWein, and across the Club Oenolgique/IWSC platforms.
I was chosen as one of the experts, having recently been made a Panel Chair for the IWSC. The other three experts were Steven Spurrier, who had also recently joined the IWSC as Honorary Chair, Rebecca Palmer, wine buyer at Corney & Barrow and Kelly Stevenson who headed the British Airways wine and beverage buying team.
Two days of full tastings were held at the CIVA head offices in Colmar, which was followed by a day tour of select vineyards to look at other white grape varieties.
The early morning flight from Gatwick was on time and the tasting was under way by late morning in the Alsace sunshine.
Although our focus was to find a certain number of wines from each category – 4 Crémant, 3 Gewurtztraminer and 5 Riesling – for the ProWein showcase platform, it was also a chance for all four of us to assess the quality of the wines available from Alsace. We were also aware that we could not double up producers or styles, thus some wines might have equal standing of the chosen 12, but failed to go through not on quality but on the parameters given. It was also explained to me that CIVA makes a positive decision to focus on certain grape varieties in their ongoing marketing campaign and are currently highlighting Crémant d’ Alsace, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling.
The tasting was held in a pretty perfect tasting room and was expertly set up by Foulqes Aulagnon, the charming export manager for CIVA. These notes are a combination of all four tasters. Although there were discussions on finalists it was mostly in agreement, and all four tasters felt that the experience had been quite exceptional both in quality and as an education. If rules had allowed we would have put forward more Gewurtztraminers as the quality was quite exceptional.
Crémant d’Alsace – 32 tasted
It is great to see quality Crémant hold its own, showcasing this great value sparkling wine which can and is drunk as a regular aperitif, as opposed to say Champagne which is more celebratory. For me these sparkling beauties had a texture and depth that made them more of a wine than a fizz, to their benefit.
Willm Crémant d’Alsace Prestige NV
Clementine, lime, floral notes and biscuit aromas with an uplifted creamy mouthfeel, full of depth and texture. A fine mousse with touches of spice that is balanced with elegant creaminess and a honeysuckle uplift. Elegant and precise this is a wine that showcases Pinot Auxerrois.
Domaine Edmond Rentaz Crémant d’Alsace Prestige NV
Apricot, stone fruit and frangipane marry with peaches and cream. The aromas follow through onto a palate with a mouth-filling creamy mousse and well balanced flavours. Shows great finesse, harmony and length. Very elegant.
Alsace Frey-Sohler Crémant d’Alsace NV
Peachy perfume with notes of buttery honey and flashes of lime. Fruit-forward on the palate with clean, fresh appetising acid. Easy drinking, flavoursome and perfect with food.
Maison Zeyssolff Crémant d’Alsace Millesime, 2013
Full, deep, harmonious wine. Touches of raspberry and orchard fruit uplifted with a spice. Hints of brioche balanced out by gentle acidity creating a harmonious and inviting wine with a beautiful lingering finish.
Gewurtztraminer – 25 wines tasted
We would have liked to put more through, but we were limited to three, Alsace produces superb Gewurtztraminer. It is a grape variety that excels here, offering a wine that perfectly complements delicate fine food, these great wines are a far cry from the memory of poorer Gewurtztraminers that reminded one of licking Granny’s face… all talc and violets.
Domaine Weinbach ‘Laurence’, 2018
Enticing nose, beautifully perfumed. Satsuma, peach and rose petal are layered with purity and focus. In the mouth, complex, rich and textured with flavours of Istanbul Turkish Delight. This shows Gewurtztraminer at its best with power and finesse. Perfection.
Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Kessler Gewurtztraminer, 2016
Citrus honey, ginger and caramelised dried pineapple on the nose supported by spicy, rich oily texture. Delectable smoothness, focused and a long silky length. Stunning.
Domaine Zind Humbrecht Alsace Grand Cru Hengst Gewurtztraminer, 2015
Beautifully bright, golden hues with a powerful savoury note backed by floral elegance. Multi-layered delicate dried fruit, salted caramel and honey on the palate. Full rich and silky, with restrained purity that promises to continue to age beautifully; this is a spectacular wine.
Riesling – 65 wines tasted
Alsace provides a perfect ‘breeding ground’ for Riesling, the differing soil types giving it unique, mineral nuances; the sunny weather helps bring in those delicate aromas, subtle citrus fruit and some stone fruit for depth.
Domaine Albert Mann Alsace Grand Cru Furstentum Riesling, 2018
Stone fruit and citrus profile which prepares for an intense and complex burst of flavour that is backed by creamy fluidity and a sprinkling of spice. Vibrant, clean and elegant, this is a majestic wine.
Maison Zeyssolff Reserve Riesling, 2018
Subtle citrus and fleshy nectarine with a citrus nuance to the fore, and mineral and kerosene behind. The palate is brilliant, complex and exciting with highlighted citrus and a sense of vibrancy and tension filled with rippling spices. Long, clean finish that will evolve perfectly.
Domaine Viticole Colmar Alsace Grand Cru Florimont Riesling, 2018
Aromatic floral nose backed with spices and minerals. Silky palate texture with touches of honey that retains its precision. Fruit and flesh are wrapped around a tight core with a long mineral restrained steely finish of deep intensity.
Dirler-Cadé Alsace Grand Cru Saering Riesling, 2017
Grapefruit and a hint of petroleum come through on the nose with a play between finesse and power. Classic minerality and fragrance with a heightened citrus and tropical nuance. Power and richness with restrained tension that lingers on.
Léon Beyer Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Riesling, 2011
Perfect in its harmony, rich but refined with expressive citrus and honeyed perfume. Supple and creamy on the palate with balanced dried apricot and orange peel notes. Long fragranced, layered finish of frangipane. Delicious.
Choosing the top 12 was difficult due to the quality, but the team were in harmony with their choices and very impressed with the quality of these elegant fine wines. In my next piece I will elaborate on other varieties in Alsace, the wineries we visited and also the wine/ food pairing we had during our stay.