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The wines of André Ostertag, Alsace

Domaine Ostertag, 87 Rue Finkwillwer, 67680 Epfig, France
E-mail: domaine-ostertag@wanadoo.fr 

André Ostertag has been running his Domaine along biodynamic lines since 1998, although it's not easy to fit him into the usual biodynamic pigeonhole: he doesn't look and talk biodynamic. This fairly young domaine, which began life in the 1960s, has 13 hectares of vines split among 75 plots in five villages. The wines are quite simply brilliant, as I hope the tasting notes below make clear.

‘More and more wine is becoming two markets’, maintains Ostertag. ‘Industrial wines made by recipes and then real wine’. He thinks that this trend isn’t just confined to wine, but is applicable to other markets. ‘Globalization has created a big mass market and then a top educated market’.

I asked Andre about the vins sans soufre movement, which is gaining ground among artisanal producers who eschew the use of sulfur dioxide and other additives in wine making. ‘Sans soufre is a fashion in France’, he says. ‘Sulfur is the devil. It’s a simple message for the public’.

‘You can’t make white wines without sulfur’, he states. ‘For a red wine with high tannins you can do it, and for white wines you can do it but only for a local market but then you have to drink it fast. It would be difficult to do my wines without sulfur.’

Ostertag filters his wines, as almost everyone in Alsace has to, because they usually bottle with some residual sugar. Even for the dry styles, it is advisable. ‘I don’t take the risk of not filtering wines that are dry’, he explains. ‘In 1988 I made a wine with 18 g/litre residual sugar that was stable in the lab. It was bottled unfiltered and 100 cases were sent to the USA. I had to take all of them back.’

Does he think that the grape variety is important, or like some other Alsace growers he is moving towards the view that it’s the terroir that’s all important and the cepage doesn’t really matter that much. ‘I believe cepage is important’, he says. ‘I like music, but what type of music?’

In the past Ostertag has been criticized for his use of new oak barrels for making Alsace wines. ‘I’ve had problems with this in the past’, he admits. ‘Open-minded people understand this, but the French are mostly closed-minded people!’ He’s tried barrels for Riesling and found that it doesn’t work, but the results with Pinots Gris and Blanc are pretty good.

Ostertag Pinot Blanc Barriques 2004
Rounded smooth fruity nose is quite creamy and full. The palate is full and rich with a nice spiciness to the rich fruit. There’s a subtle herby edge and a bit of toastiness. Lovely. Very good/excellent 91/100

Ostertag Zellberg Pinot Gris 2002
Lovely complex, rich perfumed nose with smooth, sweet herb-tinged fruit. The palate is concentrated and full with lovely fruit richness, a bit of nuttiness and a spicy finish. Just off-dry. Very good/excellent 93/100

Ostertag Muenchberg Grand Cru Riesling 2002
Rich, honeyed sweet fruit on the nose with a fresh, lemony edge. The palate is full and broad with lovely complex, rich fruit backed up by lemony freshness. Mostly dry; lovely and long. Very good/excellent 94/100

Ostertag Gewürztraminer Vignoble d’E
Intense, rich nose is grapey with a grapefruit freshness and some floral characters. The palate is very rich and smooth. Fat textured in an off-dry style. Impressive wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Wines tasted 05/06
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