Day 2 in Alsace was a busy one, beginning with an appointment at Weinbach. The Fallers – Colette and her daughters Catherine and Laurence – have developed an enviable reputation for this estate, which was a monastery until the French Revolution.
It was acquired by Catherine’s grandfather in 1898, and her father Theo developed it until his death in 1979. Colette then took over, and until 2010 was aided by both her daughters. In February 2010, Laurence left for Germany with her husband and two young children, and is no longer making the wines at the domaine.
The tasting at Weinbach was quite remarkable. Quality here is stunning across the range, with highlights being the 2011 Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg (they have 8 hectares of this vineyard), the 2010 Riesling Cuvee Ste Catherine, the 2010 Riesling Schlossberg Cuvee Ste Catherine, the 2011 and 2009 Riesling L’Inedit Schlossberg Cuvee Ste Catherine, the 2010 Pinot Gris Cuvee Ste Catherine, the 2010 Pinot Gris Altenbourg, the 2010 Gewurztraminer Cuvee Theo, the 2010 Gewurztraminer Altenbourg and the 2010 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum. All these wines rated 94 points or higher in my scoring system, although I know that points aren’t everything. And then we hit a run of three VTs and five SGNs, all of which were utterly stunning. It was one of the most remarkable tastings I have done. Full notes to follow.
After Weinbach, we headed into Kayersberg for lunch with Jean-Christoph Bott, another biodynamic grower (Bott-Geyl). We ate at La Winstub restaurant (www.lechambard.fr), which specializes in traditional, hearty Alsacien fare.
Starter was a huge slice of tarte à l’oignon, which was actually quite light in texture, and utterly delicious. Then a huge plate of chacroute arrived. It looked pretty daunting, but it was delicious and I had a good stab at it. Riesling goes really well with this: we had Bott-Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenberg 2008, which is linear, taut and mineral, as well as Bott-Geyl Grand Cru Mandelberg Riesling 2009, which is sweeter and more textured.
We also had a superb Pinot Noir, one of the best I have had from the region: Bott-Geyl Galets Oligocene 2010, with sleek, textured black cherry fruit. Two other wines also impressed, the Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Sonneglantz 2007 and the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Sonneglantz 2008. The former had 50 g/litre sugar, the second 220, but both balanced the sweetness with purity and focus.
The final visit of the day, after an old wines tasting that I’ll report on separately, was at Hugel in the painfully picturesque town of Riquewihr. It was starting to snow as we arrived, which added to the atmosphere.
Etienne Hugel should be on the stage: he’s a show man, and he’s made for the job of promoting Hugel around the world (half the year he is travelling). Hugel has the image of being a big Alsace producer, but the winery itself is located in the town, and seems far too small to be processing 120 tons a day during vintage. It’s incredibly traditional, in a region bursting with tradition.
Hugel own 30 hectares of vineyards (the same as Weinbach), but have another 100 hectares under contract. They don’t use the Grand Cru system (Etienne says this is because they have integrity, and there was no integrity to the way the grand cru classification was set up). Their range is in three tiers, with Classic, Tradition and then Jubillee, the latter corresponding to 100% Grand Cru vineyards. 40% of their harvest is Riesling; 40% Gewurztraminer.
I was very impressed by the basic Gentil blend, which is a third of their production, and has plenty of personality for the price. The Riesling Jubilee is made in a very lean, tight, dry style, and needs time to open up. My favourites in the tasting were the Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2005 and 1994, and the ethereal SGN Riesling 2009.