There is a reason why Alsace is regarded as Burgundy’s little sister. This terroir driven wine region has one of the most unique micro climates and diversity of soils for making best expressions of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer wines. Alsace stretches some 140 km between the foothills of the Vosges mountains and the river Rhine and has around 16,000 ha of vineyards spread over 119 villages. The region is characterised by cool continental climate. However due to the hot and dry summers and long autumns with a protection from the Vosges mountains against heavy rain and strong winds, Alsace enjoys a long growing season which ensures good ripeness. The very best vineyards are located on the steep slopes with an aspect facing south-east. The four main and noble grape varieties are Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. Other grape varieties include Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir.
Alsace wines are complex and versatile. Typical Alsatian style delivers wines of pronounced flinty character, oily texture, dry and full bodied with medium+ alcohol and spicy/mineral finish. Many wines are made with some residue sugar which is usually balanced with high natural acidity. In addition to dry wines, Alsace if known for some of the World’s best off-dry and sweet wines better known as Vendange Tardive (late harvest) and Selection de Grains Nobles (sélection of nobly rotten grapes). These wines are only made in small quantities and are not produced each year. The best examples of Alsatian wines can develop and age for decades.
And so, on February 6 with my friend in wine crime Vlado, I went from Basel to France. In less then 1:15 h we have arrived in Rouffach at Domaine Muré where charming Marié welcomed us. Family Muré goes back in 1650 with 12 generations in winemaking. Today they are biodynamic winery who own 25 ha of vineyards from which 12 ha is exceptional Clos St Landelin position. They encourage deep routing vines and maintain low yields 30-45 hl/ha. Harvest is gently done by hand to make sure the grapes are not damaged.
The bunches are not crushed or destemmed. Once the bunches are in the press they go over gently treatment. Vinification and ageing takes place in temperature controlled foudres, while Pinot Noir matures in used barriques. They use natural yeast with slow fermentations. Domaine Muré makes wide range of wine styles, from extra brut Crémant d’Alsace to lusciously sweet Selections of Grains Nobles. The wines are fruity, elegant with crisp acidity and good balance. They have moderate prices too. Domaine Muré is a great winery with good selection of wines and it is worth visiting.
We tasted 10 different wines from Domaine Muré and the following wines are definitely worth checking out.
Crémant d’Alsace Grand Millésime 2012 Extra Brut
This is a blend of 50% Riesling and 50% Chardonnay fermented in 228 litre Burgundy barrels. The second fermentation took place in the bottle where the wine remained for 31 months on the lees. Golden appearance with delicate mousse. Nose is very complex with aromas of apricots, peach and honey. Palate is rich with good freshness, brioche and bruised apples in the background. Long and chalky finish.
2013 Riesling Clos St Landelin Grand Cru Vorbourg
Dry riesling from Grand Cru Vorbourg terrace-growing lieu-dit which comes from 45 year old vines located in Clos St Landelin vineyard with south-facing exposition. The top soil is a mixture of clay and limestone with calcareous sandstone in the subsoil. The wine was slowly fermented with natural yeast and was matured on fine lees. It is elegantly seductive, moderately pronounced with ripe stone fruits. Extremely dry with razor sharp acidity. Full bodied with oily texture and uplifting stony finish.
2013 Pinot Gris Clos St Landelin Grand Cru Vorbourg
From the very same vineyard and lieu-dit Vorbourg comes this off-dry Pinot Gris with 32 grams/L of residual sugar and 13% of alcohol. Lusciously ripe fruits, showing apricots, peaches, honey and orange zest. Full bodied and very balanced sugar and acidity. Smooth with a mineral grip of wet stones. The finish is spectacular. Top Pinot Gris!
2006 Gewürztraminer SGN Clos St Landelin Grand Cru Vorbourg
Serious Gewürztraminer made with noble rot (Selections of Grains Nobles) from vines which are 64 year old! With tiny 22 hl/ha harvested at mid October, the wine has a massive residual sugar of 187.5 grams/litre! Yet, if tastes and feels perfectly balanced. Amber colour with pronounced honey, caramel and orange zest aromas. Full bodied and rich. Palate brings honey, dried pineapple, wall-nuts, almonds and baking spices. Finishes with long tropical fruits aftertaste and a spicy twang.
From a lovely tasting at Domaine Muré, we headed in downtown Rouffach for a lunch at A La Grappe restaurant. Nice place, full of locals who were having traditional lunches with their families. The only drawback is a menu which comes in French only and the waiter who does not speak any other language than French. Luckily, Marié from Domaine Muré was having lunch just two tables next to our and was able to help with the menu. Well, you can’t go wrong with a foie gras as a starter. Main course? I don’t have a simplest idea what i was eating! Was good though.
We have continued via La Route des Vins d’Alsace to the village of Hunawihr and the visit to Sipp Mack winery. The village was so quit and there was no one at the streets when suddenly a lovely Laura Sipp have opened the door and wholeheartedly greeted us. In a matter of minutes a cheerful winemaker Jacques Sipp showed up and said: “Would you first like to taste wines from the latest vintage?” And so without any hesitation we went outside for a small walk to the winery where we tasted all the wines from the tanks while some were still fermenting! Absolutely great experience from the start.
Jacques is the ninth generation winemaker in his family where winemaking goes back in 1698. However, it was not until 1985 when Sipp Mack winery have changed its course with sustainable viticulture and modern technology. This was just at the time when Jacques came back from the United States after his studies in viticulture and enology, and he didn’t returned alone. Together with his wife Laura a graduate from the University of California Davis Viticulture and Enology, he introduced new operations in both vineyard and winery which led to more consistent wine quality and terroir expression. Since 2013 they are BIO certified winery which takes great care of soil enrichment with cover crops, composts and mulching. Today, they export more than 50% of their production.
After tasting Pinot Blanc, Muscat and two basic Riesling, Jacques introduced 2012 and 2014 vintages of Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg. The 2014 Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg was one of the best Rieslings from Alsace I’ve tried in my career (well at least I’ve thought so). Pronounced, very floral with white flowers and orange zest. Bold, full bodied with racy acidity and loads of citrus fruits. Fresh and mineral with 45+ saline finish. 2012 Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg was similar in style, although more profound. Rich and powerful. There’s some development going on with a touch of kerosine, camphor and honey notes. At this point Jacques asked us would we like to continue with Riesling or switch to VDN and SGN. Being a great Riesling aficionado I didn’t think too much and the following was the ultimate experience in Riesling from Alsace and the vertical of Grand Cru Rosacker.
2015 – 2010 Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker
Rosacker (field of roses) is one of the most celebrated 51 Grand Cru sites in Alsace with wines being made since 1483! It carries its name after wild roses which surround the vineyards. With a lovely chapel that overlooks the vineyards, Grand Cru Rosacker covers some 26 ha and it is situated in the commune of Hunawihr. A terroir of Grand Cru Rosacker is composed of heavy, stony, calcareous marl-clay soil over a limestone bedrock with east-southeast facing slopes between 260 and 330 meters altitude. It has a slightly cooler microclimate which in a combination with limestone soils makes long-lived, complex, almost bone dry wines with racy acidity. After the harvest, grapes at Sipp Mack winery are gently pressed to preserve the varietal profile. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. No oak ageing. After filtration, the wine is bottled in August.
The vertical started with 2015 Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker. Almost golden in colour with a hint of green. Ripe stone fruits followed with awesome minerality and good texture. Some residual sugar. Still very youthful and primary. 2014 feels a bit closed at the moment. However the palate is exceptionally balanced with luscious fruits and fresh acidity. Give it some time and it will develop in a real beauty. 2013 is pronounced and showy with a hint of petrol on the nose. Definitely one of the driest in the vertical. Firm structure with razor sharp acidity. Very intense. 2012 shows beautiful Riesling expression of white flowers, peach, citrus and wet stones. Quite successful vintage in Alsace with lots of sunshine and cool September temperatures. The wine has nice and soft mouthful with silky textures. Long and slightly bitter finish. 2011 is a blockbuster wine with 14,00% alcohol, 6.7 g/L of residual sugar and 7.3 g/L acidity. Intense, oily, full bodied with incredible balance of residual sugar with acidity. Explosive. Massive amount of ripe fruits. The finish stays with you over one minute! The 2010 is close to perfection! From a very difficult vintage with uneven flowering and tiny yields, 2010 Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker is spectacular. Deep golden with pronounced aromas of peach compote, baked apples, flint, petrol and candied fruits. Rich and well structured with chalky accent. The wine has 13,00% alcohol, 9.6 g/L of residual sugar and 7.8 g/L acidity! Creamy texture. Well balanced and the most complete wine from the vertical. Long persistent finish. Bravo!
Our last stop was Domaine Agape run by Jacques’ brother Vincent. Although they used to work together at some point they decided to go different ways. Just like his brother, Vincent was very friendly to introduce us to his wines. They style is a bit different from Sipp Mack’s. The wines are more crisp with less sugar residue, more on the firm side and perhaps one dimensional. Nonetheless they are some great examples like 2014 Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg characterised by aromas of bacon fat, flint with big structure and almost bone dry style, and 2014 Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg with seductive floral aromas, opulent fruits, oily structure and long luscious finish. Vincent was kind enough to open one of the 4 remaining bottles of 2010 Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker which was spectacular. Very deep golden colour. Floral and sexy with pronounced aromas of white flower, honey, limes and orange zest. Full bodied all the way with some botrytis included. Sugar and acidity in perfect balance. Finishes chalky and peppery.