Wines from Alsace

All wines tasted May 2005.  Prices are ex-cellars, 2005.

Domaine Joseph Scharsch, Wolxheim, Alsace

This family run estate lies at the northern end of Alsace, where they have around ten hectares.  While not certified organic/biodynamique, the estate is run broadly along similar lines, and grows all seven of the traditional Alsace varieties: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat.  Wines are made at several quality levels, though they regard the following as their most successful wines: Riesling de Wolxheim, Grand Cru Altenberg de Wolxheim; Pinot Gris Horn de Wolxheim; Pinot Noir Cuvée Nicolas; Crémant Cuvée Prestige and the latest harvest (vendanges tardives) and noble botrytised sweet wines, the sélections de grain nobles.

 I tasted a selection of Scharsch's wines with winemaker Nicolas Scharsch.

NV Crémant
Made from a blend of pinot blanc, pinot noir and riesling.  Yeasty nose.  Good ripe flavours.  Clean and fresh.  Very Good Indeed.  8+

2004 Cuvée Excel
An edelzwicker blend.  A lovely floral elegant rich nose.  A good clean edelzwicker with some style.   6

2003 Riesling de Wolxheim Réserve
I'd had a previous vintage of this and, while it was a perfectly acceptable Alsace riesling, I couldn't quite see how it deserved the Réserve designation, as I'd expect something a bit fuller and richer, so I quizzed Nicolas on this, and indeed, on this wine, it is a meaningless designation.
The 2003 has a nice nose with some citrus and minerality.  Good riesling characteristics on the palate with broad round flavours and good balance.  6

2004 Pinot Gris
Quite a rich, yet pure pinot gris nose.  Delicate, ripe tropical pinot gris fruit.  Very Good.  7

2003 Pinot Gris Horn de Wolxheim
Very light nose.  Light on the palate too.  This has a crispness to it with nice acidity on the finish and after.  Very Good Indeed.  8

2003 Gewurztraminer
Very clean, fresh gewurz nose, very precise with nice elegant floral notes.  A good, light, very well-balanced wine on the palate.  Round and clean and fresh.  Very Good.  7+

2002 Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives
An intense, honeyed, spicy nose.  Quite straightforward on the palate.  Extremely balanced, to the point of excluding any character.  Very disappointing.  OK.  4+

2001 Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles
A pure, clean mineral nose with fairly temperate botrytis.  Very, very clean on the palate, with the same mineral notes coming through, and the acidity builds, keeping it very fresh.  Very well balanced indeed, but a bit lacking in character.  Very Good.  7


Domaine René et Vincent Fleith, Ingersheim, Alsace

The Fleith family have been growing vines and making wine since the 17th century.  The estate is located in and around Ingersheim, just north-east of Colmar, where the valleys of Munster and Kaysersberg meet, in what, for me, is the prime central area of the Alsace region.  For many years they mainly supplied grapes to the local co-operative.  René Fleith took over the estate in 1970 and continued to supply the co-op until 1976 when he started to make his own wines.  The winemaking really took an upturn, however, when René's son Vincent started working on the estate in 1991, before taking over as winemaker with the 1995 vintage.  Vincent Fleith is the eleventh generation of the family growing vines in Ingersheim and he brought with him experience of winemaking in Australia and California and a formal training in viticulture and oenology.

I spent some time with Vincent Fleith, discussing his philosophy, his wines, and tasting his wines.  Vincent told me the key points of his philosophy: respect for the terroir in both generic wines and the lieu-dit and grand cru wines; keeping yields down, avoiding chemical fertilisers and banning chemical weed control.  He makes wines in five broad categories: “Traditional wines” (the basic wines); Lieu-dit wines; a grand cru, sweet wines and a crémant d'Alsace.  The traditional wines are made in a dry, fruity style; the lieux-dits are richer, more complex and full-bodied in comparison to the traditional style.  Fleith's only grand cru vines are located on the Grand Cru Furstentum, which has a brown marl calcaceous soil: these wines are supposed to be more intense and will often benefit from being cellared for a few years.  It is worth mentioning that the 2004 pinot blanc and a number of the 2003 wines were barrel samples or at least very recently bottled: in fact the labels of some were temporary and incorporated aide-mémoire notes to Vincent Fleith.

 2003 Muscat  €4.95 (traditional label)
A very light, fragrant nose.  Very light and delicate on the palate.  Notably dry, but really elegant and restrained – I would actually characterise this as a muscat made in a Mosel style.  Very Good Indeed.  8+

 2004 Pinot Blanc  €3.92 (traditional label)
The temporary label showed this to be cuvée 15, which merely identified where the wine was in the Fleith cellars and certainly doesn't mean he has at least fifteen different cuvées on the go!
A smoky clean nose.  Lovely palate.  Really nice balance.  Loads of character and still very elegant.  Excellent.  9+

I was so impressed by this, that I came back to it the next day to re-taste: this bottle had a fresh, fruity nose.  Light, but with a good depth of fruit.  Excellent balance.  A very impressive wine from one of Alsace's “lesser” varieties.  Excellent.  9

2003 Riesling  €4.18 (traditional label)
A light nose.  Very austere for an Alsace riesling, remarkably so for 2003.  7

2001 Riesling Steinweg €5.08
This has a much riper nose than the traditional label riesling.  On the palate though, it seems a bit too flabby.  Unimpressive.  4+

2003 Tokay Pinot Gris €4.69 (traditional label)
Sweet tropical fruit nose.  Very clean flavours.  Nice weight.  5g/l residual sugar, but seems much sweeter.  A very rich wine.  7

2003 Tokay Pinot Gris Steinweg €5.90
A much more elegant nose than the “traditional” pinot gris.  Fairly weight with good fruit.  Much more elegant.  8-

2002 Tokay Pinot Gris Dorfburg Cuvée de la Cigale  €9.21
Unfortunately languishing behind a truly hideous label, this is a sweeter wine that, in terms of ripeness of fruit, falls between reserve and late harvest wines.  A very deep, quite extracted nose.  Rich and very full on the palate.  A bit lacking in structure and character, however.  6+

 2001 Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Furstentum  €13.18
A very pure pinot gris nose with tropical fruit and green mango.  Excellent palate with good acidity.  This wine has 35g/l residual sugar, and you can tell by the weight and ripe feel, yet it carries the sweetness very well by balancing it with really good acidity.  8-

2002 Gewurztraminer (traditional label) €4.95
Delicate, yet obviously gewurztraminer on the nose.  Very balanced, fresh fruit on the palate.  Really Very Good Indeed +.  9-

2003 Gewurztraminer Steinweg  €6.07
A very delicate, focussed nose.  A touch dilute on the palate.  Clean with spice that builds towards the finish, as does a touch of sweetness.  Very Good Indeed.  8

1997 Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives  €14.04
A beautiful, fresh pinot gris nose with charming tropical fruit.  Very fine and elegant attack.  Hugely clean and well focussed.  Lovely wine – seems to me to be a bit above VT levels, and Vincent Fleith confirmed that he does indeed set the bar higher than strictly necessary when making his VT wines.  This is really focussed and precise.  Excellent balance with nice acidity.  Very long.  Excellent.  9

2001 Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives  €17.65
A very light, fresh nose.  Clean attack, but fills very quickly indeed with heavy gewurztraminer fruit.  There is some acid keeping it relatively clean, but for me this isn't terribly impressive.  Maybe a bit young?  Very Good.  6+

1999 Tokay Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles  €25.49 (75cl)
A delicate nose – very delicate, with gentle tropical fruit and more of a botrytis concentration than a botrytis flavour.  Immediately fresh on the palate, it then gets richer with lovely ripe flavours.  A very nice expression of botrytis dominated really big fruit.  Superb balance.  Excellent.  9

1999 Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles  €21.40 (50cl)
A deep brassy orange.  Excellent floral, delicate gewurztraminer nose dominated by fruit with only hints of botrytis.  Very clean attack.  Quite high acidity for a gewurztraminer, giving very good balance.  Soft gentle spicing.  Almost excellent.   9-


Domaine Philippe Schaeffer, Epfig, Alsace

 2003 Tokay Pinot Gris Vignoble d'Epfig

A rather unpleasant whisky nose and just as bad on the palate.  Dreadful.  0/10


Schoenheitz, Wihr-au-Val, Alsace
Half way between Colmar and Munster

2003 Muscat, Schoenheitz
Muscat can be a little temperamental in Alsace as it's more affected by weather than other Alsace varieties.  At Schoenheitz, the muscat grapes are spread across a number of sites, minimising the risk.  This does mean, however, that Schoenheitz's muscat varies more than most from year to year.  The 2003 muscat is a blend of grapes from three separate parcels.
Quite a rich nose – floral; a fairly full muscat scent.  Rich and full on the palate.  Very clearly a muscat!  A bit simple.  5+

2003 Pinot Blanc Val St Grégoire
A very gentle nose – quite austere.  In the mouth it's also a very delicate, austere pinot blanc with quite a lot of acidity.  Good.  6


Domaine Gérard Neumeyer, Molsheim, Alsace

The Domaine Gérard Neumeyer has 15 hectares of vines in the Molsheim area near Strasbourg, including part of the Bruderthal Grand Cru appellation.  Gérard Neumeyer explained to me that he takes particular care to match grape varieties to soil types and pays great respect to the environment throughout the cultivation process.  All his grapes are harvested by hand and in the winery he employs traditional techniques, using natural native yeasts, temperature control and prolonged contact between the wine and its lees. 
For me, the defining characteristic of Neumeyer's wines are their delicacy and precision.

2003 Pinot Blanc, Vin de la Tulipe  €4.01
Quite a full nose.  Round and fairly rich, turning a bit flabby.       3

2003 Riesling  €4.16
A very light nose.  Clean and very fresh.  Rather simple and dry.  Lacking varietal character.      3

2003 Riesling Lieu-dit Finkenberg  €4.97
Good light note with mineral smoke.  Oddly dilute initially, but fills well.  Round and well-flavoured on the palate 6

2003 Muscat  €5.03
Very floral and quite perfumed on the nose.  Full and round.  A very good, restrained, example of an Alsace muscat with all the character, but without the overdone blowsiness that can affect some Alsace muscats.            7

2003 Tokay Pinot Gris Lieu-dit Schaefferstein  €4.16
Produced from relatively young 8-9 year old vines.  A light, notably fragrant pinot gris nose.  A very good soft palate with lots of good pinot gris tropical fruit that build and builds.  Yet it still remains a very delicate wine with a fine acidity.                                                                      8

2003 Tokay Pinot Gris Côteau des Chartreux  €5.84
Produced from 15 year old vines on an east facing site.  The nose has a light, elegant perfume.  It is immediately obvious that this is much spicier than the Schaefferstein.  However, it's also very fine indeed and more delicate than the Schaefferstein.  A very elegant pinot gris.  Excellent. 9

2003 Gewurztraminer  €5.38
A light elegant perfume on the nose.  Fresh and clean and very well balanced, even a bit bland initially.  Then the gewurztraminer really creeps up on you on the finish and particularly after.  Very Good Indeed.  8+

2004 Gewurztraminer  €5.38
This came from a barrel sample.  A very young nose.  Very young and zingy on the palate.  Not knitted together yet and needs a little longer before release, let alone drinking.  An interesting experience, but for me a unique one, as I have no experience of how such a young gewurz might mature, so no score.

2003 Pinot Noir  €5.84
Generally, Alsace pinot noir is best avoided.  As far as I'm concerned pinot noir just doesn't ripen properly in Alsace, isn't best served by the Alsace terroirs and I don't understand why Alsatian vignerons are so keen to produce pinot noir wines.  However, if any year should produce something worthwhile, it should be the extra hot, extra ripe 2003.
This wine has a very deep young burgundy colour, looking like a young Côtes du Rhône.  A very fragrant, very vibrant pinot noir nose with lots of red fruit.  In the mouth it has very clean fruit (the wine is made and kept in foudres, so effectively sees no oak).  As the finish approaches, however, heavy, heavy tannins take over: the tannins are so heavy and powerful that that almost hurt the mouth.  Spicy aftertaste.  Although a competent wine, this hasn't convinced me of the merits of Alsace pinot noir!         5+

2003 Riesling Grand Cru Bruderthal  €7.15
A good ripe riesling-fruit nose.  Really well structured.  Very young, yet already a very nice wine.           7

2001 Riesling Grand Cru Bruderthal  €7.61
There's much more minerality and petrol on the nose than the 2003.  Very clean, ripe riesling fruit on the palate with good varietal character.  Elegant and very well balanced indeed.            7+

2003 Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Bruderthal  €10.45
Lovely elegant tropical fruit nose: a very refined nose.  Very, very rich on the palate, but still beautifully balanced.  Much deeper and more concentrated than the lieu-dit pinot gris wines.  A really lovely wine that would very much repay sipping and contemplating on its own: much more of a vin de contemplation than Neumeyer's other (and many other producers') pinot gris.  Excellent.             9+

2002 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Bruderthal  €10.35
A very elegant nose with quince and mango.  Quite sweet, but remarkably delicate.  A very refined, delicate gewurz with more than a hint of Tokaji flavour to it.  Excellent.   9

2000 Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives  €12.03 (50cl)
Honey and botrytis on the nose, combining with very delicate, rich gewurztraminer fruit.  On the palate, it's very rich, quite sweet and very satisfying indeed.  Yet it's also very, very delicate – remarkably so.  Excellent.       9

Crémant d'Alsace  €4.77
Unusually for an Alsace crémant, this is made from 100% chardonnay.  It has a clean biscuity nose and is very elegant, very fresh and clean in the mouth.  Very good indeed, though it could really be crémant d'Anywhere.     7


Domaine Jean-Marie Haag

Husband and wife team Jean-Marie and Myriam Haag (he grows the grapes and makes the wines; she sells) run this domaine, based at the heart of the Vallée Noble in the village of Soultzmatt, 13 miles south of Colmar.  The Vallée Noble is situated in the foothills of the Vosges where the Petit and Grand Ballon of Alsace form a barrier and protect the vineyards from the elements.  All vines are planted on the slopes of the valley, with gradients of up to 40%.  The soil is mainly limestone with sandstone outcrops.  The Haags have just under 6 hectares spread across 29 parcels in six areas.  The oldest vines are over 80 years old and the youngest were planted in 2003.  Gewurztraminer is regarded as the best variety in the Vallée Noble and accounts for 31% of the domaine's production.

The grapes are harvested by hand over a period of a month, parcel by parcel and whole bunch pressed.  For the grapes for Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grain Nobles the pressing takes over six hours.  Fermentation is temperature controlled and kept slow and the wine then remains on its lees until May with gentle batonnage.

The domaine produces around 35,000 bottles a year: 11% red wines from pinot noir; 31% gewurztraminer; 30% pinot gris; 14% riesling; 12% sylvaner; 11% pinot blanc; 2% muscat.

Myriam Haag took me through her husband's wines.

2003 Pinot Blanc €3.60
A dullish, buttery nose.  Really quite straightforward on the palate with some residual sugar.  OK.

2004 Riesling €4.20
A very fragrant nose – very strange, almost muscatty, with some honey.  But on the palate it's very much riesling.  Very minerally, though with some rounder notes too, and a touch of residual sugar apparent on the finish.  Very Good.

2003 Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé Cuvée Marion €8.50
In Alsatian, zinn means sun and koepflé means head, which gives an indication of the site: south-south-east facing slopes, and at an altitude of 420m this is one of Alsace's highest vineyards.
A much rounder nose than the 2004 Riesling, but still a lovely fresh floral fragrance and quite honeyed.  Much rounder and more complex on the palate, with a fair level of sweetness.  It just seems a touch simple and workmanlike at the moment, though it's unclear to me whether it will improve much.  Very Good.

2001 Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé Cuvée Marion
Very clean, very mineral nose with a hint of petrol.  Much more mature on the palate, with lots of older riesling notes coming through.  A very pleasant wine indeed, with a really nice structure.  Very Good Indeed.

2004 Pinot Gris Vallée Noble €4.90
A very light and clean pinot gris nose.  Pear drops on the palate: it really tastes quite sweet.  Lots of sweet tropical fruit.  Good, but this is going to improve with more time in bottle.

2003 Pinot Gris Vallée Noble €4.90
A very, very light nose.  Very pure flavour: clearer and more elegant than the 2004.  Much more focussed than the 2004.  Very Good.

2003 Tokay Pinot Gris Vallée Noble, lieu-dit Breiterberg €7.10
Breiterberg means broad hill, and this site is a south-facing gentle slope in the west part of the Vallée Noble.
A very light nose indeed.  Sweeter than the plain pinot gris on the attack.  Quite citric and lemony.  Much more concentrated fruit than the plain pinot gris, and a touch fuller and rounder.  Very Good Indeed.


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Last updated: 19 June 2006