After the anticipation, the tasting. Ten members of Andover Wine Friends gathered to try two of Alsace’s great white grape varieties followed by a simple supper. We settled quickly to the task after a taste of Aureus, Cremant de Loire, a bottle-aged single vintage Chardonnay, 2002. Toasty, decent acidity if slightly milder than much Champagne, must be the best under £10 sparkler with bottle age?
Hugh Johnson speaks of the secretive sect of Riesling lovers, a great grape whose public perception is tarnished by memories of poor quality mainly German examples of the 70s and 80s. In fact, both Gewürztraminer and Riesling are little understood in a wine world full of Chardonnay in various guises, neutral Pinot Grigio and big, muscular reds. By contrast, Gewürz’s style takes some getting used to, with its combination of low acidity, modern high alcohol level (despite Alsace’s northerly latitude, it is one of the sunniest place in Europe) and off-dry taste which tastes sweet to those who only drink bone dry wines. Full details of the wines are given below – we tasted three Gewürztraminers. An obvious difference was between the pale yellow of the 2007 with the tell-tale streaks of youthful green still visible and, by contrast, the yellow to gold of the 2000. What was apparent to all was the outstanding aromatic qualities of Gewürz, some floral and mineral notes, kiwi and especially lychees, then honey and weight in the mouth in the better bottles. The surprise was that Ostertag’s 2006 tasted an older wine than the Hugel 2000. How can this be? Our most knowledgeable taster suggested low intervention wine making and minimalist use of sulphur dioxide could lead to the fast ageing of the 2006.
The colour contrast in the three Rieslings was even more marked, the first two pale to the point of colourless on the rim of the glass, the third, older, wine, much darker and pale gold. Rather less immediate sensation on the nose, floral and petrol in even the younger wines, honey, toasty, ‘floor polish’ (but only the best) on the older wine. But then an explosion of flavour in the mouth, borne along by great acidity, refreshing to some, demanding to others. For most of us, quality did reflect price. Hugel’s wonderful Jubilee 2005 is very pale in the glass but a wine of good fruit and superb balance, while Zind Hubrecht’s single vineyard Heimbourg 2001 was bold and complex, bottle ageing producing the toasty notes otherwise associated with oak ageing, a wonderful balance between still good zinginess (many years to go if you hadn’t drunk it!) and great persistence, the sensations lingering in the mouth for what seemed like minutes.
Over the supper that followed we had a further treat, Zind Humbrecht’s Pinot Noir from the same Heimbourg vineyard. This is a brilliant example of Pinot, fragrant, a clarity of fruit and balanced acidity presumably reflecting its northern latitude. Not cheap but a fine accompaniment to pork and prunes. Multiple conversations buzzed. The evening concluded with a bottle from nowhere near Alsace – Pietratorcia’s one-off dessert wine from Ischia, one of the islands off Naples. This 2002 was bought at the family winery after a particularly good lunch with the wine maker. A product of the passito method, by semi drying the grapes before vinification, this was a mildly eccentric bit of Italian creativity, the grapes here being Viognier and Malvasia Aromatica. The former presumably contributes some silkiness and apricot tones, all now knitted together in a pleasant if not outstanding pale orangey-brown sticky. It’s not just Alsace that can do the particular.
The Society’s Exhibition Gewürztraminer, made by Hugel, 2007, (Wine Society £14)
Domaine Ostertag, 2006 (Berry’s £17)
Tradition, Hugel, 2000 (WS, originally £10.50)
Collection, Kuentz-Bas, 2005 (WS £11)
Jubilee, Hugel, 2005, (WS £19)
Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, 2001 (Caviste £25)
Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Hubrecht, 2005 (Caviste £22.50)