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03.06.2006

2001 Phillipe Ehrhart Grand Cru "Brand," Pinot Gris, Alsace

Ever since we figured out the fermentation trick, we humans have grown a lot of grapes. Frankly we've lugged clippings and seedlings and grafts to some of the most unlikely places in the world. It seems like throughout history, we've tried to grow grapes pretty much anywhere we've set down our own roots. The results: a lot of bad wine. There are a lot of vines planted where they shouldn't be. But don't try telling that to the folks that put them there. Once upon a time, when the choice was between some wine (no matter how bad) and no wine, the grapes got planted.

Once in a while, though, through either our own dumb luck, or through some early viticultural genius (we'll never truly know) we've found some places that were just meant to grow grapes.

I'm not talking at the level of appellations here. Sure, Napa is a fine place, in general for growing grapes, but there's a lot of mediocre land in those tens of thousands of acres. No, I'm speaking about individual plots of land - single contiguous vineyards that have for so long produced wines of such distinction it's hard to imagine the world of wine without them.

The Brand vineyard in Alsace is, in my mind, clearly one of these sites. This vineyard sits in a steep south and southeast facing bowl near the entrance to the Munster valley, with views of the town of Turkheim. At its highest point it sits about 345 meters above sea level, which means that despite the sunny exposure afforded by its southern exposure, it receives cool breezes, a combination which makes for long, slow ripening. The soil of the vineyard is basically crushed granite -- mica, quartz sand, hornblende, feldspar -- with little capacity to retain water, providing the vines with excellent drainage.

Grapes have been grown in this specific vineyard site pretty much continuously since Roman times, but not many records stretch baj that far. Like most of the records for winemaking in continental Europe, mentions of the Brand vineyard begin to surface in the early 14th century in records kept by the monasteries and abbeys in the region. Local legend has it that at one point the whole region was underwater and the hilltop above the Brand vineyard was merely an island. According to the story, upon this island a dragon came to rest, and was burned (brand literally means 'burned' in German) by the sun, and never regained the strength to fly onward, its blood draining into the rocks and soil and providing a fire which still lives in the vines grown here.

Today this vineyard is one of the few in the Alsace region to be given the Grand Cru designation, and pretty much every wine I've had from it demonstrates how awesome it is.

Phillipe and Corrine Ehrhart's small estate, Domaine Erhart, is in the town of Wettolshiem which snuggles up against the back of the Brand vineyard, along with several other of the equally famous vineyards of the area (Hengst and Herrenweg being a couple of my other favorites).

The Ehrharts have been working with the grapes from these vineyards for decades, and moreover, have been doing so organically for nearly two generations. Because of the very particular personality of these vineyard sites like Brand, they vinify each block of the vineyard separately.

This particular wine is made from 100% Pinot Gris from the Brand vineyard (which also is planted with Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and likely some Sylvaner and Muscat). All of the grapes are hand picked in several passes through the vineyard by mostly members of the Erhart family, including Philippe's father François, and his son Florian. After pressing, the wine is gravity fed (no pumping) into stainless steel vats where the wine will ferment, and is then drained into old, neutral oak where it will sit on its lees for up to seven or eight months before bottling.

Tasting Notes:
A pale gold color in the glass this wine has an highly perfumed nose of candied ginger, dried mango, and ripe -- even overripe -- nectarines. In the mouth it is silky and lush with flavors of nectarines, orange blossom water, and candied lemon. The wine has good acidity and is slightly off dry with a light sweetness that lingers in the long finish.

Food Pairing:
Honestly, I'd love nothing more than to just sit and sip this wine on its own with very little else. However, those who are interested in matching food to it will find it a ready match for non-spicy or mildly-spicy Asian fare, like this grilled five spice chicken.

Overall score: 9.5

How Much?: $27

This wine is available for purchase online. Imported by Robert Kacher Selections.

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