The wines of Alsace are some of the most unique and distinctive in the world. They are also some of my favorites, not only because they are delicious, but also because they are made by some of France's most individualistic and headstrong vintners.
Alsace has long been a place apart, both from France and Germany, each of which have laid claim over the valleys and hills that lie west of the Rhine river which currently demarcates the border between the two nations. It's easy to characterize the region as a smooth and quirky blend between the two countries, but such a simple description belies the unique nature of the region, especially when it comes to its cuisine and its wine.
Alsace is the only region of France whose wines have historically been labeled with varietal names (though since 2001 they can now bear the names of their Grand Cru vineyards). Alsace was also the first wine region to adopt Biodynamic viticulture, the holistic growing and winemaking regimen based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. Since it's first Biodynamic vineyard in 1960, Alsace has been at the forefront of the movement. The region can now claim to be the most Biodynamic winegrowing region in France, with more than 37,000 acres of vineyards and more than 57 producers adhering to the strict and often bizarre methods of cultivation and winemaking.
Though I count myself as a skeptic of many of the processes and beliefs associated with Biodynamics, I must also admit that some of the greatest wines in the world (not to mention the greatest winemakers of the world) are Biodynamic. So there's clearly something to it.
Which is why when Alsatian vintner Marc Kreydenweiss talks about selecting vineyard sites based on their exceptional vibrations and constructing his wine cellars using the golden ratio and an "accumulator to charge the telluric and cosmic forces" I have to roll my eyes a bit, but then enthusiastically explore his range of distinctive wines that are made in small quantities and with the extreme care that characterizes Biodynamic methods.
Kreydenweiss took over the farming and winemaking of his family's domaine in 1970 at the tender age of 23. At the time, the 12 or so acres that his family owned were producing grapes for sale to neighbors, despite a history of winegrowing in the very same vineyards that stretched back nearly three centuries and included periods of great renown for the little hillsides of schist and sandstone. Kreydenweiss set out to recapture some of the glory of this history, and spent the next two decades acquiring additional neighboring vineyard plots and overhauling the domaine's winegrowing practices to focus on low yields and strictly organic farming. In 1991 Kreydenweiss converted the first of his vineyards to Biodynamic techniques, and the rest of the vineyards soon followed.
Today Kreydenweiss farms a little less than 30 acres of vineyards in Alsace, which include portions of three Grand Cru vineyards: Kastelberg, Moenchberg, and Weibelsberg. The domaine produces a number of small production wines from the typical grapes of the region.
Like most of the long time winemakers of Alsace, Kreydenweiss is fervently dedicated to his terroir. But unlike many of his colleagues, he harbors a desire that is hard to quench with the soils and the wines of his home: deep red wine.
Alsace grows a bit of Pinot Noir, of course, but it is almost exclusively a white wine region. So when Kreydenweiss wanted to make himself a red wine, he needed to look elsewhere. His quest for distinctive terroir eventually led him to the far south end of the Rhone valley, in an appellation called Costieres de Nimes. Here he found rich soils supporting old-vine Carignane, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache, and a place to make red wines with the same passion as his whites. This review does not include these wines, but they are quite good, and are excellent values, to boot.
Only about 20% of the estate's small production levels reach the United States. I have tasted the domaine's wines each year for the past three years and found them quite consistently good. I often have a small complaint -- that they tend to lack enough acidity for my palate -- but the most recent vintages seem to have improved in this department. The wines below are some of the best I have ever had from the domaine.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2005 Marc Kreydenweiss "Wiebelsberg" Riesling Grand Cru, Alsace
Pale green gold in the glass, this wine has an amazing nose of star fruit, herbs, floral notes and unknown, exotic scents. In the mouth it is bright and beautiful, with nice acidity wrapped around flavors of apples and exotic fruits. Like some of the best Rieslings, it manages to be sweet without any trace of sugar, but also savory in some obscure respect. A forever finish makes this a wine to savor, quietly, alone or with friends that require little conversation. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $35. Where to buy?
2006 Marc Kreydenweiss "Kritt" Pinot Blanc, Alsace
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and old parchment. In the mouth it offers a light sweetness (it is slightly off-dry) flavored like delicate honey, and aromas of white flowers that soar into a long finish. The wine has a soft character (just a hair light on acidity), but this cannot mar what is otherwise a lovely concoction. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. Where to buy?
2005 Marc Kreydenweiss Andlau Riesling, Alsace
A pale green gold color, this wine smells of honey poached pears. In the mouth it is gorgeous chalky and dry, with beautifully balanced flavors of honey, white flowers, and citrus zest. The long finish is mostly citrus dominated, and lovely to behold. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22.Where to buy?
2005 Marc Kreydenweiss "Kritt" Pinot Blanc, Alsace
Pale green gold in color, this wine has a stony nose of apple and pear aromas. On the palate it is a little waxy in flavor, with a nice texture and a smoky quality that wraps around core flavors of unripe apples, and spiced pears. Like its brethren, the wine possesses a lovely finish, though perhaps less complexity. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. Where to buy?
2005 Marc Kreydenweiss "Clos Rebberg" Pinot Gris, Alsace
Light gold in color, this wine has a nose of chamomile, dried herbs, and yellow flowers. In the mouth it offers quite distinctive flavors of bee pollen, dandelions and honey. Well balanced with a lovely finish, the wine dances on the palate. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. Where to buy?
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
What's Holding Wine Back in America Vinography Images: From the Fog The World's First Wine Bar Vinography Unboxed: Week of May 31, 2015 Vinography Images: Sky Drama Secrets of the World's Best Wine Lists Vinography Unboxed: Week of May 24, 2015 Vinography Images: The Happy Canyon Drinking Time Itself: The Champagnes of Anselme Selosse The Great Prosecco Crisis of 2015
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune