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 one of the first wine regions to adopt biodynamic viticulture, the holistic growing and winemaking regimen based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. Since its 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 some say bizarre) methods of cultivation and winemaking.
Though I count myself as a skeptic of many of the processes and beliefs associated with Biodynamics, in the same breath I always mention that some of the greatest wines in the world (not to mention the greatest winemakers of the world) are biodynamic. There’s clearly something to it.
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 that’s only until I taste the wines, and then I can forget about all the mumbo jumbo and concentrate on great wines with distinctive personalities.
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.
Only about 20% of the estate’s small production levels reach the United States. I have tasted the domaine’s wines for the past few vintages with some consistency and find them to be generally excellent and getting better.
The Clos Rebberg Vineyard, of which Kreydenweiss owns only about 2.5 acres is planted to Riesling and Pinot Gris on some of the steepest slopes you could possibly imagine. The vines sit on terraces carved into the side of a hill of schist, and must be harvested by hand with the greatest of care.
This particular wine bears an unusual label, not merely because it sports a painting by a French artist, but because that artist, Charles Joguet, is himself a well known winemaker in the Loire Valley. Joguet retired in 1997 from the wine business and spends his time painting (and no doubt drinking Chinon).
After crushing, this wine is fermented in 80-100 year-old oak vats, and then ages for 10 months in barrels just as ancient before being bottled.
Full disclosure: I received this wines as a press sample.
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of ripe pears, bee pollen (an aroma and flavor that I find in this wine consistently, vintage after vintage), and beeswax. In the mouth it is wonderfully textured — silky as hell — with flavors of pear, wet stones and mandarin orange zest and flowering herb notes that linger in the finish. Beautifully balanced, elegant, and quite compelling.
This wine will beautifully accompany Thai food that isn’t too spicy as well as Shanghainese or Cantonese dishes.
Overall Score: around 9
How Much?: $32
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.