Vinopolpick Thursday: November 14

November 14, 2013
Alsace Wine Region and Domaine Marcel Deiss
Alsace is isolated from the rest of France to the west by the Vosges mountain range and separated from Germany to the east by the Rhine River. Mountain-side vineyards typically contain sandstone and granite, while the plains are composed of clay, limestone and marlstone.  The best sites are along the foothills and are south-west or south-east facing to receive the most sun.
White wine predominates in Alsace due to the cooler climate.  Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat are the most common single varietal wines produced.  In Alsace, single varietal wines are labeled by grape variety.  But varietal blends have a historic presence, and some of the vignerons are rebirthing these as the truest reflection of the best vineyards. There are three AOC appellations: Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru and Cremant d’Alsace (sparkling wines).  The Alsace AOC was established in 1962.  The Grand Cru regions were defined in 1975 and are made up of 51 vineyards.  Yields, vineyard management, ripeness levels and taste are restricted.  


Alsatian wines, like their German counterparts, can range from completely dry to sweet. Vendanges Tardives (VT) and Selection de Grains Nobles  (SGN) are the two late harvest (sweet) designations.  Gewurstraminer and Pinot Gris are the most common grapes used for these wines.  They give notes of fig, apricots, warm spices and honey.  VT wines are made from grapes harvested several weeks after the regular harvest.  The grapes are allowed to raisin on the vine, concentrating sugars. 
Bergheim, a small village in the center of Alsace, is home to Domaine Marcel Deiss.  The Domaine was established in 1947, but the family had a history of grape-growing and winemaking in the region since the mid-18th century.  Today it is overseen by Jean-Michel Deiss and the wine-maker is Marie-Hélène Cristofaro.  They own 67 acres of vineyards on the foothills of 9 communes near Bergheim and produce 10,000 cases of wine a year.  


Deiss is considered a rebel wine maker for the region.  He focuses on terrior over specific grape varieties.  He practices a methodology known as complantation.  Complantation is the ancient method of planting a great diversity of vines at great density.  His vines are planted at over 4,000 per acre.  They are stressed to the point where they yield half the volume of wine per plant than is average for the region.  
The roots of these vines must compete for water and nutrients, which forces them to grow deeper.  Deiss believes these deep roots overcome the variation among vintages to truly reflect the terroir.  Phylloxera, wars and the modern practice of planting popular international varieties has narrowed down grape varieties and and their various clones to a bare fraction of what was once present.  To overcome this, Deiss has trumpeted field blends that he harvests and vinifies together.    While one grape variety would only be one expression of the vineyard, the multiple varieties are able to come together to form an fuller picture of the terrior.


His vineyards have been biodynamic since 2003 and have been organic for decades.  The wines are treated with the same respect for their integrity.  The hand-harvested grapes are crushed gently and slowly.  The wines are fermented slowly in closed wooden vats using only indigenous yeasts.  The wines are aged on the lees for extended periods of time.  The wines are bottled without fining or filtration.  Deiss is revolutionary in that he bucks the tradition of single varietal wine to make terroir-driven wines from a blend of grapes even in Grand Cru sites.  Doing such was not allowed under AOC laws until 2005.
Domaine Deiss produces three distinct styles of wine.  The “Les Vins de Fruits” are wines meant to emphasize the grape varietal.  These are labelled by varietal and may list a vineyard.  The “Les Vins de Temps” wines emphasize the vintage and include their VT and SGN selections.  The “Les Vins de Terroir” wines only list the vineyard and are meant to reflect the terrior of the location.  Domaine Deiss has over 200 distinct vineyard sites.  The Burg vineyard, featured below, is composed of Keuper marl and limestone.  It has a southern exposure and yields in the Domaine’s words: “a powerful, complex and structured wine.”
Domaine Marcel Deiss Wines Available Now:
Domaine Marcel Deiss Burg 2008 ($59.95) $49.00 special, 6 bottles available
Wine Advocate 94 points: “A high-toned nose of licorice and maraschino; litchi and apricot distillate; wisteria, honeysuckle, and rowan in Deiss’s tous-cepages 2008 Burg led me to anticipate even more than the modest sweetness that greets the taster on a silken palate. In a manner reminiscent of this year’s Langenberg, this displays lovely lift and sheer lusciousness of fruit that engages in positively shimmering, kaleidoscopic interchange with profuse and alluring floral essences and saline, chalky, flinty mineral notes in a riveting, truly haunting finish. This should be a profound pleasure to follow for 15-20 years.” 
Domaine Marcel Deiss Gewurztraminer 2010 ($29.95) $24.00 special, 12 bottles available
Wine Spectator 92 points: “Finely balanced, this is lush and lightly mouthcoating without being weighty. Well-cut acidity keeps this lithe, structuring the flavors of baked peach, blood orange, candied pink grapefruit zest, crystallized honey and lychee, with a lasting smoke- and mineral-tinged finish. Drink now through 2023.”     
Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2008 ($29.95) $21.90 special, 19 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 90 points: “Pale, bright yellow. Sweet but subdued aromas of pineapple, mint and crushed stone. Juicy and delicate in the mouth, with moderate sweetness to the chewy flavors of pineapple, lemon and white flowers. Animpression of strong acidity gives atypical energy and penetration to this basic riesling, which finishes long and brisk, with lemon and lime flavors and strong stony minerality. Showing more fruit today than the 2009 version, but a deeper minerality as well.”
Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2011 ($29.95) $24.00 special, 23 bottles available
Wine Spectator 92 points: “Bright and juicy, featuring lovely balance and flavors of spiced plum and apple fruit, cantaloupe, apple blossom and honey, with a streak of minerality pushing through to the creamy finish. Drink now through 2023.”Other Alsatian Wines Available Now:

Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Furstenum Grand Cru SGN 2001 375ML ($99.95) $79.00 special, 7 bottles available
Wine Spectator ‘Collectibles’ 98 points: “Powerful and sweet, this is also balanced, with a firm structure corralling the extroverted apricot, honey, spice and smoke flavors. More like the essence of fruit, it saturates the palate, leaving a coating of honey behind. Drink now through 2025. 25 cases imported.” WS 
Bott Freres Pinot Blanc 2010 ($17.95) $14.00 special, 5 bottles available
“This is soft and smooth, with acidity and a creamy character. The flavors are reminiscent of ripe pear and spice. Very ready to drink.”-WE     
Bott Freres Riesling Particuliere 2010 ($19.95) $16.00 special, 3 bottles available
Domaine Ostertag Pinot Gris A360 Grand Cru 2008 ($67.95) $53.00 special, 4 bottles available
Wine Advocate 91 points: “Winter pear and a hint of litchi; smoked meat and musky floral perfume follow the Ostertag 2008 Pinot Gris Muenchberg A360P from its striking nose onto a deeply-rich, glossy-textured palate, and into a long finish whose undulating layers of fruit, flower, meat, and mineral matter are tinged with vanilla. A faint hint of heat from 14.5% alcohol detracts only slightly from the effect of a wine unusually lush if less vivacious than usual for its vintage. This should show well for a half dozen or more years.” WA
Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir D’Epfig 2009 ($29.95) $23.00 special, 3 bottles available 
“Good full red. Dark cherry, raspberry and cinnamon on the nose. Ripe and juicy, with high-pitched flavors of red fruits and spices. Finishes with a light dusting of tannins. Lots of oak spices here but this is easy to drink.” ST
Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir Fronholz 2010 ($49.95) $41.90 special, 11 bottles available
Domaine Ostertag Riesling Clos Mathis 2010 ($42.95) $35.00 special, 4 bottles available 
Domaine Ostertag Riesling Fronholz 2010 ($44.95) $36.00 special, 11 bottles available 
Domaine Ostertag Riesling Heissenberg 2010 ($44.95) $36.00 special, 13 bottles available
Trimbach Clos Ste Hune 2004 ($249.95) $219.00 special, 9 bottles available 
Stephen Tanzer 95 points: “Pale, bright yellow. Ripe pineapple, liquid stone and exotic honey on the nose, with a spicy lift that suggests an oak influence this wine does not possess. On entry, this is sweeter and creamier than the Frederic Emile, but it livens up quickly in the middle, showing powerful minerality and sharply delineated flavors of liquid stone, pineapple and citrus peel. Still, this conveys a distinctly glyceral impression that suggests more sweetness than its 5 grams of residual sugar, no doubt a function of the 20% or so botrytized berries (in contrast to the Frederic Emile, which included no botrytis). Communicates an impression of power with elegance, finishing minerally and long but not austere. Pierre Trimbach compared this wine to the estate’s great 1990. This is already showing more Rosacker terroir than riesling character. About 9,000 bottles were made from 1.5 hectares of vines.” ST
Trimbach Clos Ste Hune 2005 ($249.95) $219.00 special, 16 bottles available 
Wine Advocate 94 points: “In its aromas of lime, apricot, narcissus, chalk dust, red currant, and musk, the 2005 Riesling Clos Ste-Hune is surprisingly a bit more open and expressive than the Frederic Emile. On the palate this exhibits amazing, chalky density, firm citricity and a satiny, slippery, glycerin-rich texture. Tart red berry, pungent citrus zest, and quarry dust dominate in a finish that is unsurprisingly unyielding but promisingly long. Only time can reveal this wine’s true degree of superiority to the Frederic Emile, and the latter might well nip at its heels indefinitely!” WA 
Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($29.95) $24.00 special, 29 bottles available 
Trimbach Riesling 2009 ($21.95) $17.00 special, 36 bottles available
Wine Enthusiast 91 points: “This is a finely balanced wine, showing ripe fruit along with tangy citrus and pineapple flavors. It has weight and richness, with a full, concentrated character. Although this is ready to drink now, it is also worth aging for another year to bring out even more fruit.” WE
Weinbach Muscat Reserve 2010 ($39.95) $33.00 special, 3 bottles available 
Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling 2011 ($37.95) $29.00 special, 2 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 91 points: “Bright straw. Deep aromas of stone fruits, minerals and flowers. Bright and juicy on entry, then firm in the middle, with aromatic inner-mouth flavors of grapefruit, white peach, mint, spices and wet stone. Finishes pure and long, with considerable mineral tang. These grapes come from the highest part of the granitic slope of the grand cru” ST
Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling Catherine 2011 ($59.95) $47.00 special, 11 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 93 points: “Bright pale green. Apple and pear, minerals and white peach on the perfumed nose. Very pure on the palate, with enamel-shattering acidity framing the intense white stone fruit, apple and mineral flavors. Offers a wonderful combination of refinement and power. Made from 40-to-60-year-old vines located in midslope of this famous grand cru.” ST
Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling L’ Inedit 2009 ($74.95) $59.00 special, 4 bottles available
Wine Spectator 94 points: “A rich Riesling that’s just off-dry, yet retains a grace of form and structure thanks to finely meshed, vibrant acidity. Layers flavors of quince paste, honeycomb and dried apricot with a minerally baseline and hints of aromatic herbs, candied lemon zest and fresh ground white pepper. The finish is long and citrusy. Drink now through 2034.” WS
Zind Humbrecht Goldert Gewurztraminer VT 2000 375ml ($59.95) $49.00 special, 37 bottles available
Robert Parker 94 points: “2000 Gewurztraminer Goldert Vendanges Tardives reveals lychee nuts, roses, lilies, mangoes, papayas, and rose water aromas. This intense, muscular wine exudes prodigious waves of jammy peaches and apricots. This medium to full-bodied wine is oily-textured and has an impressively long, if a touch alcoholic, finish. Anticipated maturity: 2004-2024.” RP   
Zind Humbrecht Muscat 2009 ($29.95) $24.00 special, 3 bottles available
Wine Spectator 88 points: “A crisp Muscat, very dry, with a streamlined, stony character that’s fleshed out by ripe peach, mandarin orange, mango and smoke notes. This is a lip-smacking sipper, offering lots of personality that recommends itself to a hot summer day. Drink now.” WS
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal SGN 2003 375ML ($149.95) $119.00 special, 3 bottles available
Wine Spectator 97 points: “A seductive mouthful of smoke, apricot, orange marmalade and honey ride a bright structure and smooth texture in this seamless SGN. Concentrated, yet seemingly lighter than air, the finish goes on and on. Drink now through 2025. 85 cases made. “WS
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal VT 2004 375ML ($59.95) $49.00 special, 2 bottles available
Wine Spectator 94 points: “Heady, with loads of honey, apricot and caramel corn notes. Moderately sweet, concentrated and a little raw today, so give it some about five years. The aroma is really singing, but the palate needs time to align itself. Best from 2008-2020” WS   
Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brand Grand Cru VT 2004 375mL ($69.95) $59.00 special, 7 bottles available
Wine Spectator 94 points: “Broad and honeyed, yet with firm structure. Shows a hint of bitterness, like grapefruit peel, pulling it out of balance for now. It’s young, so give it time to develop. Long, smoky finish. Best from 2009-2020.”WS
Zind Humbrecht Riesling Clos St Urbain 2006 375ML ($39.95) $29.00 special, 3 bottles available 
Wine Spectator 92 points: “A rich, just off-dry white, enlivened by intense, citrus acidity. Exudes kumquat, apricot and guava flavors, laced with exotic spice notes of anise and cardamom. Despite its power, this is elegantly put together, with a clean, dry finish that leaves a mouthwatering impression. Drink now through 2028. 410 cases made.” WS
Zind Humbrecht Riesling Windsbuhl VT 2004 375ml ($59.95) $49.00 special, 10 bottles available
Wine Spectator 92 points: “Fresh, even racy, with grapefruit, lemon and honey aromas and flavors matched to an elegant profile. Still tightly wound, with a vivid structure. Needs time to open and gain complexity. Best from 2009 through 2020.” WS  
Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen St Urbain 2005 ($89.95) $77.00 special, 2 bottles available
Wine Spectator 93 points: “This delicious white is big, lush and warm, with apricot, grapefruit and spice flavors that are easy to cozy up to as it glides to a long, smoky finish. There’s plenty of power in reserve, with a dry sensation on the aftertaste. Drink now through 2020”
Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Herrenweg 144 2005 ($39.95) $33.00 special, 4 bottles available
Stephen Tanzer 89 points:  “Lot 144, from an early harvest but finished sweeter than the cuvee made from fruit picked six or seven days later.  Pale bright yellow.  Stone, ginger and suggestions of dried fruits on the nose.  Juicy and only slightly sweet, with vibrant flavors of apple, pear, peach and spices given grip by lemon pith and crushed stone.  This went through malolactic fermentation, notes Humbrecht, and thus it’s ‘less Calvinist’ than the lot 148.  Quite tactile on the back, with a lingering note of ripe apple.” ST