As you get older, birthdays generally become less important, unless it’s a multiple of 10. When you have young kids and your birthday’s on Halloween, it’s even less important when you have young kids. Thus it was for me this year (I know, I’m drying my eyes) and so I didn’t even open a particularly fancy wine from my humble collection. However, with my Chinese takeaway I did pop open a modestly-priced bottle – an Alsace blend from Wolfberger…and it was delightful!
Wolfberger is a significant presence in Alsace as they are one of the largest producers. I will delve more into their story in a future article, but for now let’s take a look at one of their Alsace blends. This bottle was one of several samples kindly sent over for the second Alsace Wine Week in Ireland which took place in May 2019.
Wolfberger W3 Alsace Blend 2017
W3 (or W³) is a blend of three out of Alsace’s four “noble” grape varieties: Riesling, Muscat and Pinot Gris*. Being made from these varieties would allow the wine to be labelled as a Gentil; however, these traditional blend names are sometimes eschewed by producers in favour of a more modern presentation – in this case W3 (or W³ as it appears on the front label.) For more information check out my article on Alsace Blends.
In the glass the W3 is a light lemony-gold. The nose has a real story to tell: flowers and grapes with hints of orchard fruits and a dash of citrus. Methinks Muscat is the boss on the nose. The palate somehow manages to be round and linear at the same time, slightly (fruitily-) sweet yet tangily sour. Pip fruits and grapes open the scene, then grapes and stone fruits add depth, and finally zesty lime brings it home.
This is a brilliant example of how good Alsace blends can be, even when modestly priced. Each of the three grapes has a turn to take centre stage, but it’s a cohesive performance rather than a clash of personalities. And the wine is more than the sum of its parts!
RS: 6.5 g/L
Stockists: not yet available in Ireland – but hopefully sometime soon!
*The fourth noble variety not included in this blend is, of course, Gewurztraminer.
Hunawihr is a village on the Alsace Wine Route, sandwiched in between the more celebrated Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, 15 km north of Colmar. With only 603 inhabitants it is no metropolis, but its Fortified Church has been photographed many times; it features prominently on the label of Alsace’s most famous wine, Trimbach’s Clos Sainte Hune.
Hunawihr is also a member of the “Association of Most Beautiful Villages in France” (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). It has a single Grand Cru vineyard within its limits: Rosacker.
Grand Cru Rosacker
Rosacker was one of the 24 lieux-dits elevated to Grand Cru status in 1983, and became a Grand Cru name in its own right in 2011. The origin of the name is thought to come from the wild roses which grew beside the vines; the earliest known mention of Rosacker is from 1483.
Travelling along the Alsace Wine Route, Rosacker is in between Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé to the north and Froehn to the south east. The vineyard faces east/south-east and runs from 260 to 330 metres above sea level. The gradient is quite moderate apart from the top section which is considerably steeper, though it has never required terracing. The total surface area planted to vines is 26.18 hectares.
As with much of Alsace, the geology is complex. The underlying bedrock is sedimentary limestone strata known as Muschelkalk and Lettenkhole. On top of this is an average of 1.5 metres of calci-magnesic marl and sandstone containing limestone and dolomite pebbles. This soil is heavy but retains small amounts of water all year round, so drought stress never becomes too severe.
Rosacker is tucked up quite close to the higher peaks of the Vosges mountains so is relatively cool; grapes therefore tend to ripen late here and retain high levels of acidity. The encepagement is currently 65% Riesling, 23% Gewurztraminer and 12% Pinot Gris; Rosacker is undoubtedly most suited to Riesling. Vendanges Tardives (“VT”, late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (“SGN”, botrytised wines) can be made in this Grand Cru but are rare as harvesting of grapes for dry wines is already quite late and ventilation by winds means that botrytis is rare.
Other producers who make Grand Cru Rosacker wines include Sipp Mack, Julien Schaal, Jean-Luc Mader, Jean Biecher, François Schwach, E. Traber, David Ermel & Fils, Eblin Fuchs, Mittnacht-Klack, Fernand Ziegler and Agape. Of course Close Sainte Hune is located within Rosacker but Trimbach prefer not to put the name of the Grand Cru on the label.
Cave Viticole de Hunawihr
That necessity is the mother of invention may be a cliché but is nonetheless often true. The wine trade in Alsace was in disarray after the Second World War, even more than other French regions as Alsace had been annexed by Germany and its output used to bolster that of German regions. Many Alsatian wine farmers banded together in their villages to form cooperatives, and thus the Cave Viticole de Hunawihr was founded in 1954.
As of 2010 the Cave had 130 members with a total of 200 hectares of vines, 160 within Hunawihr and 40 in neighbouring villages. Of the total, 12 hectares are dedicated to Crémant d’Alsace and 13 hectares are in Grand Cru sites: Rosacker (of course), Froehn, Sporen, Schoenenbourg and Osterberg. The Cave’s cellars hold 1.5 million bottles, just under an average year’s production of 1.6 million. Three quarters of sales are in France and a quarter abroad.
Wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland through Liberty Wines.
For me this wine is the main event, the best grape variety from their home Grand Cru vineyard. I’ve tried this wine several times over the years, but to be honest it didn’t shine compared to Sipp Mack’s 2011 Rosacker Riesling which I was very familiar with. However, it didn’t really get a fair hearing as Sipp Mack’s example had more years under its belt (and had therefore evolved more) and 2011 was a powerful vintage for Rosacker wines – an abv of 14.0% gives you an indication.
BUT, I recently tried the Cave’s 2019 Rosacker and, while it doesn’t have the advantage of development, it does have power, weighing in at 14.5%. Showing that character and style are vintage-dependent in Alsace, the 2017 had 12.5% and the 2018 14.0%.
The 2019 Rosacker Riesling pours a very pale lemon in the glass, almost watery clear. The nose is very muted at this stage – you have to go find the aromas rather than sitting back and letting them come to you (like a Marlborough Sauvignon, for example). The gentle citrus aromas are very fine, however. The palate is dry yet not austere; there is a bright streak of lime and grapefruit over a chalky minerality (there is no known mechanism for minerals in the soils below vines to be transferred to the grapes, yet here we are…). The alcohol isn’t noticeable per se, it just adds to the sense of tightly coiled power and a finish that seems to last for days.
This wine obviously has significant scope for development over the next five to ten years at least, but it is very nice to drink now, and very reasonably priced for such an accomplished wine. Whether you can buy some and put it away without giving into early temptation is the real test!
RS: 2.4 g/L
RRP: €27.95 – €29.95
Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines
Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Barnhill Stores; Clontarf Wines; Ely Wine Store; Matson’s Wine Stores – Bandon, Youghal and Grange; Red Nose Wine; Wineonline.ie
Irish supermarket chain SuperValu are currently holding their French Wine Sale and, as in previous years, there’s an Alsace wine included in the “Guest Wines” which are only stocked for the sale and not at other times. The event gives wine drinkers a chance to try wines that they might not normally get a chance to taste, and it’s always good to see Alsace wines being distributed more widely.
The Lorentz family can trace its roots back to Ribeauvillé in the second half of the 1600s, already involved in the wine trade as barrel makers and wine merchants. It was Jean-Georges Lorentz who made the move four kilometres north-east to Bergheim. He was both a winegrower and blacksmith – it was much more common for people to have more than one trade or profession back then. Maison Lorentz was founded by his descendants in 1836, though it did not come to bear the name of Gustave until he took over towards the end of the 19th century.
After the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine at the end of the Franco-Prussian war the grapes grown in Alsace were mainly blended into German wines. This was followed by the catastrophe of Phylloxera which devastated Alsatian vineyards from 1905. The family’s fortunes were revived by Charles Lorentz Senior and his son Charles Junior.
Senior put a huge emphasis on quality, including grapes bought in from contract growers, and expanded the family’s holdings on the renowned Altenberg de Bergheim (1) vineyard. Junior took over at the end of World War 2 and expanded production while modernising all the facilities in the winery. Charles Junior was instrumental in the inclusion of Altenberg de Bergheim and Kanzlerberg in the second wave of Alsace Grand Cru vineyards classified in 1983.
Since 1995 Maison Gustave Lorentz has been run by George Lorentz, the seventh generation. He has continued the Maison’s modernisation and expanded purchases from local contract growers to 120 hectares worth. Owned vineyards now total 33 hectares of vines, of which 12.8 hectares are Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim and 1.75 hectares Grand Cru Kanzlerberg. George has emphasised the focus on export markets (to over 60 countries including Myanmar) and converted the family’s own vineyards to organic, certified from 2012.
The Gustave Lorentz Portfolio
As with many Alsace producers there are a substantial number of ranges within the Gustave Lorentz portfolio, covering different types of wine, different quality levels and different terroirs. Here is my attempt to summarise them:
Dry, still wines
Grands Crus: Riesling Kanzleberg, Pinot Gris Kanzleberg, Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim, Pinot Gris Altenberg de Bergheim, Gewurztraminer Altenberg de Bergheim
And so we come to the wine in question, the Pinot Blanc Réserve. As in previous vintages this wine is actually predominantly Auxerrois Blanc, a longstanding variety which was thought to be a different clone of or even the same as Pinot Blanc. Due to this historical link, wines made from Auxerrois can be labelled as Pinot Blanc. For more information see my article on Alsace Blends.
85% Auxerrois gives this wine a rounder profile than a predominantly true Pinot Blanc wine. The nose has aromas of pip (pear) and stone (peach) fruit with just a hint of lemon. The palate is juicy and full – almost voluptuous – yet clean and refreshing. The texture with acidity make this a remarkably food-friendly wine, from aperitifs and nibbles to seafood, poultry and salads. At €18.99 it is a good value wine but at €12 it’s an absolute steal.
RRP: €18.99 (3) down to €12.00 from Thurs 2nd Sept to Wed 22nd Sept 2021
(1) The full name of the Grand Cru is Altenberg de Bergheim to distinguish it from the other Altenberg Grand Cru, Altenberg de Bergbieten. The later is around 50km due north of Bergheim, just to the west of Strasbourg.
(2) For some reason the Pinot Blanc Réserve is missing from the Gustave Lorentz website
(3) The Riesling Réserve and Gewurztrainer Réserve retail for over €20 in Irish independent wine shops so €18.99 appears to be a very reasonable “normal” price.