Wine reviews

Wine Review: Gustave Lorentz Alsace Grand Cru Riesling

Before we get to the wine itself, with probably the longest name I’ve ever included (see below), let us first have a quick glance at the Alsace Grand Cru vineyard it comes from – Altenberg de Bergheim – and its producer – Gustave Lorentz.

Altenberg de Bergheim

Somewhat confusingly, three of Alsace’s fifty one Grands Crus are named “Altenberg”, but it makes more sense when you realise that the name means “Old Mountain”, and so could easily be applied to several places in Alsace. Confusion is reduced by adding the name of the commune in which the vineyard is located, hence Altenberg de Bergbieten, de Bergheim, and de Wolxheim. The first and last of these are villages in the north of Alsace, 30 to 40 km due west of Strasbourg. Bergheim is in the heart of the Alsace vignoble, just north of Ribeauvillé, and its Altenberg has been renowned for its wines since the 12th century.

This Grand Cru totals 35.06 hectares and lies between 220 and 320 metres above sea level. The soil is a rocky, fossil-laden mix of marl and limestone from the middle and lower Jurassic period. The aspect is due south, with a small stream at the bottom of the slope which slightly tempers the microclimate. All this adds up to wines which are very concentrated and mineral, often a little closed in their youth, but which reward cellaring for five years up to several decades. Riesling and Gewurztraminer are the stars here.

Gustave Lorentz

The Lorentz family count three dates as important milestones for their winery: 1650, when the first ancestor moved to Alsace, 1748 when the family moved to Bergeim, and 1836 when they began producing their own wine.

Their Réserve range is popular in Ireland and widely available. I’ve enjoyed several vintages of their Réserve Riesling and Réserve Pinot Blanc, plus their L’Ami des Crustacés blend is well worth a try. Their full range is summarised in the appendix to my review of their Pinot Blanc mentioned above, but the jewel in the Lorentz crown is undoubtedly their holdings in Altenberg de Bergheim, planted to Riesling and Gewurz. In fact, with 12.77 hectares they account for just over a third of the whole Grand Cru.

Gustave Lorentz Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2017

Gustave Lorentz Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Riesling Vieilles Vignes 2

Not only is this a Grand Cru wine, but it also has the designation Vieilles Vignes, or “Old Vines”. All the vines whose grapes went into this wine were over 30 years old, with a few even approaching 50. This is said to give increased concentration of aromas and flavours, so let’s put this theory to the test.

In the glass it pours a vibrant, deep lemon which is already turning to a light gold. The nose shows minerals, lime and lemon, with just a hint of richer fruits. Scientists say that there is no known mechanism for minerals to actually be absorbed by vines, and make their way to the flavours of a grape, yet here we have stark evidence that minerality can even be prominent among a wine’s aromas.

This is a concentrated, dry, fresh wine. On the palate there’s lots of texture and an underlying richness, without any exhuberance. Whereas lighter Alsace Rieslings would be paired with shellfish, white fish and the like, this Alternberg has the power and concentration to cope with richer foods; Gustave Lorentz recommend matching it with all manner of foods, from goat’s cheese, to lobster, to fois gras or even plum tart – truly a versatile wine.

At five years old this 2017 has just entered its recommend drinking window, so now is the time to start supping, but I think this has decades left it in and hasn’t got close to its peak yet.

  • ABV: 13.9% (labelled at 13.5%)
  • RS: 4.45 g/L
  • RRP: €43 – €44
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Bradley’s Food Market, Cork; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; Morton’s of Galway; Carry Out, Killarney
Wine reviews

Wine Review: Cave de Hunawihr Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling




Village of Hunawihr, Alsace
Village of Hunawihr, Alsace [Credit: Osi (Wikipedia)]

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.

Wine Portfolio

Wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland through Liberty Wines.

  • Grands Crus: Riesling Rosacker, Riesling Schoenenbourg, Riesling Osterberg, Pinot Gris Frohn, Gewurztraminer Osterberg, Gewurztraminer Froeh, Gewurztraminer Altenberg 
  • Lieux-dits: Riesling Silberberg, Riesling Muehlforst, Pinot Gris Muehlfrost, Gewurtraminer Muehlforst, Gewurtraminer Burlenberg
  • Vieilles Vignes: Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc
  • Réserve: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc “Klevner”, Gewurtztraminer, Auxerrois
  • Other traditional wines: Edelzwicker, Hand-picked Muscat, Pinot Gris Rosé, Oaked Chasselas, Vegan Pinot Gris, Vegan Gewurztraminer
  • Vendanges Tardives: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat
  • Crémants d’Alsace: Calixte Brut, Calixte Rosé, Calixte Blanc de Noirs, Calixte Vintage, Calixte 5, Calixte 5 Rosé, Calixte Ice Blanc, Calixte Ice Rosé

Cave de Hunawihr Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2019

Cave de Hunawihr, Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker

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!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • 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;