Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

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Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby AlexR » Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:13 am

I went to a tasting of Alsace Riesling yesterday (blind, 8 of us around a table). These are the wines we tried:

2008 Weinbach Schlossberg
2008 Louis SIpp Osterberg
2008 Humbrecht Sterrenberg de Bergheim
2005 Blanck Fustentum
2007 Josmeyer Les Pierrets
2007 Louis Sipp Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé
2008 Humbrecht Turkheim
2007 Becker Schoenenbourg
2008 Josmeyer Kottabé
2008 Schlumberger Les Princes Abbé
1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim

Opinions varied widely on the wines, and many of us had a problem with what we deemed excess acidity. However one or two experienced tasters said that, no, this acidity came with the territory, ensured proper ageing, and that the best wines would blossom into something wonderful over time (“give ‘em 10-15 years,” I was told).

Why was I so sceptical? Why did I feel that this searing acidity and, in some instances, bitterness was indicative of an imbalance that will never go away?

My a priori opinion of these wines was great. Many wine enthusiasts put the finest Alsace Rieslings up there with the best of Burgundy, for instance. But, truth to tell, I came away from the tasting nonplussed.

The highest group score, with an average of just 15.6/20, went to the 2005 Blanck Fustentum. Could the vintage factor explain this?
My own favorites were a tie between this and the 2008 Louis Sipp Osterberg.

I scored two wines (2008 Schlumberger Les Princes Abbé and 1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim) under 10 out of 20, whereas our host was on the other end of the scale for these…
As always with Alsace, you never know if the wine is going to be completely dry or not. Riesling is meant to be steely and bone dry, I know, but a couple of the wines were noticeably sweet (2007 Louis Sipp Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé and especially the 2008 Josmeyer Kottabé).

Then there was the old wine, the 1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim… I thought it was the 2nd best of the tasting, but it was shot down in flames by half the table because of its oxidative character. I think the explanation lies in the different approach to such flavors by French and English-speaking tasters, a split most obvious in Champagne.

Anyway, this tasting sparks my curiosity and makes me want to give the wines another chance at a second tasting and to investigate older Alsace Riesling.

Best regards,
Alex R.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Bill Hooper » Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:36 am

AlexR wrote:I scored two wines (2008 Schlumberger Les Princes Abbé and 1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim) under 10 out of 20, whereas our host was on the other end of the scale for these…
Then there was the old wine, the 1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim… I thought it was the 2nd best of the tasting


I was confused by these seemingly contradictory statements.

To your question: What sorts of wines do you normally drink? (Besides Bordeaux). Perhaps you have become acclimated to wines with softer acidity? Do you ever get around to drinking German Riesling? If so, how did you find the acidity?

Cheers,
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Tim York » Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:45 am

Alex, 6 out of 11 of those wines come from 2008, which tends to be a high acidity vintage for NW European whites. I like that and seek them out. You don't say whether any food was served but I imagine not. Appropriate food would better offset the acidity right now and I guess that those who said that they ideally need more age are right. Give them 10+ years and they would be more widely loved even without food.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby AlexR » Sun Oct 28, 2012 11:03 am

Bill,

You are dead right. Yes, I made a mistake, the 2nd wine under 10/20 was the 97 Becker Schonenberg and not the Deiss.

You also asked, “Do you ever get around to drinking German Riesling? If so, how did you find the acidity?”
Well, German wines are impossible to find here. My acquaintance with them is spotty at best.
However, I love wines like Chablis, Muscadet… and Champagne which all have pretty high acid.
You may very well be right here though: it’s all a question of what you’re used to.
Among French wines, I only know Gros Plant du Pays Nantais that can compare to what I tasted yesterday.

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RightOn...

Postby TomHill » Sun Oct 28, 2012 7:32 pm

Alex Rychlewski wrote:I went to a tasting of Alsace Riesling yesterday (blind, 8 of us around a table). These are the wines we tried:........
Opinions varied widely on the wines, and many of us had a problem with what we deemed excess acidity. However one or two experienced tasters said that, no, this acidity came with the territory, ensured proper ageing, and that the best wines would blossom into something wonderful over time (“give ‘em 10-15 years,” I was told).
Why was I so skeptical? Why did I feel that this searing acidity and, in some instances, bitterness was indicative of an imbalance that will never go away?
Then there was the old wine, the 1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim… I thought it was the 2nd best of the tasting, but it was shot down in flames by half the table because of its oxidative character. I think the explanation lies in the different approach to such flavors by French and English-speaking tasters, a split most obvious in Champagne.
Anyway, this tasting sparks my curiosity and makes me want to give the wines another chance at a second tasting and to investigate older Alsace Riesling.
Best regards,
Alex R.


Alex,
The grey-beards there at your tasting were right on.
I started tasting Alsatian Rieslings (& GWT & PG) back in the early '70's. My rule of thumb was when I tasted just released Alsatian Rieslings, the more unpleasant it was on the palate,
the more searing & schreechy the acidity, the more potential it had to become a great AlsatianRiesling w/ age. That principal held me in good stead all thru the '70's and into the early '80's.
Thru the '80's, I drank some incredible Rieslings (A.Willm, Dopff Au Moulin, BottFreres were some) that turned into amazing old Rieslings, w/ the petrol character I like so
much in old Riesling. These were what old-timey AlsatianRieslings could do. Best of all...they were cheap.
Alas, along in the '80's, came the Zind-Humbrecht paradigm. Rieslings made w/ much more fruit intensity, much lower acids, higher alcohols....wines that were much more
approachable in their youth. They were sold for big $$'s, got big scores out of Monktown. Other winemakers took note of that phenomenom, changed their winemaking style to emulate Z-H,
and most of those old-timey Alsatian Rieslings were history. It's such a sad story that it makes me cry. I almost never encounter a young AlsatianRiesling that hurts to drink anymore.
So those old-timers knew of what they spoke. Not sure about the '98 Deiss. Maybe it's an example of how the modern-style/Z-H Rieslings age. If it were originally an
old-timey Alsatian Riesling at release, it shoulda been singing.
This is a viewpoint I share w/ ThorIverson. Dang...I miss that guy. REally liked his posts.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby AlexR » Mon Oct 29, 2012 4:29 am

I had a heroic slanging match on this very forum with Thor a few years back.
He insisted that Alsace wines were dry, bone dry, and that if the ones I bought had residual sugar that's because they came from supermarket that only sell dross.

A recent article in the NY Times, however, cited just this very problem, with consumers never knowing if they're going to get a dry or semi-sweet wine when they buy an Alsace.
A real stumbling block.

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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 7:54 am

There was a time, not so long ago, when Alsatian Riesling was generally dry - even bone dry. Then, sometime in the 90s, a certain vigneron who shall remain nameless (OH) decided to bottle German Auslese in the Alsatian flute, was rewarded for it in certain circles (and not just by former Maryland lawyers), and things turned for the sweet. By 1998 or so the race for ripeness was on across the region. Go back to the late 80s/early 90s and the majority of the Rieslings are indeed dry.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Andrew Bair » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:35 pm

Hi Alex -

Thank you for the notes.

I am assuming that the 1998 Deiss Altenberg de Bergheim was indeed Riesling? After reading you post, I did some research, and it seems that Jean-Michael Deiss made both a "varietal" Riesling and a field blend from that site in 1998. Although I've not had the 1998 field blend, I have greatly enjoyed it in a couple of subsequent vintages - the 1999, in particular, was outstanding in 2009. Afraid that I'm probably too late on the scene to have ever been able to try one of Deiss' Grand Cru single varietal wines.

On another note - and I'm saying this as someone who buys more Austrian Rieslings, not to mention far more German Riesling, than Alsatian Riesling - my experience tells me that many top young Alsatian Rieslings are less exciting at a young age than their German and Austrian counterparts, fruity or bone dry.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Fredrik L » Wed Oct 31, 2012 9:54 am

To answer your question straight: because the wines were not that good. I own lots of Alsatian Rieslings but I would not contemplate buying any of the ones you mention for various reasons. First of all 2008 was a problematic year marred by excessive acidity that only the most conscientious growers were able to handle, second many of the producers on your list simply are not that good, e g Sipp and Becker,(a shame because Osterberg is great for Riesling), and when there is a decent one, Blanck, you have a variety from a vineyard where it does not do that well, Furstentum. Josmeyer can produce decent ones but they are few and far between, the Kottabe must be avoided at all costs, it´s crap. Weinbach´s standard Schlossberg often shows why the vineyard is far too big, if you have to buy Weinbach Rieslings and cannot find older (pre 2005) ones, better add a few Euros and get the more expensive ones.

Give these ten or fifteen years more? They will be dead and buried by then, (not over the top, dead!), they do not have anything to live on except acidity.

Remember: really good dry Alsatian Rieslings come from one source and one source only: Trimbach. Give me a standard CFE from a decent year, say 2001, and no other producer produces anything that can hold a candle to it.

Just my two cents.

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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby AlexR » Wed Oct 31, 2012 10:11 am

Fredrik,

Your post will surely elicit a few reactions!

That doesn't mean that I necessarily disagree with you by any means.

I am used to tasting great red Bordeaux in its infancy, from barrel. The lesson you learn is this: a wine out of balance young will always be out of balance.
Who here has not been "had" by believing - or being made to believe - that a serious lack of harmony would disappear with age?

Therefore, despite my limited knowledge of Alsace compared to some posters, I will trust my intuition: if that acidity bothers me now, I will go on the assumption that it will not become magically intergrated in years hence.

Best regards,
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Oct 31, 2012 10:19 am

Well I have a somewhat better opinion of the Weinbach Schlossberg that Fredrik, but can't disgaree too much that you did not sample the best range of wines.

As for acidity - some love it, some don't. My balance will never be the same as your balance.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Salil » Wed Oct 31, 2012 11:11 am

As Fredrik says, not the greatest range of wines. There just aren't a lot of really top quality growers available from Alsace these days - Trimbach's about as consistent as it gets, but the pricing on CSH has gotten absurd. ZH is too hit or miss, and I find Weinbach's wines often good, rarely great, and always overpriced for quality.

If the pricing was more competitive in the region, perhaps I'd consider buying more. But when there are so many seriously outstanding alternatives from Germany and Austria in the same dry style at far better prices, I don't see any reason to have anything other than a few bottles of CFE in the cellar.

And even then, I'm becoming increasingly unconvinced that I should spend on CFE (unless I find closeout deals) given the quality of wines like Leitz's old vine dry Rieslings or Alzinger's Smaragds that are either in the same price range or just slightly more expensive, and for my money are some of the finest dry Rieslings out there these days that I can actually enjoy young as well as with age.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby John S » Thu Nov 01, 2012 2:19 am

I agree with the points Salil made. I have to admit I haven't been buying many Alsace wines (rieslings and others), but that's mainly because the selection here in BC has gone downhill in the last few years. Maybe that reflects a wider malaise with the region, at least in this neck of the woods? The unknown dryness/sweetness levels probably doesn't help either...
"Tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes, provoked by the disgust and visceral intolerance ... of the taste of others". Pierre Bourdieu (1984, p. 56)
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Tim York » Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:18 am

Seen from Belgium, the tone in this thread about Alsatian Riesling seems to have become too negative. There appears to be an availability problem in the USA but that doesn't apply to Fredrik.

First, let me say that I agree with two points -

- the lack of dryness/sweetness information from most producers is a real problem, about which I rant frequently :evil:, and may partly account for disaffection of US consumers.
- the prices of wines from top names like Z-H, Weinbach, Trimbach CSH & CFE and Deiss are excessive but one can hardly hold up top Austrians like Nigl and F.X. Pichler or top German VDP GGs as examples of superior QPR, at least here.

However, at tastings I do come across some very good dry(ish) Rieslings and other Alsatian grape varieties from producers like Meyer-Fonné, Paul Ginglinger, Dirler-Cadé, Kientzler with GCs priced in the €15-20 range and from René Muré at just >€20. From reading mouth-watering TNs and blogs I am also keen to try others like Boxler, Mann, Ostertag and Loew.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby David M. Bueker » Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:22 am

Tim - the vast majority of the producers you mention are virtually unavailable in the USA. Mann is seen, but the wines are generally very sweet (even the Rieslings since about 2004). Boxler is great, but has a terrible distribution arrangement that makes it very hard to get the wines. The rest...rarely seen.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Lars Carlberg » Fri Nov 02, 2012 3:19 pm

AlexR wrote:I had a heroic slanging match on this very forum with Thor a few years back.
He insisted that Alsace wines were dry, bone dry, and that if the ones I bought had residual sugar that's because they came from supermarket that only sell dross.

A recent article in the NY Times, however, cited just this very problem, with consumers never knowing if they're going to get a dry or semi-sweet wine when they buy an Alsace.
A real stumbling block.

Alex R.


Alex R.: You're probably referring to this well-written article about dry Rieslings from Alsace by Eric Asimov in The New York Times.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Lars Carlberg » Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:57 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Tim - the vast majority of the producers you mention are virtually unavailable in the USA. Mann is seen, but the wines are generally very sweet (even the Rieslings since about 2004). Boxler is great, but has a terrible distribution arrangement that makes it very hard to get the wines. The rest...rarely seen.


Although availability is an issue in the States, most of the producers that Tim lists have a US importer. Kermit Lynch has Meyer-Fonné and Ostertag, as well as Kuentz-Bas. He once imported Zind-Humbrecht. (Back then, one of his only non-exclusive selections along with Jean-Louis Chave.) Robert Chadderdon imports Albert Boxler. T. Edward has Dirler-Cadé and newly picked up Pierre Frick, formerly a direct import of Chambers Street Wines. Robert Kacher has René Muré. Moreover, Winebow carries Bott-Geyl (in the past with Eric Solomon), and Louis/Dressner imports Laurent Barth.
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Re: Riesling d'Alsace: why didn't we like them more?

Postby Lars Carlberg » Sun Nov 04, 2012 10:06 am

David M. Bueker wrote:There was a time, not so long ago, when Alsatian Riesling was generally dry - even bone dry. Then, sometime in the 90s, a certain vigneron who shall remain nameless (OH) decided to bottle German Auslese in the Alsatian flute, was rewarded for it in certain circles (and not just by former Maryland lawyers), and things turned for the sweet. By 1998 or so the race for ripeness was on across the region. Go back to the late 80s/early 90s and the majority of the Rieslings are indeed dry.


David M.: A few years ago, Dan Melia and I visited a good friend who was doing an apprenticeship at Zind-Humbrecht. It was a great opportunity to taste with Olivier Humbrecht for several hours in his cellar. He talked about his vineyards and winemaking. Olivier, who has a German cellar master, doesn't seek a sweet style of German Riesling à la Joh. Jos. Prüm. On the contrary, he prefers minimal intervention, which often results in off-dry wines. In the past, Marc Kreydenweiss also had some opulent wines that were not dry. Of course, I'm ignoring the VT and SGN categories.

Since the late nineties, climate change has increased ripeness levels. Along with lower yields from better vineyard management and less intervention in the cellar, many wines ended up medium-sweet. As Eric Asimov writes in his article, Olivier is seeking to get ripeness earlier. It's an issue in many regions, including the Mosel. By the way, I was most impressed with the dry, lean 2007 Clos Windsbuhl Riesling.

We also talked with Marcel Deiss, tasted at Kientzler, and drove by Weinbach. In 2007, Mark Williamson of Willi's Wine Bar opened for a Mosel Wine Merchant dinner celebration a magnum of 2004 Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling. It was a great wine.

Alsace is idyllic and reminds me of the Mittelhaardt. In fact, the Vosges and Haardt mountains are the same range with the vineyards sloping down from the east-facing foothills.
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