As I type this, there is nothing French on the front page, even if you scroll all the way to the bottom, though I’m sure no one has done that ever. There is another French wine in the queue, but it’s going to be something of a bear to put together, so instead I’m going with the more straightforward option, a wine I recently had by the glass, the Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling Les Fossiles 2010.
Or so I thought. As is common in many wine growing areas, the family name is not such a good unique identifier. I started out my research looking at Domain Mittnacht-Klack, which may or may not be from the same family tree, but which is certainly not the same producer.
Instead, Mittnacht Frères was formed in 1963 when two brothers, André and Louis Mittnacht combined their vineyards. The production is now run by two cousins, Christophe and Marc Mittnacht. If only the vignerons of Burgundy had been able to do the same under the rule of Napoleon we wouldn’t have to remember two dozen different producers for each little clos within the Nuits-Saint-Georges. Their vineyards are biodynamic, which seems to be a recurring bugbear in this blog. They don’t appear to have a website, so apologies as to the paucity of details – the back label on their bottle lists an email address instead.
One of the great things about the Where I’m Drinking page is that I can just zoom into a region and look for the pins indicating producers I’ve featured. I had a look at Alsace and was somewhat surprised that I’ve only written a proper post about a single producer, The Furst Pinot Blanc. I think I was somewhat traumatized by our tasting practices when our tutor poured us an off-dry Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Blanc, which seemed to come from another world and completely put me off Alsace. I think I guessed Vinho Verde based on the light, sweet taste and bubbles in my glass, but they were due to age, not fermentation.
The basics are that it’s a cool region in the east of France near the border with Germany. In fact, the area has swapped between German and French governance, and culturally it’s somewhere in the middle. You’ll often find people there with Germanic surnames but French sounding given names. The area is defined by the slopes of the Vosges mountain range to the west and the Rhine river to the east. There are vineyards running up the slopes and along the flats. While the climate is cool continental, the weather arrives from the west, and the mountains provide a rain shadow, making winters more mild than they would be otherwise. The slopes, as well as those of the foothills, allow vineyards to be planted in a way that maximizes sunlight for ripening. Geologically, the area is part of the Rhine Graben, of the Rhine River Valley, which is essentially a rift in the crust where what became the Vosges moved away from what is now the Black Forest to the east. As a result, the geology of the area is highly varied, with everything from granite, quartz, and sandstone on the upper slopes to clay and calcareous marl on the lower slopes and whatever has washed down on the plains. There’s also volcanic influences dating back 15 million years. Really it’s better to talk about the geology specific to a vineyard or at least a village, but unfortunately I don’t have that information with respect to this wine.
With regard to wine and winemaking, the region is well known for a number of reasons. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Auxerrois Blanc top the league charts in overall plantings, with Pinot Noir being the fifth overall and the most widely planted red grape, but none are more than 25% of the total. Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc round out the top seven, after which the percentages drop off significantly. Most wine is made as varietal, and unusually for France, grape varieties are usually indicated on the front label. Bottles are required to be the tall, shoulderless bottles most commonly associated with Riesling. The region is covered by an AC for still wine, and there is an Alsace Grand Cru AC though as with all such ratings with any fluidity, it is highly controversial, and in Alsace it is not does not seem to be regarded with the level of respect given to the rankings within the Left Bank or Burgundy. There is no vin de pays for Alsace, so non AC wines are vin de table. Most wines are dry, though some retain sweetness stylistically, there are late harvest and botritized wines as well, and even ice wine. In addition, Cremant d’Alsace is also produced, for which Chardonnay may be used, though it is not permitted in still AC wines.
I’ve written a bit about Riesling when I covered the Pikes Clare Valley Riesling in February, and the only thing I’d like to add is that Alsatian Rieslings are meant to have higher alcohol and than their German counterparts, and more body than Australian versions. With that, it’s time to look at this Riesling in particular.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, pale lemon colour with green highlights. On the nose, it’s clean, developing, with medium intensity. There are notes of pear, lime, and a little custard. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity and notes of lime, almost salty, intense citrus but not an especially specific fruit, maybe grapefruit, with a custard finish and a medium plus length.
This is a good quality wine – neither wanting nor particularly special. It has good fruit and more body than many Rieslings, but doesn’t lack acidity or intensity. And as it is one I had by the glass, not an expensive wine, and certainly delivers typicity both as Alsatian and as a Riesling.