After the Rhône, Bordeaux, Languedoc Roussillon, and Burgundy, I’m wrapping up this week of French wines with Alsace. While it is a classic wine region of France, I must admit it’s not one that normally does much for me. The varieties for which it is best known, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, are easily found elsewhere in both the Old and New World, and the lesser varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and Sylvaner are often impossible to source in Australia. However, I couldn’t pass up today’s wine, the Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010.
Pinot d’Alsace is not a new variety, but rather a blend of the various Pinots found in Alsace. I guessed Blanc, Gris and Noir, which earns only partial credit. This wine apparently also has components of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Auxerrois, which is more widely known as just Auxerrois outside of Alsace. In terms of covering all the bases, this wine does well, missing out only on Pinot Teinturier and Pinot Noir Précoce. While none of the grapes are new to this blog, it’s certainly the first time Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois have turned up in a blend and since I have the new Wine Grapes book, I can tell you a bit about how it says they are related to one another.
While people generally talk about different varieties within the Pinot family of grapes, recent DNA profiling has shown that they are in fact all mutations of the same variety. When a variety emerges, it is typically through pollination of a flower from one variety with the pollen of another variety, resulting in a grape with seeds. If one of the seeds then grows into a vine it will be a new variety, distinct from either of the parents.
However, vines are traditionally cultivated through clippings, whereby a small piece of a vine is cut off, planted and grown into another vine. That it how you can have a vineyard of thousands of essentially the same Chardonnay vine. However, changes do happen to vines through random mutations. While they are small, for instance colour, over generations of successive clippings and cultivations, you may end up with vines which have distinct properties but which in terms of DNA are virtually identical except for the accumulation of mutations.
That is exactly what you have in the case of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Pinot Teinturier and Pinot Noir Précoce. They can be identified in the vineyard or in the bottle as different, but at a DNA level they differ only very slightly. What about Pinot Auxerrois? Despite the local Alsatian name, it’s not actually a Pinot. Instead it is the offspring of a Pinot and Gouais Blanc, much like Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Melon de Bourgogne, Romorantin and 16 others (at least).
This is the third wine of Alsace to grace these pages, and some information about the region generally can be found along with my notes on the Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling I had back in May.
As to the producer, the Deiss family has winemaking roots in Bergheim, Alsace going back to 1744. The label takes its name from Marcel Deiss, who following 18 years as a professional soldier, returned to his family’s homeland after World War II. With his son André, they built the family holdings into a company which is now run by the grandson of Marcel, Jean-Michel Deiss. Wines are organized into three lines, with varietal entry level wines and wines made of late picked grapes being their Vins de Fruits and Vins de Temps respectively. However, the domaine is best known for its Vins de Terroirs, a range of largely single vineyard wines.
Many people in the wine trade like the expression “wine is made in the vineyard” and while my experiences in both vineyard and winery do not support such an aphorism, the wines of Domaine Marcel Deiss do go a step further than most. Typically blended wines are the result of separate cultivation and vinification, with Port and some Syrah / Viognier blends being notable exceptions. The best wines of Marcel Deiss are field blends, meaning vineyards are planted with a number of varieties, which are picked and vinified together. While many of the varieties in their blends would ripen at different times under other circumstances, Diess believes his ripen together in the vineyard due to a combination of dense planting and deep root systems that make them less influenced by climate and vintage.
This is fairly atypical. Alsatian wines are frequently varietal, and unlike most of the rest of France, they traditionally feature the grape variety on the front label. In that context, Jean-Michel Diess had campaign to have the rules of the appellation changed such that he would be able to bottle his Grand Cru designated vineyards as field blends with just the vineyard and appellation on the label. His vines have been grown organically for 35 years and have been biodynamic since 1997. Winemaking is with minimal intervention, slow pressing (18-24 hours for a run), natural yeasts and fermentations that can take months, with lots of time on lees and only a very small amount of SO2 at the end. Wines are filtered, but at very low pressure taking many times longer than conventional filtration.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour that has a hint of orange and slow thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of stone fruit, pear, minerality, and a hint of vanilla. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity, and a medium length. There are notes of slightly candied pear, a hint of saltiness, sandalwood, some apple – red and green, and a little lime on the finish.
This is a good wine, but a bit weird. It doesn’t lack for complexity of flavour, and they are certainly distinct but not especially in tune with one another. I’m not sure if the grapes fit as well together in the glass as they do in the vineyard. Also the alcohol feels a bit strong, though not completely out of balance. Certainly worth a try in terms of a somewhat unique offering.