Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010

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Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2010

Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010

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.

Domaine Mittnacht Frères Riesling Les Fossiles 2010

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Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling Les Fossiles 2010

Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling Les Fossiles 2010

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.

 

The Furst Pinot Blanc Alsace 2010

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The Furst Pinot Blanc Alsace 2010

The Furst Pinot Blanc Alsace 2010

On Monday during our tasting with our local MW, he threw us a curve ball with a slightly sweet Pinot Blanc from Alsace.  Fair enough, as it’s a “Light Wine of the World” (which is the official title of this section, Unit 3 of the WSET Diploma) but it was one of those wines about which you’re much more likely to read than to ever encounter in a tasting.  Pinot Blanc itself is well known enough as a grape, but neither as popular as it’s siblings, Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris/Grigio, nor as commonly found as a varietal wine.  It’s also not very widely planted outside of France.

Likewise, Alsace is a fine region, well regarded throughout the world for a certainly style of wine made from a handful of classic grape, and likewise a distinctively elegant bottle style which is used around the world for Riesling.  Even in Alsace though, Pinot Blanc is not generally considered “noble” and is permitted in only a few of the Vendage Tardive, Sélection de Grains Nobles, and Grand Crus.

So essentially, for the purposes of study, I am fully prepare to consider a Pinot Blanc from Alsace (or anywhere really) as a curiosity that is not worthy of further study because there are so many other things I really need to commit to memory prior to the exam.

Then today at lunch, on the wine list was a Pinot Blanc from Alsace by the glass.  Great.  Of course I had to have a glass, and here is my write up.

The wine is “The Furst…” Pinot Blanc from Alsace, 2010.  Unfortunately, I can’t link to a producer because they don’t seem to be online anywhere.  Secondary sources suggest the wine is from the AOC Alsace Kayersberg, and the name is a shortening of Furstenum, which is in the general vicinity of Kientzheim/Sigolsheim in the Haut-Rhin.  (I’m not sure any of that helps.)

So, about the wine.  It is without faults, though without distinction.  Part of it is my fault, in that this is not a variety with which I have great familiarity, and therefore I’m not able to judge typicity.

Typicity is my new favourite word, and it means essentially that something is a good example of whatever it is supposed to be, and in the land of the WSET Diploma Exam, that is a good thing.  As a winemaker, you may or may not strive for it.  It may be your decision to strike out in your own direction and in doing so strive for something unique.  As a student though, I appreciate typicity because it gives me a fighting chances of being able to figure out what something is when served blind.

So I can’t really say if this tasted how an Alsatian Pinot Blanc is supposed to taste, but here’s now it did taste – crisp, citrusy (in particular of pink grapefruit), with lots of mediums across the board.  Not overly complex or intense, but well made.

 

Appearance

Clear and bright, pale lemon colour and slow thick legs.

Nose

Clean and youthful, with medium intensity of lemon, grapefruit, and white flower.  I think I should have been able to pick up pear and stone fruit, but I didn’t.

Palate

Dry, with medium acidity, no tannins, medium-minus alcohol, medium-minus body, medium-plus flavour intensity of lemon, grapefruit, sour candy and some grapey/Muscat notes.  It had medium length with a slightly sour finish.

Conclusion

This is a good quality wine, and while the flavour is a bit stronger and out of balance with the body and the alcohol level, the intensity on the palate (if not the nose) was pleasant.  The flavours were relatively one dimensional, and the length was average, but it was without faults and very easy drinking.  While the wine was youthful, it is not made in a style to age, so I would drink this wine within the year.