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I recently had a conversation with a wine importer on the subject of Alsatian wines. “Alsace is a difficult thing,” he said. “For decades it’s been dominated by a few big names, and it’s been hard for people to break out of that.” With great respect and admiration for the wines of Zind-Humbrecht, Trimbach, and Boxler, to name a few, Alsace has a lot more to offer! Here is a region with a long history of organic and biodynamic farming, producing wines of great depth and mineral complexity, and home to an increasing number of winemakers who are crafting wines with low or no added sulfur. We have a thriving selection here at Chambers Street, highlighting just a fraction of the exciting wines that are coming out of Alsace. Today we'll focus on a few of our favorite estates, along with a couple of special bottles from one of the "big names," Domaine Albert Boxler, but stay tuned for more arrivals to our Alsace section throughout the year!
Never have I met a more humble and gentle winemaker than Laurent Barth. He's thoughtful and soft spoken when discussing his different cuvees, and though he is obviously very proud of his work, he typically lets the wines do the talking. Laurent spent many years learning winemaking far from his roots in Alsace, and returned home to take over his family's estate in the late 90's. At the time, Laurent's father was selling grapes to the local co-op, but Laurent had other plans. He fulfilled the final contract with the co-op and then transitioned the vineyards to organic viticulture, and started incorporating biodynamic treatments in the vineyard. Laurent uses organic compost to enrich the soil, applies only plant-based solutions in the vineyard, along with small amounts of copper when necessary (to prevent mildew), and sulfur use is very limited in his winemaking. He began estate bottling wines in 2004, and now, more than a decade later, the Barth vineyards are vibrant, healthy, and teeming with life, and the wines are balanced, mineral, and absolutely delicious!
Vignoble des Deux Lunes
I first met sisters Amelie and Cecile Beucher at a wine fair in France, and was immediately impressed with the precision of their wines. Each varietal wine they poured was a perfect example of the type, and there was a backbone of minerality and clean acidity across the board. The family has been involved in winemaking in Alsace for seven generations, and have been organic since 1997, converting to biodynamics in 2003 (certified in 2007). The father was diagnosed with a type of Parkinsons disease in the 90's, linked to the chemicals he was spraying in the vineyards (sadly this is a story that I have heard on many occasions, while speaking to winemakers in France), so they went "homeo," getting rid of all chemicals in the vineyard. Sulfur use is low and there are no additives in the cellar. Previously unavailable in the USA, the 2 Lunes wines were recently picked up and are a welcome addition to our Alsace section!
The Dirler family is another with a long history in the region. Spanning over five generations, the family vines are situated in the town of Bergholtz, including some prime Grand Cru sites. Organic and biodynamic farming has been the focus since the late 90's, and vinification is without intervention save the use of small amounts of sulfur at bottling. All grapes are hand-harvested and fermentation is with indigenous yeast. Most of the wines are kept in large barrels or stainless steel, and are aged on the lees for up to a year. In addition to their beautiful still wines, the estate is also historic for pioneering the development of Alsatian sparkling wines, and was very active in the 19th century with production of their 'Vin Mousseux" (pictured at the top of this email). Having tasted the Dirler-Cadé wines over several years now, there's consistent mineral complexity and balance between perfectly ripe fruit and great acidity that simultaneosly lend the wines density and freshness.
Laurent Barth makes beautifully balanced Alsatian wines from his tiny organic estate in Bennwhir, near Colmar. The 2014 Pinot d'Alsace (Pinot Auxerrois with a bit of Pinot Noir) is a lovely aperitif and a perfect wine for many fish and chicken dishes. Showing pretty aromas of pear, apple and lime-flower with citrus, pear, almond and herbal flavors on the palate - really pretty, round and balanced - this is a great value and a good introduction to the beautiful wines of Laurent Barth.
This may be our favorite vintage yet of the Racines Metisses from Barth! The nose jumps out with herbs and white flowers, suggesting Muscat and Gewürztraminer (it's primarily Pinot Auxerrois, with Muscat, Riesling, small amounts of Pinot Gris and a tiny fraction of Gewürztraminer). It's crunchy and crisp, and a bit fleshy too. There's a sense that Barth has attained a level of mastery with his blends, as all of the elements are in balance here. Truly a lovely little snapshot of Alsace. Eben Lillie
What's an Alsace section without a Gewurztraminer! This one has the perfect level of sweetness. It's not cloying or sticky, but is instead balanced and fresh, with white flowers and other classic Gewurz aromatics, a rich and textured palate, and great underlying acidity which lends well to the dreamy and majestic finish. Laurent is very careful about sulfur use, with minimal amounts added, so this may not be a wine to age (due to the residual sugar), but why wait? Drink on it's own or with any of your favorite spicy dishes. Eben Lillie
From vines ranging 40-60 years in age, this is a fascinating Riesling from Laurent Barth that has great intensity on the palate, subtle fruit, remarkable density and a very long mineral finish. 2014 is considered by Alsace growers to be an exceptional Riesling vintage, and this old vines bottling certainly shows potential for aging, though it is in such a great place currently that it might be hard to hold onto! Bravo to Laurent Barth for bottling memorable Alsace Rieslings year after year!
A wine with a nice arc, the 2 Lunes Pinot Blanc is at first crispy and fresh with crunchy acidity, and then evolves, becoming softer and rounder with time, opening up to reveal lovely floral aromatics and stone fruit. The 2 Lunes wines utilize a sweetness scale, from 0 - 5, which is indicated on each of their cuvees. This one gets a 1/5 on the sweetness scale, but whatever residual sugar exists is balanced by the minerals and acid, leaving a simple impression of ripe orchard fruit. Very enjoyable on its own, this Pinot Blanc will pair perfectly with anything from salads to fish or poultry.
Textbook Alsace Riesling from 60 year old vines. The nose is all white stone fruit and a hint of petrol. A very pleasant and palatable acidity frames the wine from beginning to end, and the finish is remarkably long, my guess due to the beautiful minerality of the wine and to the Beuchers' old vines. Residual sugar is only 2.7 grams, and the wine is given a 0/5 on the 2 Lunes sweetness scale. This is dry Riesling through and through, but with enough fruit and density to charm. Eben Lillie
This is an impressive Riesling, sourced from vineyards in the Grand Cru sites of Spiegel et Kitterlé, making it an incredible deal for a "basic" Riesling (without Lieu-Dit or Grand Cru designation). Stones and white flowers on the nose, with laser-like acidity on the palate, and only a hint of fruit. Up to a year of lees aging gives the wine nice density and length. It's at a great spot for drinking now, and will likely improve for many years to come. Eben Lillie
During the 19th century, the Dirlers, along with the Dopff de Riquewihr family, were the pioneers of 'vin mousseux' in Alsace. Production lulled in post-War years, but they're back in the game now and we're happy to present this delicious Brut Nature Cremant from the undisputed OG's of Alsatian sparkling wine! Mostly Pinot Gris and Pinot Auxerrois, with a small amount of Pinot Noir. There's subtle hint of fresh bread on the nose, and a touch of orchard fruit on the palate, but the wine is dominated by a stony, mineral backbone. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged for less than a year before being kept sur latte under capsule for around a year and a half. This is Methode Champenois, no dosage. Refreshing, crisp, and a must for fans of great bubbles. Eben Lillie
Of the Albert Boxler grand crus, I always find Brand to be the more linear, more architectural, while Sommerberg is prettier, almost pastoral in character. The 2009 Riesling Brand displays the character of the vintage and climat: rich and ripe, but well-structured beneath the fruit. The nose is a melange of lovely orchard fruit, sea spray and a hint of petrol. The palate is powerful, textured, and deeply mineral, verging on salty. The finish is dry, sinewy, a quite long. This is still quite young, displaying more cut and less generosity than the Sommerberg from the same vintage. Impressively put together, if just approaching adolescence. Despite it's youth, this is a fine Riesling to pair with tea-smoked duck, or roasted pork. John McIlwain
Comparing the grand crus at Albert Boxler (not even taking into account the lieu-dits/letter designates) has one grasping for descriptors or analogies. Both are deeply mineral, but Sommerberg is perhaps the prettier, more supple of the two; Brand is powerful, structured, even a bit angular. Tasting both crus from single vintage is always an interesting (and delicious) exercise. The 2009 Sommerberg is dense, rich, and more subtly mineral that the leaner Brand. Floral on the nose with aromas of apple blossom, honeysuckle, and pear skin. The fruit is more generous, with pretty notes of baked pear, acacia honey, and lemon curd giving way to a dusty stoniness on the supple, textured finish. This is quite lovely, if less punchy than the Brand in 2009. That said, this was delicious with steamed fish with ginger and scallions and superlative with lobster chow fun. John McIlwain