When the wines for the Alsace Grand Cru tasting arrived, my biggest surprise was the range of vintages submitted. While there were a substantial number of wines from the 2014 vintage, 2013 figured heavily, too, with a smattering of bottles from 2012 and a mere handful going back to 2005.
Each one of those older vintages was incredibly sprightly and fresh, expressive and youthful, with opportunity for further development. Many of the newly bottled wines from 2014 and even 2013 were mere babies that need bottle age to come into their own. The high-scoring wines from the most recent vintages will be a delight over years, even decades, to come.
The results of these tastings illustrate the point that these wines, while attractive young, are highly capable of graceful aging, and often benefit from time in the bottle.
Looking at recent vintage conditions can also assist in determining style and aging potential. The 2014s are ripe and have pleasing precision, freshness and verve. The 2013s are slightly riper and very expressive, while the 2012s are even more opulent. Both 2014 and 2013 had their challenges, but the winemakers who worked assiduously in the vineyard brought forth stunning, glorious wines from these Grand Cru sites.
A lot of change is afoot in Alsace right now. Rather than having the same set of rules for all 51 Grands Crus, new regulations are now possible for each single site—tailor-made specifications suited to the vastly varied soils and exposures. This is a drive for real quality amongst the foremost winemakers in Alsace, and we, the drinkers, are the ones who truly benefit.
Domaine Weinbach 2014 Schlossberg Grand Cru Cuvée Saint Catherine Riesling (Alsace); $62, 96 points. Faint notes of ripe pear are only hinted at on the nose but on the dry palate they open up into pure, textured, precisely drawn fruit. There is concentration and a heady, seductive lemon and pear perfume hovering over the concentrated, profound palate of wet stone and immensely pure lemon oil. This comes on light, delicate feet but leaves you with a deep, lasting and impressive memory of Riesling purity and elegance. Vineyard Brands.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 2013 Hengst Grand Cru Gewurztraminer (Alsace); $90, 94 points. The aromatics take time to come to the fore but they are definitely there: notes of lifted Poire William and ripe, golden-cheeked apricots are hinted at. The medium-sweet palate brings them out in full force, glowing with a ripe opulence tempered by freshness and a slight phenolic grip. There is a luminous quality to this wine, shining its way ahead into the future, guided by a seam of freshness and focus on the midpalate, echoing with bitter almond and more fruit. Drink 2016–2026. Kobrand.
Biecher & Schaal 2014 Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace); $30, 94 points. Ripe Mirabelle plums and tart, red apples mix to give a very fruity, appetizing aspect which on the palate is joined by ripe, lemony freshness. This has the balance and drama everyone wishes for in dry Riesling: both generous fruit and ample freshness. Lovely now but with the balance and concentration to last. Lovely Mirabelle finish of immense length. Drink 2016–2026. Distinctive Domaines.
Domaine Schoffit 2011 Clos Saint-Théobald Rangen Grand Cru Pinot Gris (Alsace); $53, 93 points. A rather earthy pull envelopes the fruit: both of dried apple and fresh, ripe pear. The palate adds a honeyed tone to this and a fluid richness that glides like silk across the palate. All is fringed with pleasantly bitter hints of crushed apple seeds, creating appetizing tension between sweet and bitter poles. This really holds your attention. Weygandt-Metzler.
Domaine Bott-Geyl 2013 Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace); $40, 93 points. Aromatic but tart notes of kumquat signal concentration and citric poise. The palate is rich with zesty, aromatic notes of tangerine zest. This is concentrated and dry, explosive and aromatic—a bundle of citrus energy, with swirling clouds of kumquat and tangerine. David Bowler Wine.
Domaines Schlumberger 2012 Saering Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace); $29, 92 points. Earthy notes are mixed into the perfume of fleshy, ripe apricots, edged with baking spice. The palate plays on the same register of ripe stone fruit tempered by spice, earth and dried orange peel. This is dry and slender but incisive and concentrated—very grown up and appealing in a restrained, elegant fashion. The finish is clean and long. Drink 2016–2025. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA.
Wolfberger 2012 Rangen Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace); $40, 92 points. The nose is dominated by fresh citrus notes of lime and lemon zest, underneath it, a riper fruit is hinted at. The palate reveals it as tart, fresh and juicy red apple. There is wonderful, tingling concentration on the palate, given extra pizzazz by the bright, zesty acidity. Notes of stone and chalk peek through. The palate is dry and slender but concentrated and toned. The finish plays with delicious grapefruit notes. Kysela Père et Fils.
Domaine Rieflé-Landmann 2014 Steinert Grand Cru Pinot Gris (Alsace); $32, 91 points. Lifted notes of chamomile and marzipan, of pear, beeswax and dried lemon zests are already present. The palate subsumes all these flavors into a harmonious, fluid whole. This is textured and complex, with the merest hint of sweetness but finishing absolutely dry. Maritime Wine Trading Collective.
Domaine Barmès-Buecher 2011 Steingrubler Grand Cru Gewurztraminer (Alsace); $33, 91 points. Faint rose petal notes still perfume the peachy fruit. The palate is rich, medium sweet and honeyed, as though peach and citrus were soaked in honey. This is fresh and rich, rounded and poised, tipping the scales just a little bit more on the rich side. The spice on the finish is reminiscent of honeysuckle. Petit Pois.