The vineyards of Alsace lie in a narrow band along the east- and southeast-facing slopes of the Vosges Mountains in northeast France. Yet latitude does not equal coolness, and, in fact, the summers can be quite hot and dry, making it a challenge to preserve the grapes’ natural acidity in the region’s Riesling, Pinot Gris and other aromatic varieties.
Like many wine regions of the world, the vintage conditions in Alsace are prone to dramatic changes, resulting in completely different expressions. The current vintages on the market—the 2016s, 2017s and recently released 2018s—show this in spades.
While 2016 suffered from disease pressure in spring, it was a year of classic expression. The 2017 vintage saw losses due to spring frost, but for what remained it was a great year without extremes.
Choosing between 2016, 2017 and 2018 is thus a matter of taste rather than quality.
The 2016 and 2017 wines from the best producers bear this out beautifully: the 2016s with pronounced freshness and bright acidity, the 2017 with an exuberant fruit character with good balance.
For Riesling in particular, it hits the spectrum of ripe rather than tart citrus, showing Mandarin and tangerine rather than lime.
For the 2018 vintage, a recurring term is “mellow.” From a record hot year across most of Europe, the wines produced from this vintage are rounded and mild in acidity.
Choosing between 2016, 2017 and 2018 is thus a matter of taste rather than quality. If you like it snappy and fresh, pitch for the 2016s, if you like rounded opulence, enjoy the 2018s. If the middle ground is your game, check out the balanced 2017s.
Domaine Ostertag 2017 Clos Mathis Riesling (Alsace); $47, 95 points. Subtle hints of ripe peach and Mandarin appear on the nose accompanied by a breezy tone of wet stone. The fresh palate corrals its ripe citrus notes with a pleasantly bitter hint of pith. There is ripeness but also crunchiness within this concentrated cosmos of citrus. In the end it all merges into a citrus-scented, energetic and dry path of aromatic freshness. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.
Dopff & Irion 2016 Les Murailles Riesling (Alsace); $25, 95 points. A subtle nose hints at both chalk and lemon. The palate of this wine comes in with equal subtlety, carrying this notion of elegant, lemony chalkiness on a slender, textured palate. This wine is bright, sinuous, light-footed and dry. Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.
Domaine Bott-Geyl 2016 Grafenreben Riesling (Alsace); $39, 93 points. A note of baked rhubarb signals both vivid freshness and the beginnings of evolution in this wine. The palate carries this aromatic notion and adds grapefruit, tangerine and red apple. The body is concentrated, taut and immensely juicy and comes to a long, dry, aromatic and appetizing finish. David Bowler Wine. Editors’ Choice.
René Muré 2017 Côte de Rouffach Riesling (Alsace); $30, 93 points. A floral, aromatic element of citrus creates a tender nose that recalls jasmine and pale lemon. Concentrated juiciness ripples across the palate with citrus brightness and lingering flavors to savor. The finish is dry, lip-smacking and long. Drink until 2030. Gargouille Collection. Cellar Selection.
Trimbach 2016 Reserve Pinot Gris (Alsace); $20, 93 points. A touch of ripe Mirabelle plum joins the pear fruit on the nose. The resolutely dry palate holds them tight on a very concentrated, fresh but also earthy body. Taut and clean, this needs a little more time in bottle. The finish is whistle-clean. Taub Family Selections.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 2017 Zind (Alsace); $35, 92 points. Slight reductive smokiness on the nose of this wine leads onto a light, still slightly spritzy palate that presents green pear, ripe lemon and grapefruit zestiness. The wine is dry, bright, slightly textured and utterly refreshing, with a moreish, lemony finish. Kobrand.
Jean Biecher & Fils 2018 Reserve Riesling (Alsace); $35, 92 points. Wet stone, a hint of flint and a touch of lanolin accompany the suggestion of peach on the nose. The palate of this wine then switches to fruit mode to present bright, ripe lemon and more juicy peach. Stone and lanolin return on the dry, mouthwatering finish. Votto Vines Importing.
Paul Blanck 2017 Pinot Gris (Alsace); $22, 92 points. Gentle and mellow notes of pear crumble on the nose of this wine attain lovely definition on the dry, concentrated palate. An earthy, pithy edge on the midpalate brings great mouthfeel, while pear notes remain juicy and fresh. Skurnik Wines, Inc.
Lucien Albrecht 2018 Réserve Riesling (Alsace); $15, 90 points. Red apple and bright, ripe mandarin create a fruity, fresh and primary nose with an edge of citrus-peel spice. The palate of this wine is alive in juicy apple and ripe but zesty citrus. The finish is dry and totally appetizing. Foley Family Wines. Best Buy.