Travels in Wine / Alsace

Travels in Alsace: In Praise of Pinot Noir


Thom Buzzard Thom Buzzard / 28 October 2019

Carrying on with the mission to re-taste and select wines from the small but perfectly formed 2017 vintage to offer to our members, buyer Jo Locke MW and I now turned our attention to the region's red, all of which is made from pinot noir.

Pinot noir: Alsace's forgotten grape?

Pinot noir is somewhat the forgotten grape when Alsace is mentioned, particularly as it can't be labelled as a grand cru. Geographically this region is nestled between the grape's traditional heartland and old masters in Burgundy and Germany, where pinot noir is becoming increasingly fashionable.

Pinot noir grapes growing in Alsace
Pinot noir grapes growing in Alsace

Muré – masters of the red art

Pinot noir is always going to have a tough time making front-page headlines, but for me, I'd gladly put my head above the parapet with a pinot noir from Muré. Their pure, bright, and spice-laden examples are a real delight, and could quite easily stand their ground up against the heavyweights of the pinot category. The Côte de Rouffach 2017 is the wine to drink now, with layers of summer fruits and was perfectly refreshing slightly chilled. The jewel in the crown is Clos Saint Landelin. Steep terraced slopes make up the vineyard located within the Vorbourg grand cru, and the combination of soil, aspect, and careful organic farming make for the perfect combination of elements. I manged to fill a page of my notebook with lots of different ways of saying 'I should buy some of this once I'm home', and that's exactly what I did!

A marathon of a tasting at Domaines Schlumberger

Essential training for the new Schlumberger pooch, Pocket
Essential training for the new Schlumberger pooch, Pocket

Schlumberger was the last stop on the trip, and as I love running, this tasting was the type of marathon I'd been looking forward to. The largest estate in Alsace, they have chosen to focus their efforts on pinot gris, riesling and gewurztraminer, and if our tasting was anything to go by, they've perfected the art. This is a family-run property and Séverine Schlumberger met us in their new public tasting room, a huge glass and light-wood structure making the most of the flow of tourists that pass throughout the year. The consistency throughout the range was something to be admired, although the new winery pup Pocket (named because he was small enough to be carried around in Séverine's pocket) was a bit of a distraction, as he was learning the ropes chasing corks and learning the shortcuts through the cellars.

You may have read this in other instalments of Travels in Wine, and Alsace was no different as throughout the trip, producers' hospitality really stood out. Whether a small family production like Bruno Sorg, or a huge co-operative such as Turckheim, everyone we saw was keen to show their full range, from the sparkling crémants and light pinot blancs, through to the grands crus and late-harvest Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines. The subtle difference soil and location can make really came to light for me on this trip and I would urge anyone to take the plunge into the full range of delights Alsace produces; its world-beating wines deserve a place at anyone's table no matter whether it is alongside simple home-cooked fare or gourmet-style fancy food!

Vines with a view: steep vineyards around Ribeauvillé
Vines with a view: steep vineyards around Ribeauvillé

Many styles to get to grips with; but you can have fun in the process!

Original bottle transport in Cave de Ribeauville
Original bottle transport in Cave de Ribeauvillé

However, this huge range of styles did throw up another issue, that of confusion, another criticism levelled at this region. Different producers were able to produce totally contrasting wines from vines just metres apart. With 51 grands crus in Alsace, I found that, somewhat like Burgundy, getting to know the producer's style was key to navigating this, rather than focusing on the areas.

Take the Ribeauvillé Cave for example, where they produce wines from eight different grands crus, using all available varieties. You can appreciate it takes real skill to pick the right wines to bring back and highlight in our offers. These trips do remind you of how much work our buyers have put in over the years to keep up with all that is happening and to keep tabs on the good producers and their all-important output.

And on that note, with the Tour De France hot on our tails, we were back off to Stevenage to pull together this year's offer. I've already cleared the space on my wine rack. What will you be ordering?

Where to go next?

Browse our selection of Alsace Wines

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