Only a narrow lane divides the two vineyards: on the right the
soil is too muddy to walk in; the vineyard on the left is stony
and dry, and only the moisture on the leaves of grass show the signs
of mid-winter drizzle. Both vineyards are Grand Cru, a classification
that means they are capable of producing some of Alsace’s
best wines. How different can they be?
Albert Mann makes a Riesling from both vineyards; here are my tasting
notes from their 2004 vintage:
Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2004:
a medium-bodied wine with aromas of quince, lime, and mint and a
flinty minerality. The acidity is quite high, and the wine is quite
tight and focused; it’s still rather closed, and will definitely
profit from aging.
Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Fürstentum 2004:
pineapple and melon aromas dominate, with some light spice. There’s
a slight, softening sweetness, but it still finishes dry and crisp.
So same vintage, same grape, same winemaker: different fruit, spice,
and mineral aromas. Different sweetness, and one wine more ready
to drink than the other. Are all those differences from the terroir
of the two vineyards? Hard to say. The sweetness, for example, probably
represents the winemaker’s choice; in the Fürstentum,
Jacky Barthelmé retained some sugar after fermentation to
balance the acidity.
But if you taste wines from several different winemakers –
or vintages – you begin to get a picture of the core character
of a vineyard. Albert Mann, Weinbach, and Paul Blanck all make wines
from both vineyards; each has their own winemaking style, but a
common identity emerges for each vineyard.
In 1975, Schlossberg was the first Alsace vineyard to be declared
a Grand Cru. The granite hill faces directly south, and nightly
breezes cool the vineyard as air is funneled up and down the narrow
valley. The stony soils also make for good drainage. Schlossberg
is planted almost entirely with Riesling, which benefits from the
sun exposure and cool nights.
Some individual tasting notes follow below, but what the Schlossberg
Rieslings from Mann, Weinbach, and Blanck have in common is an elegance
and focus. Some mintiness and a clear minerality are common to many
Schlossberg wines, and they age well. Fruit aromas seem to vary;
richer styles like the Weinbach tend toward the tropical fruit side,
while Blanck’s style leans more toward what I usually think
of as “German Riesling” aromas like apricot and melon.
Fürstentum, on the other hand, is the part of the slope that
sticks a little further out into the Rhine River plain. There’s
a lot of water-retaining clay in the soil, which is good for grapes
that are prone to low acidity like Gewurztraminer; the cool wet
soil helps keep the acidity from dropping while the grape ripens.
Fürstentum Gewurztraminers often have a tell-tale mandarin
or tangerine aroma, and tend to be full-bodied and plush.
Because the soil changes on the lower half of the slope, only the
top half of the slope was granted Grand Cru status. The lower vineyard
is called Altenbourg, and it also produces remarkable wines. It
often yields exceptionally rich dessert wines, as grapes grown there
are often subject to botrytis, concentrating the flavors, acidity,
and sugars. Weinbach in particular grows some excellent Pinot Gris
For a winegrower, choosing what grape to plant is part of how they
respond to terroir. Alsace, unlike Burgundy, which is essentially
devoted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, includes several possible
varietals as one of the decisions a winegrower has to make. It’s
a great place to see the human element in single-vineyard wines:
how we respond to the different soil, landscapes, climate, and weather
patterns, before the grapes ever reach the bottle.
Some Recommended Wines from the Two Grand Crus
(Recent releases only; all of these wines age very well, so keep
an eye out for older vintages as well):
Paul Blanck Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2004
This Riesling shows several layers of aromas: a floral high note,
touches of spice, melon, apricot, and pear fruit, and a granite
and flint base. It’s a focused wine, with excellent length;
a smooth acidity carries the flavors forward.
Paul Blanck Pinot Gris Schlossberg Grand Cru 2001
A little fruit – banana, lemon curd – wrapped around
a rich mineral and macadamia nut center. This is a fairly full-bodied
wine, with good length and presence.
Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2004
Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Ste. Catherine 2004
Though it doesn’t say it on the label, this wine is made exclusively
from grapes grown on the lower slopes of Schlossberg. A big, fruity
wine, with a tropical profile: pineapple, mango, and lime. There’s
also some minerality here, and the wine’s a bit muscular,
showing lots of length and acidity.
Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Ste. Catherine L’Inedit
2004 This special cuvée is only made in certain
vintages; the 2004 is a soft, silky wine, not as full-bodied as
its siblings, but with a wonderful nose of pineapple mango, flint,
and orange blossoms.
Paul Blanck Fürstentum Grand Cru Selection des Grains
Nobles 2002 There’s tremendous complexity in this
full, sweet wine: tons of fruitcake spice and nutty notes –
almond, macadamia – are supported by apricot, tangerine, lime,
and a whiff of smoke. Despite its sweetness it still finishes cleanly,
with superb length.
Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Fürstentum 2004
Albert Mann Pinot Gris Fürstentum Grand Cru 2004
A fruitier Pinot Gris, with mango and lemon notes as well as touches
of smoke and clove. Full-bodied, it remains an elegant wine, with
Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Fürstentum Grand Cru 2004
An elegant take on this exuberant grape, with blood orange, violet,
and spice aromas. This is a rich, soft wine, with a lengthy finish.
Weinbach Gewurztraminer Fürstentum Grand Cru Vendange
Tardive 2002 Only moderately sweet but certainly full and
rich, this Gewurz offers lots of floral aromas and a base of tangerine
and quince jelly.
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