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On Either Side of a Narrow Lane
Some Recommended Wines from the Two Grand Crus:

Schlossberg

Fürstentum

 

By Jim Clarke

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 here.

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):

Schlossberg
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 see above

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.

Fürstentum
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 see above

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 well-balanced acidity.

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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       Published: June 2006
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