Four truly stunning bottles of Alsace Riesling and a blind-tasting challenge

The first three bottles of Alsace Grand Cru Riesling were showing terribly well. Then we had a blind tasting challenge courteousy of the that excellent chap Captain ‘The Kid’ Peter, before we finished up the evening with a quite obscenely brilliant bottle of (again) Alsace Riesling. I present the blind-tasting challenge in the form of an a podcast, because I thought it would be fun to hear me being humiliated when guessing in real time; I wasn’t too embarrassed by my performance, if I may be smug for a moment, I was pretty close but thought the wine was slightly grander than its actual appellation and vintage would suggest.

[image image_id=”2079″] [image image_id=”2081″ align=”left” size=”medium”]

Riesling Grand Cru Brand 2001, Domaine Albert Boxler

This has a really voluptuous nose of ripe fruit and spicy minerality. It is really buxom and charming. This stunning minerality and concentrated fruit character compel me totally, it is a livid, lively entity of total desirability. I last had a bottle of this in September 2007 and thought it was time to drink. Judging by the expressive beauty and complex charm displayed by this nose I was wrong; it is full of giving, exciting life and will be for years to come. The palate is utterly beguiling. It has lots of powerful fruit, an incredibly pure and focussed earthiness and quite staggering amounts of acidity. There is so much to this palate, it has real size and scale, but it is totally, wildly, amazingly harmonious. The interplay between the intense fruit, searing minerality and dazzling, spectacular acidity just leaves me astounded. It is lewdly long and colourfully complex. Rarely do we get to drink wines this good, and we should treasure those moments when we are enjoying them, especially when we get to drink them with those who are important to us.

Riesling Grand Cru Brand 2001, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht

This has an even more voluptuous and exotic nose, it really has the extreme ripeness and power one expects from a Z-H wine certainly in terms of its rich, fruity profile. ‘The Kid’ and I suggest that, after the Boxler, this is lacking a touch of vineyard expression, but we could not deny the completely compelling nature of its myriad aromas. The partner thinks this is more expressive of the hot, roasted fruit character he wants from the Brand Grand Cru*. One thing we could clearly agree on after merely sniffing this was that this wine is going to be out where the big dogs eat, most definitely. Tits out for the boys, OK? Then we get to taste it. Wow, what a mouthful. The alcohol level might distract the ultimate Riesling purist, but if you try something so powerfully fruity and driven by passion you can forgive a bit of warmth. The minerality is certainly very exciting as is the acidity, even if, compared to the Boxler, they are not at the lewd end of experience. It is a commanding presence in the glass and on one’s palate. Great length, astounding complexity and really fun to drink. ‘The Kid’ and I preferred the Boxler because of its incredible harmony, the partner preferred this because of its opulent, exotic and complex character. Certainly these two are amongst the finest Rieslings I’ve had in… oh… a period of time.

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen Clos St. Urbain 2001, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht

Olivier Humbrecht was rather chuffed with this wine when the Oxford crew visited many years ago and tasted his range; I suppose I must have been impressed too otherwise I wouldn’t have scored myself a bottle. It has a really gorgeous nose of ripe, but not overblown, fruit. It has the minerality to make it properly interesting as well. Not as extreme in terms of intensity as the two Brand wines, but quite indulgent none the less. This is a lovely, really totally honestly, a lovely nose. Ah, I have a tiny bit of a problem with the palate now I’ve tasted it, there is the smallest suggestion of dirtiness to it and I don’t want that in my Alsace Rieslings. Sure, the fruit is lovely, the minerality compelling and the acidity quite well balanced, but I am a bit distracted by this vague hint of dirtiness. I’ll taste it again in ten minutes. [tick, tock…] And now I don’t get that dirtiness at all, that lovely ripe fruit and interesting minerality stand out much more. This is a seriously impressive Alsace Grand Cru, and whilst all three of us agree that this is not as stratospherically radiant as the two Brand Rieslings, it is a damned good wine.

After we had tried and re-tried all three of these Rieslings over a period of time we were sure that they were all some of the most wonderful examples of Alsace Grand Cru Rieslings we could wish to taste and drink. I was worried that 2001 Alsace Rieslings, especially the Z-H’s, might be over the hill (I have had a lot of prematurely oxidised Alsace Riesling of late): not a bit of it! Indeed, we all thought they were all quite youthful, fresh and lively. This was especially true of the Boxler, which seemed to be in a state of arrested development. No rush to drink these wines, boys and girls. I would go as far as saying that with the two Brand wines I felt that there was so little development showing in them one would probably get most pleasure drinking them on purchase. I’d like to do the experiment and keep them for ten years longer and see what happens, but I’ve only got one bottle of one of them left. Ah well, easy come easy go.

These three amazing, brilliant wines were followed by Peter’s blind tasting challenge. When he told me that he was bringing a bottle of Pinot Noir he said I’d get it right in one guess; I’m pleased someone has confidence in my blind tasting ability. To hear me rave about this wine and make my guess as to what it was click

For those who don’t feel the need to listen to my hideous Oxbridge drawl I shall reveal all. My guess was Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint Denis Premier Cru 2002, it was Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis villages 2004. Quite one of the most ravishing and charm-tastic 2004s I’ve had, really excessively pleasing. I was so moved by the allure of it I felt the need to give Peter and the partner a big hug for being part of the experience of this lovely wine. It has been a while since I popped an 04 red Burgundy and it is clear the the Dujac boys and girls delivered the goods in this not entirely easy vintage. Then we moved on to the final wine of the evening.

[image image_id=”2083″ align=”left”]

Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg ‘D’ Vendanges Tardives 2005, Domaine Albert Boxler

This has a nose bursting with real late harvest character; a bit like candied fruit but fresher and more livid. It has real concentration but is not short on finesse and class. It is a totally gripping and unreservedly engaging nose. If you were poured a glass of this and didn’t love it the moment its aromatic molecules drifted up your nose then you can only be some form of really unhappy person who doesn’t really want to have a good time. I’m having a great time just smelling this, but I suppose I should get around to drinking some before the boys neck it all. Yes, oh yes, what a palate. For sure it is very ripe, with sweet, candied fruit present in spades, but as so often happens with Boxler wines it is the harmony which wins me over. The acidity would be terrifying in any wine less boldly structured than this, and the refined Sommerberg minerality adds to this expression of complete poise and equilibrium. It is a big, intense, indulgent mouthful, but not only don’t you get tired drinking it, you feel a burning desire to have more and more. I don’t have any left. Bugger.

*The story of the Brand Grand Cru: We are told that in the middle ages, Turkheim’s local dragon had a battle with the sun. The dragon lost and was banished to a cave under the hill behind Turkheim, specifically under the Brand Grand Cru. Since then the dragon’s fiery breath has kept the vineyard warm and this leads to the roasted, hot character of wines from the Brand.

  • Peter

    An evening of tremendous wines. A point I thought worth noting was that I did not see much development in the 2001s. They were all very good – the Boxler really stupendous. But I couldn’t see what they had gained from being aged for over eight years. And I’m not sure whether they would gain anything if kept any longer. And as it has been apparent recently that keeping Alsatian Riesling can be risky, I wonder whether it is worth doing.

  • Jeremy

    I have to admit that I think that Brand is one of my least favorite Grand Crus as too fiery/roasted for my taste. What’s interesting is that Z-H and Boxler have similar pressing regimes, very long and thus very oxidative for the musts. I think that is one of the right things to do if one wishes to avoid premature oxidation. On the other hand, their fermentation regimes are very, very different.

  • David Strange

    The two Brand Rieslings may have been exotic and intense, but the harmony (especially in the Boxler) was not lacking. I was a tad distracted by the alcoholic warmth on the Z-H-flavour Brand, but it was neither as sweet nor as blowsy as I feared it might be. These were really good examples of Brand Riesling, but I suppose it would be a bit off for me to insist that everyone would love wines from this vineyard…

    As an aside, perhaps the best Gewurztraminer I ever had has come from the Brand Grand Cru, here is the note. That hot, intense character that comes from the Brand can work a treat, if made by a winemaker who can knows how to deal with it and doesn’t harvest grapes that have got too roasted. Again, I am not trying to say that such wines are for everyone, but Peter, Dan and I loved that bottle when I popped it.

    Back to Boxler Riesling. I got these wines on the equipe Oxford trip to Alsace, I seem to recall the Boxler wine was one-third the cost of the Z-H’s. Price doesn’t matter, of course, if the wine is good enough. I wanted to get some Sommerberg Riesling from Boxler (his Sommerbergs are clearly the Riesling option of choice), but Jeremy suggested I get some different wines to the partner (who was trying to buy up the entire year’s production of the various Sommerberg Rieslings). I followed his advice and got the Brand Rieslings. I don’t regret that purchase for a moment, so many thanks Jeremy, I liked the wines even if you wouldn’t!

  • Jeremy

    I got some of the Brand myself, so at least, I put some of my money where my mouth was… Still, every time I have the Brand wines, I find that the vineyard character comes across much more as climate (hot and sunny) than as pure minerality, as exemplified in the Sommerbergs. With that said, I would be hard pressed to come up with a wine that might be more mineral driven than Boxler’s Sommerbergs.

  • David Strange

    I completely agree with you about the quality of Brand wines, very dominated by the micro-climate of the vineyard.

    Our considered opinion last night was that, even though it was quite fresh, there is not so much point in keeping the Boxler Brand Rieslings for an inordinate period of time. Find a local Riesling lover and pop them with him/her. Jacques likes Riesling, you could find out if he has any strong views on them (and let me know what he says if he does, please).

    Indeed, there are few wines with degree of expressive mineral character that Boxler’s Sommerbergs possess. This is a great intellectual thrill, but the wines also provide a lot of visceral pleasure; they are just throbbing with love. Visiting Boxler with equipe Oxford was one of the best things we have done, many thanks for suggesting it Jeremy!