Posts Filed Under on the road
When you’re within spitting distance of Kayserberg (quite literally the cutest town in France, an honor it was officially awarded in 2017), amid the picturesque shadows of a castle that dates back to the fourteenth Century (and in which harvests were celebrated), and regularly run into ruins from the early 700s AD, you might justifiably consider yourself in a sort of Western European daydream-like fantasy land. Just add fairies and elves!
Hence the “schloss” part…
While that is, indeed, the present situation of Alsace’s Schlossberg Grand Cru vineyard site and the sixty-some-odd producers who farm it (a spot I visited as part of a media jaunt earlier this year), that present situation belies a more, well, aggressive historical backdrop.
This granitic area of northeastern France has seen a revolving door of historical overlords, including the Romans, Germans, and the French. And yes, Schlossberg has the distinction of being awarded on of Alsace’s first Grand Cru classifications in 1975, but that was almost fifty years later than planned (they attempted it first in 1928, but things got sidetracked due to a World War). Actually, it’s almost 500 years late, considering that the area’s vines have been known as having serious vinous potential since the 1400s, and that the area exported twice as much wine in the Middle Ages as it does now.
Also consider that, from a farming perspective, you’re not getting much more than grapes here. The area sits on steep slopes rising up to almost 400 meters, and (thanks to the Vosges mountains) sees less than 500 millimeters of rainfall per year (which about three times less than Bordeaux). Alsace sits on the largest underground water reserve in the country, but irrigation isn’t permitted, so the vines have to work their roots down deep to get a drink.
The soil in Schlossberg has high pH levels, and so requires calcium to prevent toxicity, and its diversity is a testament to the violence of the ancient Devonian forces that formed it. Also, you need dry stone terraces (the work of Italian immigrants hired by regional monks in the Middle Ages) to keep everything in place, and they are, to put it mildly, a pain in the ass to maintain. Oh, and the climate is semi-continental, which means they get nearly the full extremes in seasonal variation, and the subsequent farming headache potential.
Finally, we should include the political and cultural vagaries that come with producing consumables in a place that has changed country of ownership more than a few times. Alsace’s major market, historically, has been Germany, since the French kind of considered Alsace as French-but-maybe-not-really.
How does all of this impact the Rieslings crafted from Schlossberg’s soils? More than one of the wine producers with whom I met described their Riesling as “thin, delicate, and like a marathon man.” You’ll understand what they mean in a minute or two…
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Let’s bid adieu to November, in our hazy, Post-Thanksgiving-Holiday trytophanic bliss, by catching up on the happenings over at My Name Is Barbera (for whom I’ve been doing both written and video work helping to promote Barbera – and other – wines from the Monferrato area).
First, there’s a lips-eye-view (yeah, I agree, that phrase was a bad idea) of Monferrato’s vinous equivalent of a Wild and Crazy Guy, Grignolino. I’ve written about this wily, overachieving red grape before, but here’s a chance to get up close and personal with it through a video tasting of Grignolino wine with Paolo Bava, whose passion for these wines will quickly be evident once you start watching.
Next, we get back to our normal programming, which means focusing on Barbera. In an interesting twist, in the next vid we move away from the relatively small production outfits that have been the focus of much of our previous journey through Monferrato’s Barbera producers, and talk with Lorenzo Giordano of Vinchio Vaglio (who just celebrated their 30th anniversary, with an event at which I was supposed to speak, but couldn’t attend because I got wicked sick… and yeah, I’m still a little raw about it, thankyouverymuch…). As you’ll see in the vid below, Giordano oversees a sizeable cooperative operation, and so has a unique, 20,000-foot view of Barbera throughout the region, and through all of its various quality levels.
[ Editor’s note: Yes, I realize that tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA. No, I don’t feel compelled to write about wine pairings for it, because that topic has been covered, and covered, and covered, and covered, and covered already. If you’re really jonesing for Turkey Day wine help, see previous coverage of that here on 1WD, all of which is still relevant. ]
Every once in a while, I get asked to do really cool things, like judge wine competitions alongside bright, interesting, qualified people who, for reasons that I still don’t fully understand, consider me a peer.
Evan Goldstein, MS, surveys the room during the AWoCA 2017 judging
Such was the case a couple of months ago, when my friend Evan Goldstein (and his Full Circle Wine Solutions biz) asked if I’d be interested in judging the 2017 incarnation of the Anual Wines of Chile Awards, held this hear in his native San Francisco. I’ve worked with Evan and FCWS a few times before, who are top-notch, and we know that Evan knows his shiz when it comes to South American wines in general, so of course I said Hellz Yeah to that.
The winners of the 2017 AWoCA (now in its 14th incarnation) were recently announced at an event in Washington DC, and so I am now officially able to share highlights of the results with you.
What I found most exciting during the unfolding of the AWoCA competition, even more so than the high quality of Chile’s vinous wares in general, was how well Chile’s much-touted diversity was on full, 4KHD-tuned-to-vibrant-color-settings display in the wines that were entered…
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Remember when I waxed all smitten-like over a tasting of Rangen Alsace Grand Cru Riesling?
Well, I do.
I was so smitten, in fact, that I did something that I’ve only ever done twice in ten years, which was to reach out to the U.S. PR agency dealing with Alsatian wines and ask them to book me on a media jaunt to the area, so that I could get my feet directly on those Rangen rocks. Which, luckily for me, they did.
In a classic case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for-vuz-you-just-might-get-it, I then had to scale the greater-than-45-degree slopes of Alsace’s southernmost (and by far its steepest) Grand Cru vineyard site, though the view (and the tastes) about 450 meters up were well worth a little breathlessness (PSA: if you consider yourself not exactly physically fit, you might want to skip a visit to Rangen). Think the Mosel, only steeper (yes, the vineyard workes use ropes to secure themselves from falling to their deaths during harvest), or the Douro (only with less terracing and more danger to life and limb). The only marring comes by way of the factories along the nearby Thur river, a holdover from the `50s. Otherwise, this spot between Thann and Vieux-Thann is thoroughly picturesque.
Rangen has a few other characteristics that distinguish it from the rest of Alsace’s (many) GC sites. It might be one of the oldest of the region’s Grand Crus, with the origin of its name being lost to posterity (the first recorded reference goes back all the way to the Thirteenth Century). The rocky soils are about 330 million years old, the result of older mountain ranges and volcanic extrusions all mixed up together. This makes for a harder-than-average vineyard soil, with dark components that help to retain heat, with a more fragile subsoil that allows deep penetration by the vine roots.
You’d think that, with the steepness, naturally low yields, and the fact that it takes new vines closer to seven years to produce fruit here (versus three years in more forgiving environments), that harvest would be a total bitch. But there’s an even bitchier aspect of the Rangen for those that tend it…
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