“We are very cheap for a Grand Cru!”
It could be said that Domaines Schlumberger‘s Thomas Schlumberger doesn’t fully understand the negative connotations of the word “cheap” in the English language. I write that because, as he told me the above quote during a media visit to the Guebwiller property that has been in his family for about 200 years, he phrased it in a tone that was at once proud and matter-of-fact.
The bottom line is that no one really offers a smoother glide path into the vinous world of Alsatian Grand Cru that Schlumberger. First, they have the typical history portion covered: Domaines Schlumberger is still a family business (7th generation export manager Thomas lives across the street from the winery, “where I grew up,” having come back to the family business after a stint in the perfume industry at the behest of his uncle), and still operates out of the area in which the family settled from Germany (choosing the site because of its access to water, needed for their textiles business). From a desire to make wine for their own consumption, they gradually expanded and replanted their plantings in the area to about 70 hectares (this took the purchase of 2500 plots in a single decade, along with ten years of replanting, much of it on terraced slopes so steep that a special breed of horses that don’t experience vertigo were needed to work the vineyards).
From a Grand Cru perspective, Domaines Schlumberger has the raw material to offer inexpensive Grand Cru action: about ten percent of all Alsace Grand Cru wines are sold by them, and they are the largest independent winery in the area, exporting 2/3 of their production to 50 countries (so chances are good that you can find some of their wares).
Maybe most importantly for an ultra-competitive, information-saturated wine market, they have what might be the simplest Alsatian SKU category formula: you can try “classic” versions of Alsace’s principal grape varieties in their Les Princes Abbés line, or the Grand Cru single-site versions, and that’s basically it…
2015 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $NA)
You know me, so it will come as no surprise that we’ll kick off with a wine that contradicts most of what I just mentioned above. You’ll have a harder time finding this little gem of Alsace’s lesser-known red production, which according to Thomas has benefited in quality improvements driven by the Chinese market’s thirst for all things French Pinot-related. Aside from maceration, vinification for this Pinot is performed in exactly the same way as their whites. The result is spicy, lithe, and transparent in the prettiness and expression of its fruit.
2014 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $18)
This range is named after the Benedictine Murbach Abbey, who were so dominant in the Guebwiller area that at one time they had their own currency. Today, it’s Riesling that dominates, and it’s tough to find a more solid example of quality Alsatian Riesling at this price. Limes, flowers, petrol, citrus, flint… it’s all here, presented in a super-clean, crisp package that benefits from having about 40% of its fruit come from Grand Cru vineyards.
Floral, expressive, broad, and textural, this is a Gewurz that is insanely, dangerously difficult to stop drinking. Lychee, stone and tropical fruits, spice… textbook stuff, along with being delicious. You need know next to nothing about the grape to get behind this.
This is more than a fair price for a GC in Alsace, but more importantly it’s a fair price for a Riesling this pithy, mineral, and crystalline in its presentation. That it is also fascinating in its texture and pure in citrus fruitiness are bonuses. The most interesting thing, however, is that DS’s Rieslings from this limestone-rich GC site do so well in bottle repose. We tasted back to the 2002 (a cooler year), and it was focused, lemony, long, fresh, and still above all else maintaining its purity. Movie stars don’t age this well.
2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Spiegel (Alsace Grand Cru, $27)
What you (well, what I) typically want most from a PG is for it not to be boring. So when it’s actually sexy, that’s got to make you stop and take notice. This PG is downright spry, full of melon and apple flavors and wet stone aromas. You also get hints of white flowers and spices, topped off with generous richness and almost voluptuous roundness. I might need a cold shower now.
Ok, so this one isn’t “cheap;” but it is spectacular. Kessler has sandstone soils, and DS own 75% of the site, which is formed by a small valley about 300 meters high in between hills that protect it from the cooler drafts of the area’s north winds. This equates to pretty good ripening potential for Gewurz, and if anything the DS Kessler version is expressive. The nose is, in a word, great: lychee, pear, roses, honey, spices, and marmalade. The palate is rich, with about one ton of lemon drop, but is buoyed by a freshness that is rare for more pedestrian renditions of this grape.
This sweet wine takes its name from Schlumberger’s great-grandmother (as Thomas explained, “we never name the wines after the kids; what if one of them ends up in jail?”). The original Christine managed DS for about twenty years with ” talent and firmness.” This Christine, also made from Kessler grapes, has a sweet-tooth; baking spices, marmalade, mandarin orange, lemon drop candy, dried roses, and honey all mix in the nose, along with a pleasant flinty note. The palate delivers in spades; it’s spicy, rich, full of sultana, lemon candy, and tea flavors. While it doesn’t lack viscosity or richness, there is good balance here with vibrancy. Queue up the Roquefort.