Happy Holidays*, you magnificent lushes!
I’m not sure how much time I’ll have over the holiday break to post here on 1WD, so here’s my version of a Christmas-time-card-thingy. What you probably cannot see on the pic of the tree are ornaments that include Santa getting hosed on wine, a TARDIS, Yoda’s head, BB-8 (he’s a perfect ornament shape, really), a ball with the Rioja logo on it, and Spider-man carrying a bag of presents.
Anyway, thank you for being here (all year), and thank you for being you (most of the time, anyway). Please go hug someone that you love, and have yourself a safe and happy holiday season!
* – Yeah, I said “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas.” That’s because there are a lot of Winter holidays celebrated this time of year by a lot of different people with different backgrounds and different political, cultural, and religious affiliations, and I sure as reindeer poop don’t know which one you happen to be celebrating. If you’re offended by that, then bite my mistletoe.
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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I know we look serious, but much fun was actually had by all
Earlier this week, I took part in an online masterclass/virtual-round-table of sorts with Wines of Chile and Snooth, tasting through a selection of Chilean Carménère reds (some of which you can purchase via a pretty good deal right now), with a group of capable and affable fellow wine-media-types (including @WineDineWanda, @enobytes, @talkavino, and @KellyMitchell).
If you’re kind of scratching your head on the uncharacteristically quick turnaround time in recapitulating the experience here on 1WD, it’s because the whole online-video-Carménère thing is nostalgic for me, as it was one of the first such tastings that I ever did under the 1WD umbrella (back when the writing here could charitably be described as fledgling…).
While almost unlikely to become a crowd favorite based on availability alone, Carignan is probably the empirically best Chilean red fine wine grape, or at least the one with the most depth, intrigue, and soul.
Having said that, the much more ubiquitous Carménère from Chile is still an incredible bargain, and arguably has never been better (or easier to enjoy even at modest price points). In Carménère, Chile is leveraging its ever-increasing winemaking knowledge levels to the full, combining modern know-how with more hand-crafted approaches; the results in some cases are single vineyard wines from older vines that provide an intellectually captivating experience at prices that still kind of defy credulity. At least, that’s how I’m increasingly seeing that landscape, particularly based on what we tasted during our video meetup…
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