Do you enjoy Alsatian wines? They are very food-friendly, with Riesling being the best-known grape from the region. There are also other aromatic white varieties, like Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer, and now Pinot Noir is becoming more widely known. I attended a virtual Alsatian Digitasting Fair this week and interviewed four winemakers at their wineries. The wineries I picked produce organic and biodynamic wines and also grow the Pinot Noir grape. I love Pinot Noir and was excited to see how Pinot Noir tastes from Alsace. These four wineries are all looking for representation in most provinces. A few have representation in Quebec and Ontario.
I received a sample of four wines from each of the four wineries. Two wines were always Riesling, many from Grand Cru vineyards, with the remainder being Pinot Noir, plus either Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, or Gewurztraminer. Let me tell you about the four wineries and their wines. I hope these wines get picked up and offered here in BC for us all to enjoy.
- Domaine Camille Braun (In Quebec.)
- Domaine Emile Beyer (In Quebec and Ontario.)
- Domaine Francois Schmitt (No representation yet.)
- Domaine Zinck (In BC, AB, MB, ON, and QB. Quite established.)
My Interviews and Wine Tasting Notes
All these wineries are organic and/or biodynamic, or soon to be. All grapes are handpicked. Two of the wineries use horses to pull ploughs in the vineyard. There are different tiers of vineyards in Alsace as there are in Burgundy or Bordeaux with soils and slope incline and orientation being important factors. Bollenberg made of limestone and clay and the Grand Cru Pfingstberg with sandstone and limestone soils are two names that you will see repeated through these wineries.
Domaine Camille Braun
My first interview was with Domaine Camille Braun. I found out that they started their process of being organic and biodynamic since 2000. They received organic certification in 2005 and DEMETER biodynamic certification in 2017. Their goal is to produce authentic, structured, fresh wines with a beautiful aromatic finesse representing their terroir and the climate of the vintage from which they come, respecting the cycle of nature and the plant. They are located south of Colmar and have 15ha of vineyard. They ferment their wines with indigenous yeasts. They say that there is more life in the soil, more porosity in the soil to interact with the plants, and when the weather is dry the plants are more healthy compared to non-biodynamic vineyards. There is more freshness in the grapes and the wines after fermentation.
Riesling, AOC Alsace, Bollenberg, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – Bollenberg has a clay-limestone soil and has three hillsides, facing south, west and south-east. It is a very dry stony soil. This wine has aromas of apples on the nose. A dry wine with nice acidity. Fresh fruit flavours. Apples and citrus, a touch of apple skin, and a mineral streak.
Riesling, AOC Alsace Grand Cru Pfingstberg, Vintage 2018 (biodynamic) – This Grand Cru is composed of a substratum of chalky sandstone and micaceous sandstone. The soil is well-drained and stores the solar heat to provide it to the vine later in the day. The grapes come from two parcels of which an assemblage is made. This wine has a light floral and a touch of petrol on the nose. Dry, medium body with quite a round and soft mouthfeel. Light acidity. Flavours of freshly cut apples and bruised apples. The acidity picks up toward the finish. A long finish. –
Pinot Noir, AOC Alsace, Vintage 2018 (biodynamic) – The grapes for this wine come from the 115 clone and the winery also uses a Massal Selection (making the vineyard terroir more unique). Chantal noted that with global warming over the last 20 years that Pinot Noir now ripens fully in Alsace. The grapes once picked spend two weeks maceration before fermenting, and then spend one year in oak barrels (1-5 years age). This wine is a clear medium garnet in colour. Nice aromas of red fruits, red cherries, and sweet spices. Dry, soft and round mouthfeel along with very light tannins. Red fruits, floral and cinnamon on the palate. This wine is newly bottled and needs 3-4 years of ageing for you to experience its full potential. –
Gewurztraminer, AOC Alsace, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic. A Natural wine.) – A very exciting wine for me. The grapes once picked spent two weeks maceration before pressing and fermentation in old 10-year oak barrels then aged for 6-7 months. You get a bright peach skin colour in the glass. Sweet spice aromas, plus lychee and dried floral notes. This wine is bone dry and light-bodied. Oranges, roses, and lychee flavours on the palate. Bright acidity with a hint of tannins and some pepperiness on the finish. This wine should work well pairing with food. Recommended. –
Domaine Emile Beyer
Consider being the 14th generation in a winemaking family with 17 ha of vineyards. That is the legacy that Christian and Valérie Beyer upholds in the vineyards and the winery. I asked them if this legacy puts lots of pressure on them, but they said they feel less pressure as they get older. They feel responsible but realize to do your job the way you want to do it and to be respectful of the vineyard. It is an honour to be part of history. They started on the route of being organic in 2005 and were certified in 2014. They began the process of becoming biodynamic in 2017 and were DEMETER certified in 2019. They do use horse and plough to work in the vineyard. The grapes are handpicked and the wines undergo natural yeast fermentation.
Riesling AOC Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – They call the vineyard in this Grand Cru region Peach Tree. The vineyard is on a hillside facing south. The soil is limestone and thin due to the steep slope, so the vines hit the bedrock. The wine spent a year on its lees. This wine has a medium lemon colour. Honeyed stone fruits and brioche on the nose. Dry with a medium-plus body. Dried stone fruits, honey, mineral, and a herbal expression, maybe rosemary. They say that this wine gets that herbal character due to the warmer climate influence. The location of their vineyard gives them a Mediterranean climate which they say promotes the herbal character. A unique terroir.
Riesling AOC Alsace Grand Cru Eichberg, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – Eichberg they said represents an oak tree, a symbol of its verticality, richness, and strength. The wines from this Grand Cru vineyard also produce powerful wines with great cellaring opportunity. The soil is a mix of marl and sandstone which act like a sponge to retain water that helps in hot stretches in the summer. The vines are 40+ years in age and can grow deep in this type of soil. The wine has a medium lemon colour. A light intensity but deep lemon, floral and stone fruit aromas. Dry, medium-plus body with medium-plus acidity and a thicker mouthfeel. Flavours of baked and bruised apples, citrus, and a touch of floral. Deep flavours.
Pinot Noir, AOC Alsace, Sundel, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – A single-vineyard wine using the Pommard clone. Sundel means little sun. This vineyard is 15 years old. 30% of the grapes are whole cluster fermented and the wine spends 18 months in French oak barrels. This wine is medium garnet in colour. Pronounced aromas of sour and red cherries, red fruits and sweet spices. It is dry, medium-plus body and has a semi-round mouthfeel. Floral, red fruits, sour cherries and raspberry flavours. Medium intensity fine-grained tannins. Very young and still should age before enjoying at home. This was a barrel sample and should mellow and integrate over time. They said that their 2015 Pinot Noir is drinking very well right now.
Pinot Gris, AOC Alsace, Hohrain, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – Hohrain is a single vineyard for their Pinot Gris grapes. The soil is limestone and interestingly the vineyard is on a north-facing slope. Christian’s father planted these grapes and picked the north face as he believed that Pinot Gris requires a cooler climate and that the south-facing slopes in the Alsace region were too warm. Christian over time agrees with his father’s decision. This wine has a light pear skin colour. A very light stone fruit nose plus honey and stoniness. Medium body, soft and round. Fresh stone fruit flavours, apricots in particular, along with some honey and a touch of pepperiness. Christian said that this wine needs some time to decant in your glass in order to fully enjoy its aromas and flavours. –
Domaine Francois Schmitt
I had a wonderful time speaking with Myriam Schmitt about their wines. It is a family run business that started in the 1970’s by her father-in-law, Francois. They have 13 ha of vineyards. Myriam advised me that Alsace has the most biodynamic wineries in all of France and in Europe, in part as DEMETER is located in Colmar, which is in Alsace. They became certified biodynamic in 2016. We did not discuss, but from their website, I see that they use a horse and plough in their vineyard. I asked Myriam if she noticed anything different in the vineyard since converting to biodynamics. She noted that the vineyard is more alive with insects and flowers and the vines are more healthy. She also indicated that the wines come in with a lower pH and the finished wines are less fragile.
Riesling, AOC Alsace Grand Cru Pfingstberg, Paradis, Vintage 2017 (biodynamic) – This is a cooler terroir and makes a wine with long finish, good acidity and is elegant according to Myriam. This wine has a light citrus, white flowers, and petrol aromas. Medium-plus body, dry with higher acidity. Flavours of citrus then baked apples and a touch of petrol. Myrian noted that the flavours are vertical (linear), which I agree.
Riesling, AOC Alsace, Effenberg, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – Limestone and clay soil for these grapes, a Premier Cru subarea of the Bollenberg. This region is warmer than Pfingstberg so you get a bigger wine. I get a flinty, light stone fruit and pear nose from this wine. It is dry, medium body with a high level of acidity leading to prickle on your tongue. Pear flavour to start then citrus in the middle and quite salty minerality. Spicy at the end. A very fresh wine.
Sylvaner, AOC Alsace, Effenberg, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – I rarely see Sylvaner so was intrigued about this wine. Myriam noted that Sylvaner and Riesling are the best grapes for this region. She says that you can make good Sylvaner in a good terroir, such as in Effenberg. This wine has a medium lemon colour. Ripe stone fruit nose. It is very smooth and soft. Dry with lower acidity. Light stone fruits, baked fruits, apricots, sweet spices and honey on the palate. A wine that a new wine drinker can easily begin to enjoy and can pair with many dishes.
Pinot Noir, AOC Alsace, Bollenberg, Vintage 2019 (biodynamic) – Myriam noted that they do not have the long experience making Pinot Noir like in Burgundy, but the newer younger winemakers are getting that experience so we can expect more finessed Pinot Noir from Alsace in the future. This wine spent 4 weeks of maceration before fermentation, then aged 1 year in barrels (1-4th fill), before blending. If the blend is not 100% to their satisfaction they will age the blend for another 6 months in stainless steel before bottling. No filtration, so I expected the wine to be a bit duller in colour, but it was quite clear. A light garnet colour. A medium intensity nose starting with dill (which I love), then red fruit and some flintiness. The wine is dry and round, light-bodied, with fine tannins. Floral and red fruit flavours, and touches of pencil lead and vanilla. Medium acidity. A light touch of sweet spices at the end. A very pretty wine.
Philippe has noted that Pinot Noir quality has risen in Alsace over the last 5 years in part due to global warming and the newer winemakers who travelled to other wine regions to learn to make Pinot Noir. He expects to be certified to biodynamic in 2021. Crush Imports is their agent in BC.
Riesling, AOC Alsace, Wasserfal, Vintage 2019 (in conversion to biodynamic) – This is a Premier Cru Riesling. Wasserfall is the German word for a waterfall, although Philippe said that there is no waterfall that he knows of in the area. The vineyard for these Riesling grapes is north-facing at 310m elevation, which means a cooler climate, and is a limestone and chalk soil. I again am interested to hear from many winemakers in Alsace about planting their vines on north-facing slopes. We usually think of planting in any orientation other than north here in BC. Pears, apples and white flowers on the nose. This wine is smooth but still has medium-plus acidity. Sweet and tart apples, and pears on the palate. Salty minerality with some stoniness at the very end. A long finish. Philippe recommends this wine for seafood, whether raw or cooked.
Riesling, AOC Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg, Vintage 2018 (in conversion to biodynamic) – Marl and clay soil in the vineyard, on a steep south-facing slope. This wine has a medium intensity nose with deep aromas of apples, pears and white flowers and a touch of petrol. Dry and soft, with a light body. Medium acidity. Apples, baked apples, and citrus flavours, along with a touch of pepperiness on the finish. This wine is available in BC, AB, ON, and MB.
Pinot Noir, AOC Alsace, GRAND “E”, Vintage 2019 (in conversion to biodynamic) – Grand E stands for Grand Cru Eichberg where this vineyard is located. The soil is limestone. Philippe really likes the quality of their Pinot Noir and is expanding the plantings 20-30% by removing some of their Gewurztraminer vines. The grapes from their vineyard is a massal selection. This wine has a clear medium garnet colour. It has a light toasty red fruit nose. Dry, soft and smooth with very silky tannins and light acidity. Raspberries and red fruit flavours. Philippe noted that this wine with its soft tannins can be enjoyed on its own or with food.
Gewurztraminer, AOC Alsace, Grand Cru Goldert, Vintage 2012 (conventional) – I was told that his Grand Cru Goldert vineyard has an interesting soil mix of sandstone, limestone, and clay, is on a steep slope facing east and gets cooling shadow starting 6pm. Philippe put this wine in the tasting particularly because he wanted to show people that Gewurztraminer from a quality vineyard can age well. I agree. This wine has a bright, deeper lemon colour. A beautiful lychee, honey, and rose nose. It is off-dry, smooth, soft and round on the palate. Lychee, nutty, baked apples, apricots, along with touches of rose and pepperiness. A delicate wine. Philippe says that this wine works well with fish and with meat, not just for cheese.
A Bonus Winery – Domaine Charles Baur
I also received a bonus set of wines from Domaine Charles Baur, which I tasted on my own as I was not able to set a meeting with the winery. The wines from Domaine Charles Baur are biodynamic.
RIESLING, AOC Alsace, 2018 CUVÉE CHARLES – A light bright lemon colour. Ripe sweet stone fruit and touches of honey and citrus aromas. Dry, light mouthfeel, with a linear structure but still some roundness. Medium-plus acidity. Flavours of pears and floral and other stone fruits, some pepperiness and tartness toward the finish. A light delight!
RIESLING, AOC Alsace, Grand Cru Brand 2017 – Medium lemon and pear skin colour. A light intensity nose with a mix of stone fruits, honey, apples, and a touch of petrol. Fuller bodied, round and soft, with medium acidity. Ripe fruit flavours; stone fruits and apples. Some minerality and a touch of petrol as well. Honeyed fruits, tartness and some pepperiness on the finish. A quality wine. –
PINOT GRIS, AOC Alsace, 2018 – A deeper, bright pear skin colour. A light intensity nose with ripe honeyed pear and pineapple aromas. Pronounced tropical fruit flavours are very expressive upon sipping, accompanied by lesser pears and sweet spices, and light pepperiness. A bigger, rounder, silky mouthfeel. Delicious.
PINOT GRIS, AOC Alsace, Grand Cru Eichberg, 2016 – A wine with now 5 years of age on it. Medium pear skin colour. A very light intensity nose with aromas of apples and white flowers. Very smooth and round with a unique marzipan and pear flavour. Medium acidity gives you a dry finish. Quality. –
To Canadian Wine Agents
These wines are of very good quality, are biodynamic, and are family-run. Please contact these wineries if you would like to bring in these wines so that we can all experience them as well.