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Squished Dionysus

Part 7 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue

by Thor Iverson


Andlau for something completely different
30 March 2006 – Andlau, France

Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss – One of the major proponents of biodynamism in Alsace, Kreydenweiss doesn’t get the press or acclaim of some of his fellow practitioners. But he is an evangelist, constantly pushing the soil-revelatory aspects of his agricultural practices, and any visitor to their tasting room will receive at least a short lecture (including rocky props) on the soil types of the Andlau-area vineyards, which are myriad.

We’re received at the door by Marc, but it’s his son Antoine that conducts our tasting. In retrospect, I wonder if there might not be a reason.

Kreydenweiss 2004 Pinot Blanc Kritt (Alsace) – Minty sage and banana skin with light spice and great acidity. The finish is leafy and more than a bit wan. A very odd and slightly disappointing performance for this wine, and I wonder if it might not be off somehow, but Antoine confirms that it tastes as it should. This exchange defines the recurring theme of our tasting.

Kreydenweiss 2004 Riesling Andlau (Alsace) – Sulfur-dominated right now. Tight and weird, almost edging towards nasty, but very slightly redeemed by heavy lime on the finish. Very strange and off-putting.

Kreydenweiss 2003 Riesling Clos Rebberg “Aux Vignes” (Alsace) – Heady, thick and surprisingly dry given that texture, showing rancid apple and molten aluminum foil with little inflections of sea salt. Definitely unusual.

Kreydenweiss 2003 Riesling Wiebelsberg “La Dame” (Alsace) – Shy on the nose, with lemongrass, apple blossom and waves of minerality emerging on the palate. It’s very lightly sweet at first, but drying tannin and crisp acidity balance out the finish. Not bad at all, but the aromatic void is worrisome.

Kreydenweiss 2003 Riesling Kastelberg “Le Château” (Alsace) – Fuller and longer than anything yet tasted, showing Granny Smith apple, forceful floral and apricot notes, and a finish full of lilies, lavender sachet and chalk. There’s steel at the core, which is promising, but the finish already shows signs of mild oxidation, giving this wine a questionable future. Still, this is the best of the rieslings, which isn’t saying much (Kreydenweiss père prefers the Wiebelsberg).

Kreydenweiss 2002 Clos du Val d’Eléon “l’Âme de la Terre” (Alsace) – Makrut lime leaf shredded by a huge, tart, juicy acidity. However, the finish is stale and short, and there’s unmistakable oxidation present. I don’t know how to evaluate this wine, except to say that I lack confidence.

Kreydenweiss 2002 Pinot Gris Clos Rebberg “Aux Vignes” (Alsace) – Cranky and nervous, showing spiced pear juice and a papery finish. Very slightly oxidized, but not unpleasantly so…however, it is only a 2002, so there’s cause for worry.

Kreydenweiss 2003 Pinot Gris Mœnchberg “Le Moine” (Alsace) – Rich and lightly sweet, showing creamed and heavily-spiced anise liqueur. The balance is decent, but this wine is reminiscent of a cheap SGN, which is hardly a compliment.

Kreydenweiss 2000 Riesling Clos Rebberg “Aux Vignes” “Sélection des Grains Nobles” (Alsace) – 100g residual sugar, 100% botrytized grapes, according to Antoine. This is incredible, with pear syrup slashed and rent by fantastic acidity and a succulent fennel, walnut skin and ripe red apple finish. Floral notes abound. Majestic, and even better than on a previous visit (though why the same wines are still being offered four years later is a sensible question that we do not ask).

Kreydenweiss 2003 “Perrières” Costières de Nimes “Lot 1” (Rhône) – Carignan, syrah, grenache and mourvèdre. Spiced leather, black cherry and strawberry with chewy tannin underneath. There’s a lot of quality here, despite the vagaries of the vintage, and I think the innate Alsatian predisposition towards nervosity saves this wine from a bitter, sludgy fate.

Kreydenweiss 2002 “Ansata” Vin de Pays des Coteaux Flaviens “Lot 1” (Rhône) – Syrah, grenache and merlot. Minty blueberry and leather with coal-dominated minerality. The high-toned fruit is lovely, but it’s the rocks underneath that appeal. Still, there’s a lack of cohesion, and I don’t find much varietal impact. (I know nothing of the appellation, so I can’t judge the wine’s authenticity in that respect.)

To be depressingly honest, this is a bewilderingly disappointing tasting. The 2003s are predictably insufficient (or, sometimes, over-sufficient), but there’s no reason for the poor performance of so many other vintages. As for oxidation, which appears in several wines, it could be an artifact of overly-aerated bottles…except that we’re assured by Antoine Kreydenweiss that this is not the case. And the fact of the matter is that if they consider oxidized wines to be representative, something is desperately wrong.

Had this been my first visit to Kreydenweiss, I’d have dismissed the wines as aspirational but generally ordinary. However, it’s not (and I have extensive tasting experience with the wines back home), and I know the terroiristic heights of which the domaine is capable. So what’s gone wrong? Any guess would be purely speculative, but as a devoted fan of this house’s previous vintages, I’m concerned.

[bear statue eating grapes]

The bear necessities
Blienschwiller, France

Le Pressoir de Bacchus – This is an unprepossessing, country-style restaurant (in an otherwise uninviting village; it’s pretty, but definitely no tourist destination despite a high concentration of wineries no one’s ever heard of) that, in the absence of recommendation, would go largely unnoticed. And that would be a tragedy, because the philosophy and cuisine exhibit a remarkable focus. A local couple owns this twenty-seat establishment, buys everything possible from local merchants (except, somewhat ironically for us, for some meats from New Zealand, which they laud as a source of impeccable ingredients), and assembles local wines (that, again, no one has ever heard of) to accompany the food. I sample presskopf – typically a glutinous and indifferent mishmash of leftover cranial “parts” – of striking intensity (salty, gelatinous, and utterly delicious) on salad, which is followed by a decadent, house-made pâté de foie gras paired with a meatier house-made pâté. It’s a perfect, classically Alsatian lunch. Theresa’s more-involved duck breast is superb, and much better than the overcooked, confused version served the previous day, with an adventurous, Indian-influenced spicing that’s almost shocking in this highly-traditional region. This is a kitchen to watch. Better yet, this extraordinary food is priced no higher than the indifferent choucroute-by-numbers at hundreds of similar-seeming establishments.

Christian Schwartz “Collection Marine” 2003 Pinot Gris Winzenberg (Alsace) – Light…almost transparent…with suggestions of pear and fluorescent rocks in a crystal prison. Builds with air and on the finish, but despite good intensity and intention it’s a little on the flabby side. Still, it’s worth drinking, because the more difficult conditions of the Bas-Rhin save this wine from what would have been its soupier fate south of Dambach-la-Ville. It’s far from dry, but it’s flavorful. The biggest criticism that can be leveled is that it doesn’t say much about its grand cru terroir…but then, few 2003s do.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.