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Faith restored

Part 8 of a 2006 Alsace/Paris travelogue

by Thor Iverson

30 March 2006 – Andlau, France

Domaine Rémy Gresser – A bit shaken by our experience at Kreydenweiss, but re-fortified by lunch, we head back to Andlau for a drop-in tasting at the house of Gresser. The eponymous winemaker greets us, as warmly as one is ever greeted in Alsace (the actual warming almost always comes later; it’s that German/French tension in their natures), and we sit down for a surprisingly deep and conversational tasting.

Gresser, like most terroir-focused winemakers, spends a long time speaking about the local rocks as he pours each wine, and frequently refers to an informative map detailing the varying subsoils of the deep-bottomed “bowl” around Andlau (in actual fact, it’s shaped more like a test tube). It’s a sort of wonderland for the terroirist, with each delimited site offering something different. As we talk, we taste. And taste. And taste.

[domaine gresser][andlau church & vineyard]

Andlau from the Mœnchberg

Gresser 2004 Pinot Blanc (Alsace) – Unlike most such-labeled wines, this one is actually 100% pinot blanc, and free of the thickening but occasionally overpowering qualities of auxerrois. And it shows in the wine’s fresh, tangy apricot nature. Light and pleasant, with no aspirations of being “pinot gris-lite.”

Rémy calls Alsace “Anglo-Saxon apart from the food, but French in the food.” Thinking on giant piles of sauerkraut with pork, flammenküche, presskopf, and other delicious but sturdy local indelicacies, I think to question this point…then think better of it, and let him continue with the tasting.

Gresser 2003 Riesling (Alsace) – Classic. Green apple, drying minerality and sharp acidity. Absolutely, unwaveringly classic. And, inexplicably, a withering breed in these ripeness-über-alles times. How was this achieved in 2003? I don’t get to ask, because we’re very quickly on to the next dozen wines…

Gresser 2004 Riesling Andlau (Alsace) – Vivid. Fresh daisies, showing wet gravel refreshed with river water and flecked with iron. Balanced, crisp, and sternly beautiful.

Gresser 2003 Riesling Kastelberg (Alsace) – From Steige schist. Windblown gravel and mineral dust, with great acidity for an ’03 (and fine acidity in any case). Full-bodied but very nice, extremely dense, and long. There’s a…well, for lack of a better term, a “deep blue” taste to this wine, or at least that’s the mind in which it puts me. Highly ageable.

Gresser 2003 Riesling Wiebelsberg (Alsace) – From grès des Vosges. Floral, with white roses in wet rocks. The sharp minerality is spiky and glassy, though shattered, and this wine gives little else of itself. Wines like this need nothing but time, and though it will probably never reach the heights of the Kastelberg, it will probably live longer and better than that wine.

Gresser 1999 Riesling Mœnchberg (Alsace) – From fossilized calcaire. Odd floral and celery notes at war, with dry walnut and a grating texture. To call this wine “difficult” would be an understatement. It seems like the sort of ungenerous, eroded shell of a wine I would have predicted from many ’99s as they aged, but since I don’t believe I tasted this in its youth, it would be presumptuous to draw a direct connection in this particular case.

Gresser 1985 Riesling Mœnchberg (Alsace) – Rémy serves this blind and makes me guess the year. I don’t recall my specific guess, but it’s somewhere in the early nineties. Not only am I more than a half-decade off, the wine has already been open for two days (at cellar temperature). It’s striking still, showing pine flowers and cedar, plus an intense forepalate that gently softens into a lingering finish full of gritty minerality. Still, drink it if you’ve got it.

Gresser 2004 Muscat Brandhof (Alsace) – From calcaire. Crisp, with apple blossoms and a vivid acidity throughout. This builds on the palate, showing more Alsace than muscat over its length.

Gresser 2004 Pinot Gris Brandhof (Alsace) – Pear skin and juice from ripe examples of the fruit, with a long, solid core of iron and steel around which runs a steady but thin stream of lemon and grapefruit. Incredibly long-finishing and crisp. I’ve not encountered a pinot gris of this structure and form in quite some time. It’s decidedly different, especially now, but I love it.

Gresser 2002 Pinot Gris Brandhof “Vieilles Vignes” (Alsace) – The old vines, in this case, are around 45 years of age. Fatter than the previous wine, though by no means blowsy, with spiced pear and intense, ripe red apple, strawberry and red cherry. Normally, I associate those sorts of red fruit characteristics with very high-quality pinot gris, but in this case the finish is shorter than I’d like, and the acidity not quite what I’d want either. Still, it’s a very good wine; I’m simply hoping for more from this vintage and these vines.

[andlau vineyard panorama]

Kastelberg & Wiebelsberg from Duttenberg
[vineyards near andlau]

Brandhof from Kritt

Gresser 2004 Gewurztraminer Kritt (Alsace) – From graves soil. Crisp lychee and cashew oil with fresh rose petals floating about. The finish is slightly charred, with some alcohol apparent.

Gresser 2001 Gewurztraminer Andlau (Alsace) – Spicy and lurid, with lychee (more skin than fruit) lending a drying finish. This, like the 2003 riesling, represents a classic, older style of the grape that is harder and harder to find in these sugar-hunting times. It’s not a great gewurztraminer by any means, but it is a perfectly typical one, and the sort of amenable wine one wants at table.

Gresser 1997 Gewurztraminer Mœnchberg “Vendanges Tardives” (Alsace) – Prickly petroleum-spiked juice, with a decidedly different mélange of papaya, tamarind and quince. Perhaps some strawberry as well. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Structurally, it’s long and acidic, and this – perhaps predictably – is done more in the true late-harvest (rather than simply sweet) style that used to be the norm in Alsace, though it does carry 30 grams of residual sugar. A bracing, almost shocking version of this most ubiquitous of Alsatian late-harvest wines.

Gresser 1998 Gewurztraminer Andlau “Sélection des Grains Nobles” (Alsace) – Creamed cashew and rose jam dusted with white pepper, the latter of which defines the initial texture of the wine. Dense, rich and spice-laden, with flakes of steel throughout. This is a terrific, balanced wine of intensity but also – and more importantly – of style. The finish is incredibly long, as it should be. Brilliant.

Gresser 2000 Riesling Mœnchberg “Sélection des Grains Nobles” (Alsace) – Racy ripe apple of shocking density, very sweet (120g residual sugar), but with acidity of a density more than matching the sugar. There’s an apple cider quality to the acidity that grows on the long finish, during which are also introduced elements of lemongrass, Makrut lime, and a shower of iron flakes. Magisterial.

As drop-in visits go, this has to rank among the finest ever. These are wines of both modernity and classicism; the former represented by the flawless execution of the necessary viticultural and oenological techniques required to preserve their quality, the latter by the mostly dry-finished focus on the intensity of each wine’s core, rather than an easy fallback on the showy trappings of lushness supplied by excess sugar at harvest. These are also wines of presence and site-differentiation, with clear ageability. With showy new labels introduced in 2004, this is a winery that has long been of good quality, but appears to be interested in ascending to the next level. Time, and marketing, will tell.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.