White, Ready, but will improve

2015 Riesling, Heissenberg, Domaine André Ostertag

2015 Riesling, Heissenberg, Domaine André Ostertag

White | Ready, but will improve | Domaine Andre Ostertag | Code:  41982 | 2015 | France > Alsace | Riesling | Medium-Full Bodied, Dry | 14.0 % alcohol

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The Producer

Domaine Andre Ostertag

Domaine Andre Ostertag

André Ostertag does not confine himself to the traditional Alsatian way of treating the varieties he has in his vineyards. Being a second generation wine-maker - his German family ('Ostertag' meaning 'Easter Day') founding the then 3ha estate in 1966 - André had evidently been put in his place by the elders; those looking askance at this Lycee Viticole de Beaune graduate and upstart who dared to put Pinot Gris in oak (despite the grape's Cote d'Or heritage). That was 1983, when his towering Muenchberg Pinot Gris was denied the honour to be labelled as such, becoming 'A360P' overnight, its grid-reference. 'Before' he smiles knowingly, 'I had to find my place, but I'm older now'.

In 1998  he converted his 12.5 hectares to full biodynamic production. His “Vins de Pierre” label  are terroir wines with a 20 year life depending on the vintage, and the vines in these vineyards represent this special link between earth and sky (and perhaps it  is no wonder that the produce of which, grapes and wine, were believed by ancient Egyptians to possess divine qualities).The “Vins de Fruit” label (including Sylvaner VV and Pinot Blanc Barriques) blends fruit from across vineyards in a fruit forward expression and with a  5 - 7 years life .

Ostertag treats Pinot Gris as the Burgundian grape that it is, rather than the sweeter versions of some producers - it is always the first grape he picks, only 10 days or so after the Burgundian vintage, because he wants a dry wine with no botrytis. His use of oak on the Heissenberg Riesling may also challenge tradition, but is simply his response to the nature of the Heissenberg vineyard. The texture and length given to the Riesling by the oak acts as would brighter acidity. Rieslings and Pinot Gris from the Grand Cru Muenchberg are always majestic wines and magnificent to boot.

His Sylvaner is in a different league from the usual dilute, overcropped wines made from this grape. His Pinot Blanc is fermented and matured for 9 months in barriques with lees stirring and malolactic fermentation, all of which contribute to its creamy softness.

André's wines are works of art to be collected and celebrated.

The Grape

Riesling

Riesling

Riesling's twin peaks are its intense perfume and its piercing crisp acidity which it manages to retain even at high ripeness levels.

In Germany, Riesling constitutes around 20% of total plantings, yet it is responsible for all its greatest wines. It is planted widely on well-drained, south-facing slate-rich slopes, with the greatest wines coming from the best slopes in the best villages. It produces delicate, racy, nervy and stylish wines that cover a wide spectrum of flavours from steely and bone dry with beautifully scented fruits of apples,apricots, and sometimes peaches, through to the exotically sweet flavours of the great sweet wines.

It is also an important variety in Alsace where it produces slightly earthier, weightier and fuller wines than in Germany. The dry Rieslings can be austere and steely with hints of honey while the Vendages Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles are some of the greatest sweet wines in the world.

It is thanks to the New World that Riesling is enjoying a marked renaissance. In Australia the grape has developed a formidable reputation, delivering lime-sherbet fireworks amid the continental climate of Clare Valley an hour's drive north of Adelaide, while Barossa's Eden Valley is cooler still, producing restrained stony lime examples from the elevated granitic landscape; Tasmania is fast becoming their third Riesling mine, combining cool temperatures with high UV levels to deliver stunning prototypes.

New Zealand shares a similar climate, with Riesling and Pinot Gris neck to neck in their bid to be the next big thing after Sauvignon Blanc; perfectly suited is the South Island's Central Otago, with its granitic soils and continental climate, and the pebbly Brightwater area near Nelson. While Australia's Rieslings tend to be full-bodied & dry, the Kiwis are more inclined to be lighter bodied, more ethereal and sometimes off-dry; Alsace plays Mosel if you like.

The Region

Alsace

Alsace

While Alsace's 16,000 ha may have accounted for only two percent of France's vineyards in 2004, and although 50 percent of the production is still made by cooperatives, paradoxically the region remains the source of some of the world's finest white wines.

There are several reasons for this: the region's 47.5 degrees north latitude ensures high sunshine levels; it has a deep continental climate and superb mesoclimate created by the sheltering presence of the Vosges Mountains, whose foothills have in turn provided excellent aspects and elevation (up to 360m), notably along the southern, east-facing Haut-Rhin region; the diverse array of soil types (13 in all); the cultural meticulousness of the local French/Swiss/German people; and finally, the choice of noble varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat (Ottonel and d'Alsace), Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc.

Alsace is also famed for being the birthplace of biodynamic viticulture in France, dating back to 1924; hence it has the country's highest proportion of biodynamic producers.

Furthermore, the region enjoys a rich viticultural heritage stretching back to the Roman Empire; their good work was briefly interrupted by the marauding Alemanni hordes before being revived by the Church. Riesling was first documented in 1477, Muscat and Traminer first appeared in 1500, while Tokay Pinot Gris surfaced later in 1650. The region returned to France in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War, when Louis XIV offered free land to the French, German and Swiss immigrants. The commercial imperative of the time was one of quantity fuelled by the anodyne Elbling grape and exported widely.

The French Revolution did nothing to reverse this trend, resulting in nearly 7,000 ha (John Baxevanis’s ‘The Wines of Champagne, Burgundy, Eastern and Southern France’ quotes 30,000 ha planted in Alsace by 1828, p.28) being planted by the time of the Franco-Prussian War; the province becoming German momentarily before being plagued by oidium, mildew and latterly phylloxera. Cheap blends predominated until the territory was handed back to France after the First World War. Plans to join France's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system in 1933 were postponed by the Second World War until 1962.

Alsace differs stylistically from its German cousins further up the Rhine in that the wines are typically fermented dry in large old oak foudres at ambient temperatures to give a fuller-bodied wine that is a natural accompaniment to the finest fare (unsurprisingly, Alsace boasts one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants).

Alsace is unique for a French wine region for many reasons, but perhaps most significantly in its labelling laws that stipulate that producers must specify the grape variety used on the label. RieslingPinot GrisGewürztraminer and a little Muscat are the noble names, along with some Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner for thirst- quenching purposes, and Pinot Noir for those who wish for red wine – not much of the latter travels to export markets.

There are three superior categories of wine to look out for: The best vineyards have been designated Grand Cru (25 of them appointed in 1983, a further 25 in 1985, and just one in 2008), while late-harvested wines achieving specified sugar levels may be labelled Vendanges Tardives or, for exceptional items, Selection des Grains Nobles. Apart from these two categorisations, there is no indication as to whether the wine will be fully dry or possibly contain residual sugar.

As elsewhere, it pays to follow the producer, both in the pursuit of quality and also for security of style. Some growers look for mineral intensity (Ostertag, Trimbach, André and Lucas Rieffel), others achieve an awesome opulence (Zind Humbrecht). An impressive number of top names have converted to biodynamic farming in recent years.

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