‘Les Grandes Maisons d’Alsace’ is an association of six of the very best wine producers in Alsace, who share a number of things in common: they are family owned, not part of bigger corporations; they are still managed by family members; they own large holdings of Grand Cru vineyards; they have a mission to preserve quality and tradition. The six members are: Léon Beyer from Eguisheim; Dopff au Moulin from Riquewihr; Hugel et Fils also from Riquewihr; Kuentz-Bas from Husseren-Les-Châteaux; Domaines Schlumberger from Guebwiller and Trimbach from Ribeauville.
The Grandes Maisons had brought a selection of both their current vintage releases, and some rare ‘library wines’ from their personal collections. The tasting and lunch which followed was held at London’s superb Le Gavroche.
Eveline Schlumberger, Marc Beyer, Johnny Hugel, Severine Schlumberger, Hubert Trimbach, Pierre-Etienne Dopff, Christian Bas.
Sitting: Silvano Giraldin (Manager, Le Gavroche) and Thierry Thomasin (Head Sommelier)
Regular followers of the Wine Pages will know what a huge fan I am of Alsace wines in general, and this tasting served to confirm not only the quality of these houses, but outlined marked differences in house styles that were really quite obvious given this wonderful opportunity to taste and compare. The event also offered absolute proof that Alsace wines are just wonderful food wines, with that fantastic combination of key qualities: balance, fruit, acidity and sufficient complexity.
Planted by Marc Beyer’s ancestors in 1580, this is one of the oldest houses in Alsace. A very dry style, designed to accompany food, some might even class it as slightly austere, though of fine quality.
1997 Riesling (D)
Nicely crisp and crunchy with lime fruit on nose and palate, joined by a steely mineral core. Tight, focused and very pure. Good.
1998 Riesling Escaliers (E)
More waxy richness on the nose with mineral, straw and stony notes joining citrus fruit. Palate is bone dry but packed with ripe, oily lemon fruit. Lovely stuff. Very good.
1997 Riesling Comtes d’Eguisheim (F)
Rich, full nose. Lots of zipping lemon fruit but also hints of a juicy, ripe peachiness. Good weight on the palate and fine fruit, very good length too. Very good.
1995 Riesling Vendange Tardive (F)
Really tight mineral quality on the nose, with a crunch of pear and apple, but again shot-through with lemon. Fine sweetness on the attack, very ripe and quite light and elegant, beautifully balanced. Very good.
1998 Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive (F)
This has masses of fragrant roses, lychee and turkish delight, but not cloying: again a crispness and lightness about the nose. Good sweetness on the palate, juicy and taut citrus flavours, plenty of acidity and a nice long, elegant finish. Very good.
1998 Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles (F)
Lightly botrytised nose with notes of smoke and unctuous, thick fruit. Quite exotic, with tropical overtones to peach and mango on the palate, a fat, oily texture and streak of grapefruit acidity enlivening the finish. Very good.
Dopff au Moulin
My apologies to Dopff au Moulin: by sheer chance I happened to leave this house until last, but then unfortunately was beaten by a lack of time.
1997 Tokay Pinot Gris Propre Recolte (C)
Nutty, herbal quality over moderate peachy fruit on the nose, some pear nuances. On the palate good acidity, and a slightly sweeter character to the fruit. Decent length.
Hugel et Fils
Established in 1639, this is one of the most famous houses in Alsace, partly due to the tireless work of Johnny Hugel, one of the world’s great wine amassadors. Hugel famously rejected the Grand Cru classification of the 1970’s, refusing to use that classification on their labels, even when they own some of the finest Grand Cru vineyards in the region. Hugel also pioneered the production of sweeter Vendage Tardive and SdGN styles in Alsace, and the quality remains extremely high.
1999 Les Fleurs d’Alsace (B)
Also sold under the “Gentil” label, this is a blend of grapes and is always really good stuff at the price. Lively, sweet, floral nose, lots of flowers and peach, even hints of cherry. Palate is crisp and driven by clean apple and citrus fruit. Very good.
1999 Riesling Tradition (D)
Minerals and juicy peach fruit on the nose, suggestions of weighty richness. On the palate it is bone-dry, shot through with steely lemon fruit and just little hints of herbs and richer fruit. Might need time, for now only Good.
1997 Gewürztraminer Jubilée (D)
There’s a little sense of rich toastiness here and plenty of buttery, rich fruit. A lovely exotic character pushes through with lychee and a suggestion of oily richness. On the palate a sweet, ripe edge to good fruit and plenty of Hugel hallmark grapefruity acidity into a nice finish. Very good.
1995 Riesling Vendange Tardive (F)
Again some real sweetness suggested by the nose, and a terrific perfume of downy peach skins. Palate is really quite lush and sweet-edged; full-bodied and full of chewy fruit with a slightly pithy acidity kicking in on the finish. Good/very good.
1997 Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles (F)
Pungent, powerful nose, redolent of herbs and nettles and a weight of nectarine fruit, little hints of exotic sweetness. Palate is gorgeously rich and full, very hedonistic, with pure, juicy, thick, sweet pear and peach fruit, full body and tremendous length. Excellent.
A relatively youthful house, established ‘only’ in 1795, the winemaking at Kuentz-Bas is under the control of a New Zealand-educated oenologist. Perhaps that explains their willingness to experiment, including the ground-breaking ‘Signature’, the first estate Alsace wine to make the magical £4.99 price point.
1999 ‘Signature’ d’Alsace (A)
Slightly mute on the nose, but a really fresh, crisp, crunchy vibrancy on the palate, stacked with lemony fruit. Good.
1999 Pinot Blanc Tradition (C)
Again, slightly mute, some orchard fruit notes. Again, a fine lemony sharpness to the fruit on the palate, but pure and long. Good.
1999 Riesling Tradition (C)
There’s a lovely impression of minerality here and a really fine nose with nuances of nettles and waxiness. The palate too has that steely, stony character that is dry and savoury, with a long, pure, tightly-fruited finish. Very good.
1999 Muscat d’Alsace Collection (C)
There’s a terribly attractive musky, fruity, rich quality here that is deep and inviting. On the palate lots of juicy melon fruit, good acidity that makes it basically dry, and a nice long finish. Very good.
1999 Tokay-Pinot Gris Collection (D)
There’s a suggestion of buttered toast on the nose, with notes of sesame-seed and good fruit. This again has lots of juicy, crunchy mouthwatering fruit, but stays very elegant and finishes with fine length. Very good indeed.
1996 Tokay-Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive Cuvée Caroline (F)
Pungent nose, with herbal, leafy complexity, a bittersweet kumquat fruit. Juicy, full-flavoured palate with lovely sweet ripness to the fruit and great length. Medium to full-bodied and very striking stuff. Very good.
1996 Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive Cuvée Caroline (F)
A rich blast of orange peel, peach and nectarine on the nose. Very good fruit on the palate that is weighty and buttery, though enough acidity to really push through and extend the finish. Very good.
1989 Tokay-Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles Cuvée Jeremy (F)
Wonderful deep colour and a fantastic nose that is rich with botrytis, notes of honey, biscuits, marmalade. Delicious stuff that is full and rich on the palate, thick and unctuous with sweet marmalade fruit and again a layering of oily honey, but there is lovely acidity again and fine balance. Excellent.
The Schlumbergers are not afraid to combine tradtion with technology. Their steepest slopes are still worked by horses, yet they also employ helicopters for spraying! Eveline Schlumberger was here with her daughter, Severine, who is about to take over her rôle at the head of this house.
1999 Pinot Blanc (C)
Lovely fresh, sherbetty, mineral notes; an almost salty tang. Maybe just a little lean on the palate, but certainly very pure and clean. Good.
1997 Riesling Princes-Abbés (C)
Very steely, citrus nose. A palate of crunchy, crisp lemon and lime fruit. Again a particularly lean and focused style, but very pure and well-made. Good.
1997 Riesling Kitterlé Grand Cru (E)
This has a much more expressive nose, with just hints of leafy, waxy blossoms and lots of crisp apple fruit. The nose hints at that salty minerality once again and the palate is concentrated with a core of lemony fruit. Balanced and long, this is very good.
1998 Pinot Gris Princes-Abbés (D)
Notes of juicy peach and apricot kernel dominate the nose, almost a nutty character. The palate is moderately rich, with hints of plum and apricot, but again that searing core of lemony acidity that is a house style punches through, leading to a dry, mineral finish. Good/Very good.
1997 Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru (D)
Positively deep pink colour. Some lusciousness on the nose, notes of lychee and guava, but also a grapefruity citrus. Once more tha plate tingles with acidity, keeping it clean, and though medium-bodied, quite lightweight. Good.
1997 Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive Cuvée Christine (F)
A heightened nose of schisty, mineral and woodsmoke, a little honeyed toffee note. The palate is rich and quite fat, with thick texture of fruit though clean, mouthwatering fruity acidity lengthens the finish. Very good.
1989 Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles Cuvée Anne (F)
Quite a dark, marmalady quality here. Maybe slightly oxidised? There’s a nutty complexity, and plenty of honey becomes apparent. Clean palate, so perhaps the oxidisation was a misreading, and there’s plenty of thick, sweet fruit in the end. A mature wine, but drinking quite well. Good/Very good.
I have previously interviewed Jean Trimbach, and representing the family here was his delightful uncle, Hubert. Trimbach’s wines display a really traditional steely reserve and elegance. Their Close Sainte-Hune Riesling is quite widely acknowledged to be perhaps the finest wine of Alsace, and one of the finest in the world.
Muscat Reserve 1998 (D)
This has that really crunchy, grapy, attractively vivid nose so typical of the grape. Plenty of fresh, glistening grapy fruit, lemon and more mouthfilling peach on the palate. Really nice stuff.
Riesling 1998 (C)
Very attractive apple fruit on the nose, also quite perfumed and floral. Beautifully crisp citrus-fruited palate, very juicy with grapefruit acidity and fine length. Very good.
Riesling 1997 Reserve (D)
More mineral on the nose, with a really stony, almost wet slate quality and good lemon fruit. Palate is quite one-dimensional, but filled with pure citrus fruit that is racy and taut. Very good.
Riesling 1997 Cuvée Frédéric-émile (E)
This has developed some waxiness and a nettly edge. Some floral notes and quince-like fruit. In the mouth it has more weight, a little more lushness with fine orangy fruit and good grapefruity acidity in the long citrus finish. Very good, should develp well.
Riesling 1995 Clos Sainte-Hune (F)
Fantastically complex mineral, schisty, gravelly nose. Real depth here. There’s smoke, orange, and orchard fruits, hints of grass and nuts. On the palate it has a lovely weight and seems to still be a baby, those fantastic aromatics constrained by wonderfully lean acidity, but all sorts of hints of juicy grape, lemon and pear fruit. Excellent.
Riesling 1989 Cuvée Frédéric-émile Vendange Tardive (F)
Great ripeness here, with a sweet peach and apricot fruitiness, and again that smoky, mineral quality. Really quite complex. This has a good weight of fruit and texture on the palate, lots of juicy orange sweetness, but still a fine core of refreshing acidity and a very long finish. Excellent.