The wines of Rolly Gassman, Alsace

Yves and Pierre Gassmann of the fine Alsace estate of Rolly-Gassmann were in Edinburgh for a series of tastings organised by their Scottish agent, Raeburn Fine Wines (0131 343 1159). This was a private tasting held in The Vaults, Raeburn’s wonderful old cellars in the historic Port of Leith. Lunch was taken afterwards at the excellent Martin Wishart’s with some more wines from the domaine, which was a fine opportunity to try the wines with food. I’ve often stated that Rolly-Gassmann produce wines that are particularly food-friendly, being generally just off-dry, balanced and rounded.

The Gassmann family has been making wine in Rorschwihr since 1676. It’s a common mistake to think there is a Mr Gassmann, whose first name is Rolly: originally there were two families who made wine, the Rollys and the Gassmanns. They joined through marriage, hence the name of the estate. Their vineyards sit on soils of limestone and marl that are particularly heavy, and Yves suggests this factor causes the residual sugar in their wines to dominate for some time after bottling. In response, they cellar their wines for longer than most Alsace houses before release, as this tempers the sweetness making it less obvious in the wine.

This was a particularly pleasant tasting to attend on a sunny morning in Edinburgh, the wines without exception being extremely delicious and easy to appreciate. That is not to suggest these are wines without complexity, but the common factor, despite the variety of grapes and ages on show, was a clean, pure and lush fruit quality, that mouth-pleasing hint of sweetness, and acidity that is well balanced, avoiding that slightly pithy bitterness in some Alsace wines. The Auxerrois (for which the domaine is famous) was outstanding in the two vintages on show. I also particularly enjoyed their cheapest bottling, the Sylvaner which had more weight and lots more character than most, and their fabulous Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles sweet wines.

Sylvaner Weingarten 1996 – £69.60
Nice, grapy and fresh nose with summery peach and blossom aromas. Good weight on the palate, quite rich with lush peach and apricot flavours. Hint of sweetness, but adequate acidity to keep it in check. Very delicious.

Pinot Blanc 1996 – £75.00
There’s a nice smoky, mineral quality on the nose with aromas of grapefruit. On the palate it is medium-bodied with fine pear and citrus fruit and a nice tart, green apple acidity that keeps the finish long, clean and pure. Very good.

Auxerrois 1993 – £90.00
Nose suggests sweetness and there’s a lovely aromatic bouquet of flowers, old roses, minerals, spice and a hint of honey. There is a definite sweetness on the palate, but it seems to be powered by ripe fruit rather than sugar. Then, good grapefruit acidity pushes in to cut the peach and ripe pear flavours giving an intriguing balancing act into the finish. Very good indeed.

Riesling 1997 – £87.00
Distinctive flint and mineral nose. This is driven by salty, mineral aromatics. The fruit on the palate comes as something of a surprise as it is peachy and sweet, but wrapped in a citrussy, orange and grapefruit acidity. Tangy, fresh and good.

Riesling Pflaenzerreben 1990 – £154.80
This has a rich, developed waxiness with notes of petrol on the nose, but also hints of butterscotch and rich, ripe orchard fruits. Again there’s a hint of sweetness on the palate but a tremendous lusciousness of rounded, ripe, flavoursome fruit. A tangy orange acidity freshens and lengthens the finish. Gorgeous riesling.

Riesling VT 1997 – £147.00
Again, smoke, minerals, hints of wet gravel and spice. Lovely sweetness of fruit. Really good concentration and weight in the mouth with ripe melon and crunchy pear fruit, but fine balancing acidity that leads to a long, long clean finish though still showing tremendous purity and fruit. Terrific.

Pinot Noir Reserve 1997 – £133.20
I thought this wine excessively sulphury, but another experienced taster with whom I spoke afterwards said that in his opinion there was perhaps a little sulphur, but the nose just had a particularly mineral character. My note: Rather sulphurous nose, but beneath are aromas of smoke and earth, a little raspberry fruit. On the palate a little thin, with firm tannins. For me lacks a little fruit.

Muscat Moenchreben 1996 – £120.00
Very sweet grape, musk and floral notes. Lots of summery flowers, peaches and honeyed blossom. Palate is only medium-bodied and the super-sweet, flashy, but essentially simple fruit is set-off against perhaps slightly angular apple acidity.

Tokay Reserve 1994 – £144.96
Sweet, delicate, peachy aromas with a very subtle toffeed richness. Palate is honeyed with a gorgeous purity of sweet fruit – almost buttery in it richness with melon, pear and hints of tropical mango or guava. Good acidity, but it doesn’t really dent the sweet fruit that drives through to the finish. Lovely.

Gewürztraminer Oberer Weingarten 1991 – £99.60
Very delicious, though a little sulphur again, then fairly straightforward nose of ripe fruit leading into an alcoholic, rich, palate with pungent, powerful fruit, but not terribly complex and a little crude against the previous wines.

Tokay VT 1990 – £286.20
Extremely smoky, pungent, almost acrid aromas. There is some lush fruit hiding in there. On the palate it is very ripe and full with superb fruit that is peachy and soft but with hints of pineapple and mango and a very clear, long, taut core of quite sweet fruit balanced by pear and apple acidity. Good length, and very good.

Gewürztraminer SdGN 1989 – £561.00
Fantastically rich botrytis nose of honey, figs and a deep quince and toasty note. There are little highlights of over-ripe pear, spice and marmalade. The palate is unctuous and glycerine-rich with a great depth of silky, spicy, toffeed exotic fruits and fine acidity. Very good length, with lots of subtle nuances and interest. Excellent.

Only very brief impressions of wines with lunch afterwards.

The Auxerrois Reserve 1990 – £99.60 has wonderful ripeness and some residual sugar, but there’s a lovely core of minerality too and full body. A lovely match with Tortellini of venison in a cauliflower cream. Riesling Pflaenzerreben 1995 – £109.80 showed fine minerality too, with ripe pear fruit and good weight. This was drunk with Roast fillets of salmon with a fricassée of peas and pommes écrasées. With cheese the Tokay SdGN 1989 – £498.00 was magnificent. Very rich and sweet, it also had wonderfully shimmering acidity that helped add tension to a luscious, limpid palate of fruit and spice. Finally a very brief tasting of Gewürztraminer SdGN 1994 – £295.20 before I had to dash off suggested this was another cracking dessert wine of considerable complexity, though needing time for acidity to integrate.