The Early Morning Altenberg

Domaine Gustave Lorentz, Bergheim, Alsace

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Last Wednesday I forced myself up extra early to meet Pascal Schiele, export manager for Domaine Gustave Lorentz. I decided, after an hour of tasting and some very pleasant conversation, that it was most definitely worth hauling myself out of bed after only five hours sleep.

Based in Bergheim and operated by the Lorentz family since 1836, the domaine farms 32 hectares, of which 1.5 are in the tiny Grand Cru Kanzlerberg and 13 are in the Altenberg site. These wines have only recently become available in Australia and I was very impressed by the consistency of quality across the range. All of these wines offer a very distinctly Alsatian aromatic brilliance paired with gracefully buoyant ripe fruit characters.

Muscat dominates the very drinkable Fleurelle blend (which could just as well be labelled ‘Gentil’) and the remainder is Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. The ‘Gentil’ made by the Hugel family has long been one of my favourite wines and this blend holds very much the same appeal for me. Muscat’s floral personality is on very prominent display and the Sylvaner certainly lends a backbone of refreshing acidity.

The estate’s Reserve wines come from fruit purchased from local growers and represent the classic varieties of Alsace with a strict emphasis on elegance and suitability with food. Even the Gewürztraminer is pure, aromatic and very fine. I like to keep residual sugar figures at the back of my mind as the key to these wines is balance.

The ‘Evidence’ wines offer a very significant step up in quality (not to detract from the value of the reserve wines). This is all estate fruit, which I’m told has been grown organically since 2012. The ‘Evidence’ Pinot Noir is one of the few from Alsace available in Australia… bright fruited and nourishing, a savoury palate with fine tannins and good length. Perhaps a couple more decades of global warming and Alsace will be the new Burgundy…

Finally, the Altenberg de Bergheim wines. This site is considered first rate amongst the 51 Grand Crus of Alsace. A steep, south-facing slope comprised of Jurassic limestone-marl on a clay subsoil. The wines from this warm site pair great power with a charming finesse. Domaine Gustave Lorentz withholds the Altenberg wines for 5 years (minimum, I believe) before release. I didn’t taste any Kanzlerberg wines, but look forward to doing so on my next visit to Alsace.

The 2012 Altenberg Riesling was a truly beautiful wine, at once exotic and richly textured and then so very tense and mineral. Of course, Riesling pulls off the balancing act better then any other variety, but this fruit quality and structure sets it a cut above the rest. Great site, great wine.

The 2011 Altenberg Pinot Gris was particularly worthy of note… which is something you won’t hear from me very often! The grape suffers an image problem in the Australian market and this wine is an example of the potential it has to produce intriguing and complex wines. 2011 is also the current release, this is a fantastic wine that belongs on the dinner table. All of these wines are crafted with gastronomy in mind.

People often talk about the affinity that Alsatian wines have with Asian cuisine. There’s no denying some truth in this, but these wines deserve to sit on the table with a broader variety of foods. Maybe try preparing yourself a Choucroute Garnie at home… it’s an old favourite of mine.

Domaine Gustave Lorentz have only recently become available in the Australian market. They are represented by importer Santé wines. Highly recommended!

Loimer and Alois Lageder

I haven’t been very prolific of late and I can’t say I’ve been particularly busy doing other things… but never mind, I did attend a tasting last week…

Stefanie Lobner, visiting from Loimer in the Kamptal and Urs Vetter, from Alois Lageder in Alto Adige, presented a masterclass together, hosted by importer Red + White, in the Hellenic Museum’s beautiful Henderson Room.

The wines, tasted across six brackets, were as diverse as they were compelling, all from single sites and all grown biodynamically. Even if you maintain a heathy skepticism when it comes to biodynamics you must at least concede to the fact that wines grown with such care are quite often appreciably finer than those grown conventionally. As Lobner explained, perhaps more eloquently, the natural inhibition of yield from vines grown biodynamically has an immediate impact on quality. Furthermore, it’s a healthy practice whichever way you look at it.

Both Lobner and Vetter were incredibly knowledgeable and engaging speakers. The wines are all brilliantly crafted, complex and drink with remarkable finesse.

Fred Loimer began working biodynamically in 2006 and is a founding member of respekt-BIODYN. The 2016 Grüner Veltliner wines from the Loiserberg and Spiegel sites were followed by Rieslings from Seeberg and Steinmassl. All were fine and complex wines with moderate alcohol levels. The 2016 Steinmassl Riesling was my pick of the bunch; succulent golden-toned fruit is balanced by a fine line of acidity, it’s seamless, a sublime wine.

I’ve something of a fetish for Gewürztraminer when it’s made well and the 2015 Alois Lageder Am Sand was jut that: dry, of course, with great varietal character and remarkable elegance. The 2016 Forra Manzoni Bianco, too, was brilliant. Manzoni Bianco is a Riesling and Pinot Blanc crossing created and most widely cultivated in the Veneto. It’s a particularly aromatic grape, textural, but dry extract imparts definition.

Both producers offered outstanding Pinot Noir. Loimer’s hailed from the Anning site of Gumpoldskirchen in the Thermenregion. Lageder’s from the Krafuss site west of Bolzano. Both wines had an attractive sweet tone to the fruit and a refreshing quality. Loimer’s perhaps offered a little more density… whichever you prefer is up to you.

Finally, we tasted Lageder’s 2015 Cornus Lagrein Riserva. Not a variety you see on shelves in Australia very often. There’s an almost red-lolly like character to this wine and a bit of the old farm animal. It’s bright and juicy and yet almost paradoxically firm and savoury. Is it for everyone? No… but I liked it a lot.