Domaine Weinbach Cuvée St. Catherine Pinot Gris 2005

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IMG_3731First off, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape in different languages. However, the linguistic divide also tends to represent a stylistic divide, with the French Pinot Gris of Alsace being richer and fuller than the Italian Pinot Grigios of Friuli, which are generally more austere and acid driven.

It’s also easy to write-off a grape like Pinot Gris, since we so often taste overly alcoholic, sappy fruit gob versions of this varietal which bring all the joy of a pear flavoured hard candy. In fact, I have often done the same, instead tending to go for rieslings. This wine, along with Movia’s Pinot Grigio, however, are special renditions of this grape that are well worth seeking out. They will probably change your perceptions of what Gris can do.

Alsace is somewhat of a weird place in the world of French wine, having only recently (since 1975) adopted a “Grand Cru” system that promotes the sanctity of terroir. The process of definining the fifty Grand Cru sites that now exist didn’t even finish until the 90’s. Prior to all this, there was no way of differentiating where wines were made based on their labels, and this is all the more astonishing given that most experts believe Alsace to be the most geologically complex region in France, even moreso than Burgundy. Further, Alsace leads France in organic and biodynamic wine production.

There are many other anomolies to Alsace, including the tendency to sell wines as single varietal wines, when some top growers there believe that blending is the best way to express the terroir of a site, and not a single varietal. Others, like Domaine Weinbach, are happy to make single varietal wines, believing that certain sites do express themselves better through one variety over others, even as other sites produce wines from multiple varieties that have similar perfumes. So, in the end, Alsace is a web of intricacies available to discover, and also a world of unique history and differing philosophies about how best to express the region in the future.

This Pinot Gris is not made from a single Grand Cru site, but is rather blended with fruit from the Grand Cru Scholssberg and the best parts of the domaine Clos des Capucins. Its nose provided a nice perfume of loam and pear. The palate was impressive and represented classic Pinot Gris: nectarine, apple, stone, lemon rind, and tons of minerality. I also detected a unique type of citrus I could not clearly identify – something akin to tamarind – and a little melon. This is quite rich and full, but also possesses extremely complex layering of mineral and stone elements underneath the rich orchard fruit. It’s a pretty fantastic pinot gris, and one that will likely change your perceptions of the possibilites of this style if all you have previously tasted are the cheaply made wines with extremely high levels of residual sugar, but no real balance. I highly recommend this as a fantastic Christmas gift for any lover of richer white wines.

$70 at Marquis

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  1. Jake
    December 13, 2009

    Great post. I love that epiphany when you realize that Pinot Gris can actually be exceptional. For me, Marc Tempé’s ‘04 Zellenberg that got me thinking, but it was the Pfaffenheim ‘01 Grand Cru Steinert when I knew what was possible.

    I think the Weinbach is probably on another level still, and I’d love to try it.

  2. Shea
    December 13, 2009

    It’s true – I love those moments. That’s what makes exploring all the varieties so much fun. And ya, the Weinbach is incredible, although they have an even higher end series that’s around $120 here. That stuff I’d like to try at some point on a special occasion.

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