Spotlight on Alsace: Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Altenbourg Cuvee Laurence 2005
To Grand Cru or not to Grand Cru
Unlike the Furstentum Gewurztraminer I discussed earlier in this profile, this Pinot Gris is not from an official Grand Cru vineyard. Instead, it is grown in the lieu-dit of Altenbourg located at the base of the Furstentum vineyard. Sharing a similar soil profile of sandstone and marl over limestone and sandstone bedrock, Altenbourg is a lieu-dit to take seriously and Domaine Weinbach makes some fabulous wines with grapes grown there.
What’s With All the Label Variation?!
Let’s spend a moment deciphering Domaine Weinbach’s complex labeling system. At the bottom of the range we have the basic “reserve” series, which offer the best value. Despite their relative cheapness, this is by no means to say these wines are bad – they are, in fact, great and a good entry to Weinbach (which can often be extremely expensive). A step up is the Cuvee Theo series, sourced from the vineyard holdings at the Clos du Capucins. The Cuvee Catherine series confuses as there are both cheaper wines that come from non-Grand Cru sites and those which have a Grand Cru site listed on the label. These are the higher end wines in that series. The same goes for the Cuvee Laurence series. At the absolute top is a wine called Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine L’Inedit, which is only produced in the very best vintages.
Was that confusing enough? If you’re still wrapping your head around all these names at the store, one simple rule to go by is the price. Higher prices reflect better vineyard sources. And, to make things more difficult, as we shall see in future posts in this profile, some producers eschew the whole Grand Cru system altogether and prefer to blend their grapes. Alsace certainly can be a confusing place for a wine novice to venture into. But letting the labels be a barrier to entry would be a huge mistake as the wines are truly some of the most unique and inspiring in the world.
A Gris to Remember
It’s almost laughable to think that Alsace used to be considered a region for blending. The Bordelais frequently used Alsatian juice to blend into their red wines (I wonder how THAT tasted!). Famously, as Alsace was the first region in France to see the phylloxera louse, the blending region of choice moved to Rioja. I suppose it’s only the contingencies of history that turn blending regions into some of the greatest in the world.
The nose on this beautiful wine offers classic spicyness along with nuts and guava and is concentrated while not being overwhelming (as compared to Gewurztraminer). This is rich, fascinating and compeling wine with an intense mid palate filled with tropical fruits like guava and pineapple. Sort of a tropical cocktail with a spicy edge that makes the wine feel less intense and sweet compared to Gewurztraminer. If you like intensity and power but don’t enjoy overdone residual sugar, Weinbach’s Pinot Gris is a great wine for you. Even though it has 22g/l of sugar, you don’t feel the sweetness is unbalanced given its great acidity and purity. The wine is texturally lush and a pleasure to drink with its great balance, as expected from Weinbach.
The only ‘caveat’ I’d offer is that while this is definitely better than the Mann Pinot Gris of the last post, the increase in quality is decidedly minimal when compared to the increase in price. I would definitely splurge for the higher Weinbach price for many of their wines, but this particular wine offers pause compared to some of the better value offerings such as Mann. That said, this sure is ridiculously delicious.
$95 at Marquis