Spotlight on Alsace: Domaine Ostertag Heissenberg Riesling 2005
Ostertag is nothing if not opinionated. As a man who is not afraid to say “I detest Nicholas Joly” one might be surprised to learn that Ostertag is a strong proponent of biodynamics. However, he uses it as a tool rather than as an end in itself. Ostertag’s criticism of Joly is that he is too intellectual and too much of a ‘guru’ for biodynamics, which is merely a tool to serve terroir, which is the only necessary precursor to great wine.
Ostertag is also a radical. He is one of the few winemakers in Alsace to embrace the use of Oak, which is understandable since he studied winemaking with Lafon in Burgundy. Most of his burgundy variety wines (like Pinot Gris and Blanc) are oaked, as is this Riesling. However, oak is not meant as a palliative for bad grapes or for poor winemaking. Rather, Ostertag’s use of oak is one of the most fascinating in all of France as you would be hard pressed to detect its influence and yet it seems to add a depth and complexity to his wines that many of his fellows do not share. In any case it is certain that Ostertag’s wines are distinctive and amongst the absolute best in the region.
In a poetic gesture, Ostertag divides his wines into three “series” – a fruit series, a stone series and a time series. This Riesling falls under the stone series. For the curious, the time series comprises his late harvest wines that have the reputation of being truly age worthy.
This wine was surprisingly far leaner than I expected, which is likely due to the fact that Ostertag ferments most of his wines completely dry. The nose had lemon, lots of stone and a hint of dill (which is perhaps the one element I detected from the oak influence). The palate is lighter bodied than the Rieslings from Weinbach or Zind-Humbrecht, but it also has an absolutely incredible minerality that explodes on the mid-palate in cascades of complex stone, iron and clay-like elements.
The finish is very dry and lean but the flavour is huge, sophisticated and extremely unique. This wine will shock many who are used to the bolder and richer Rieslings from Alsace. I find this interesting given comments I’ve read about the 2004 Heissenberg, which is supposedly richer and more honeyed than this 05. Is this effect purely vintage or is it also a factor of age?
This wine is a perfect example of why Riesling is Alsace’s greatest grape.
$58 at Everything Wine