Slightly bruised from the strains of excess foie gras and grand crus, I am nonetheless feeling inspired and happy following a glorious two days in Alsace as a guest of Domaines Schlumberger. Indeed in spite of the urgent need to catch up with my work, I feel compelled to share some of the highlights with you. So here we go…
We were a small group of independents and the insatiable, unstoppable Mr. Mark Bingley, Master of Wine, a man who is perhaps best known for his Louis Roederer and Domaine Faiveley brands, but who also heads up the UK operation for Domaines Schlumberger. Being based in the south of the region we flew into Basel and the winery was a short drive from there. We were welcomed by Severine Schlumberger and her father Eric who had a picnic waiting for us: a plate of cold meats, pates and cheeses with the dash of red cabbage and gherkin which made it so very Alsace; this was obligingly swilled down with the Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, a generous mouthful of dried fruit-stone fruit and hint of orange peel which coped admirably with the range of savoury and sour flavours on the plate.
Yet it is the grand crus for which Domaines Schlumberger is so famous, of course, and it was to these vineyards we drove after lunch, the Defender having spiralled its way up the precipice of the nearby steep hillside – finally to the Kitterle vineyard itself, the flagship. Here there was a wind which seemed to come from nowhere, apparently ever present here, a component of the grand cru`s terroir; the volcanic, sandy soil and granite rock also components; the steep terraces and closely planted vines, the protective hilltop behind us overlooking the vineyard, with its sheer ridges and man-made stone walls, the rain water which flows from them to further water the vines, the abundance of sunshine, bright enough for sun glasses that October afternoon; even the Vosges mountains and Black Forest beyond on the horizon, all components in the finished wine, unique to this vineyard, distinct from its neighbours and fellow grand crus. This, its own personality, we were to witness that first evening at the Hotel du Lac, at dinner, again at a tasting in their cellar room next morning and yet again during the gourmet lunch at Koenig a l`Arbre Vert in Berrwiller, next day. By comparison there were the other grand crus with their own individual personalities and Les Princes Abbes range, like shadows of the grand crus, reminiscent without being so multi-dimensional, in themselves delightful wines and fine examples of the region, characteristically “Alsace”.
The three grand crus single grape varieties are Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Here at Kitterle the biggest and ripest. The Riesling 2005, powerful and dry, fleshy and ripe with slatey minerality and ripe, juicy lime, wonderful with the fish stew I had at Koenig`s. Compare with the Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2007 which is leaner, more vibrant. The Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kitterle 2007 unctuous with depth, richness and spice, yet with a restraint and honed quality which gave even more satisfaction (second glass) than the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Spiegel 2007 – this wine was more blousy, brazen and scented, like honeysuckle, absolutely gorgeous but for me overly rich without the necessary restraint I would personally need to enjoy more than a glass or two (though I have a feeling I managed it!). Finally, the Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kitterle 2005, massive and ripe-tasting, yet complex and harmonious, the perfect wine with the local Munster cheese. By comparison the Kessler 2005, a small step down in weight and ripeness, but still the rose petal scent and richness which personifies the grape Gewurztraminer; still wondrous.
The only Schlumberger red, the Pinot Noir, was lovely with the veal at Hotel du Lac. Quite lean, it was nonetheless sufficiently fleshy and interesting with a savoury quality. I liked it. But outside of the grand crus my top marks go to the sweet wines: Gewurztraminer Cuvee Christine Vendanges Tardives 2006 and Gewurztraimer Cuvee Anne Selection de Grains Nobles 2007. The latter sweeter with noble rot characteristics (we witnessed the the tedious sorting of the botrytis-effected grapes destined for the 2011 vintage!), while the Vendanges Tardive was more characteristically Gewurztraminer. Both superb.
Incidentally – the best of the Les Princes Abbes range was, in my opinion, the Riesling 2008. I believe Severine mentioned this was a grand cru wine declassified, which would explain it, certainly it was fresh and limey and made for an excellent aperitif. Apparently Schlumberger will only declare grand cru status in fine years, a sign of their commitment to the grand cru status and high quality of their grand cru wines.
Our thanks to Mark Bingley and the Schlumberger family for a memorable few days in paradise.