Despite my love for Riesling, I’ve never really gotten to know the Alsace, France’s one and only home to the variety. Part of this is because of the limited availability of Alsacien wines, as I do not think that there is one merchant in Belgium who really specializes in the region; most of them only have a limited range just because they think that they need it to complete their offer. Somehow I find it an incredibly complicated region. The grand cru classification, which could have been of some help, was only set up properly in the nineties without an historical basis or internal classification to guide you through it. Furthermore, there is no indication of residual sugar levels in a wine, akin to Russian roulette if you are looking for a dry wine. German wine law may be ridiculously complicated, but at least they got this right!
To my own surprise however, the region is ever so intriguing. Nowhere in France is terroir so nuanced and complex; climatically thanks to the Vosges Mountains, and geologically thanks to the fault it rests on, responsible for a plethora of different soil types. In addition, the Alsace was one of the first regions where estates like Zind-Humbrecht or Albert Mann actively adopted biologic and biodynamic principles, not because of some hype but because they were convinced that it would lead to better wines.
Today’s wine is Rieffel’s Zotzenberg Grand Cru 2011, 100% Riesling. Rieffel has been working completely organic since 2009, and one of the consequences is the elimination of sulphur. People for or against the natural wine movement have written entire books on the use of sulphites, and I will not discuss it here, but a point worth examining is the effect on fermentation. When talking to German winemakers, they use sulphites to block the malolactic fermentation (the conversion of malic acid into softer lactic acid). Remember, I went on and on about how acidity is the backbone of a good riesling, so if you get rid of the most prominent acids, you run the risk of creating a tiresome and heavy-handed wine. Luckily for us, this is not the case if practiced by a skilled winemaker.
The wine is extremely closed on the nose, and it is temperature, not exposure to air that opens it up. Flowery hints at first, a bit of salinity afterwards but quickly replaced by crisp fruit, not too dominating but a bit onesided. Acidity dominates the palate but it is more citrusy, not as energetic as you would get from a German riesling. The wine gives a rather weighty impression, but regains freshness towards the end. Incredible in length. I would not serve this straight out of the fridge as it felt unbalanced then, give it some time to warm up and the fruit shows up to gently counter the acidity.