Alsace is not my favorite wine region in France. I like the wines, but it is rare that I’ll get as excited about an Alsace Riesling as I will about a German one. Regions like the Loire, Jura, Champagne, or Burgundy are always going to capture my attention first. However, one of my favorite french producers is making wine in Alsace. Domaine Marcel Deiss is located in the Alsace village of Bergheim, and the family has been making wine there since the mid-18th century. Jean-Michel Deiss currently runs things, and he’s been farming the vineyards biodynamically for the last 5 years. He ferments the reds and the whites very slowly in large wooden barrels with indigenous yeasts. What really sets him apart from his colleagues are his field blends of multiple grapes. Alsace, unlike most of France, labels their single-varietal wines with the name of the grape, rather than the name of the village or vineyard. There are some grand cru vineyards whose name appears on the label along with the grape variety. And there is one common blend called edelzwicker, or “noble blend.” Edelzwicker is typically a humble blend of Alsace’s noble grapes — Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, and Muscat — grown on humble soil.

Deiss has set forth, in the name of terroir, to make noble blends out of noble grapes from noble vineyards, and label the bottle with the vineyard name only. For this he received flack from the french wine authorities, but they eventually took him back into the fold.  His Riesling and other grapes are all grown together in the vineyard, then they are collected and fermented together. My favorite of his blends is from the grand cru vineyard, Mambourg. It is a white wine cleverly composed of multiple members of the Pinot family — Pinots Blanc, Beurot, Noir, and Auxerrois. I had the pleasure of enjoying the 2000 Mambourg with some pork chops and two great friends. I think it would have been better paired with a cheese plate, because the residual sugar is quite high. Regardless, it is a haunting wine, filled with aged notes of honey and yeast and flowers. There is that sweetness, but it is more than balanced by a racy line of acid running straight through the wine. I’m also fond of his Pinot Noir / Pinot Beurot blend from the premier cru site of Burlenberg. This vineyard has limestone soil, and the wine is very reminiscent of a red Burgundy. The 2000 Burlenberg smells of minerals, woodsy decomposing earth, ripe berries, and gingerbread spices. At seven years old it was still fairly dark and dense, with a decent amount of tannin. Surprisingly, I can’t remember what I ate with it! However, on his website, Jean-Michel suggests filet de boeuf en croute aux girolles et aux figues, or beef in pastry with mushrooms and figs.

Also on his website is a complete list of the wines that he makes, divided into three categories: wines of fruit, wines of time and patience (late harvest dessert wines), and wines of terroir. His vins de fruits are a series of varietally-named wines made from the traditional Alsace grapes. He describes them as being a showcase for the grape, as well as the peculiarities of the vintage — meant to be drunk quickly and easily. His vins de terroirs  however, he describes as expressing only the terroir itself. The site determines the personality, the style, and indeed, the humanity of the wine.

 


 

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