Quintessential Wines.Last week I had the pleasure of having dinner with Pascal Schiele from the Gustave Lorentz winery in France. Let me begin with a little background on Pascal. He was born and raised in the Alsace region and grew up with many winemakers in the family. Both his great grandfather and grandfather were winemakers and two of his uncles are still winemakers. Pascal started in the wine exporting business in 1996 and moved to Gustave Lorentz wines in 2001. Today, he is the Export Director for the winery. They currently export to 55 countries, and although only the 8th largest exporter of Alsace wines to the US, they will definitely crack the top 5 with the help of their new US Distributor,
The Gustave Lorentz winery is located in Bergheim commune (village) in Haut-Rhin in north-eastern France near the Rhine River and the German and Swiss borders. Although there were over 160 Alsace villages growing vines in the first millennium, the re-birth of the Alsace came after World War I when the winegrowers adopted a "quality first" policy. This policy was reinforced by delimitation of the vineyard area, and by strict enforcement of production and vinification legislation. These efforts were officially rewarded by Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) status: AOC Alsace in 1962, AOC Alsace Grand Cru in 1975 and AOC Cremant d'Alsace in 1976.
The Lorentz family has been in the wine making business since 1836 and today is the largest family owned producer in Alsace bottling over 150,000 cases. Gustave Lorentz's Estates vineyard represent 32 hectares (79 acres), of which 1.5 (3.71 acres) are planted on the hills of the Grand Cru Kanzlerberg and 13 hectares (29.65 acres) in the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim. In addition, they also buy grapes from another 120 hectares, which are almost exclusively based in Bergheim. Although they are the largest family business, they don't sacrifice the quality of their wines. They employ state-of-the-art vinification techniques and equipment and was among the first producers in the Alsace to use stelvin (screw-cap) closures on their wines. In 2009, the winery entered into a partnership with Ecocert to have their entire Estate vineyards certified organic beginning with the 2012 vintage. The winery is managed by Georges Lorentz, who is the 7th generation in this family run business.
During our tasting, we sampled 10 wines and paired them with different plates of food:
Cremant d' Alsace (non-vintage) - This is a sparkling wine with small soft bubbles that is made from 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Blanc and 33% Pinot Noir. Like Champagne, this sparkling wine goes thru two fermentation processes with daily bottle rotation, going from horizontal to vertical. I am not a big fan of Champagne or sparkling wines but I found myself going back for more. Additionally, the $24.99 price is substantially less than Champagne. Give it a try.
2009 Pinot Gris Reserve - This 100% Pinot Gris had a golden color with hints of white fruit and a touch of honey. Very fruit forward and semi-dry.
2007 Pinot Gris "Schofweg" (single vineyard) - This was a very nice Pinot Gris that was well structured and fuller bodied than the Reserve. Although these were from two different vineyards, both had notes of the limestone which is common to this region. Both of the Pinot Gris would go well with appetizers, cheeses or seafood, especially with scallops. The Reserve retails for $23.99 and the Schofweg retails for $29.99. For the extra $6, go for the "Schofweg". This received a 91 point rating from Wine Spectator.
2009 Pinot Blanc Reserve - was also a very nice Pinot Blanc that was not as dry as the Pinot Gris. It was very fruit forward with lots of citrus, especially lemon along with white peach and a hint of grapefruit. The flavors of this progressed with some spiciness that was perfect with the crisp acidity. I would recommend this wine, which retails for $19.99.
2009 Riesling Reserve - is their entry level Riesling. They produce about 160,000 cases of this wine of this medium to fuller body Riesling. It has a refreshing acidity and a nice dry finish. There was some tartness of green apples and a slight unappealing aftertaste. This is a basic Riesling that retails for $23.99.
2005 Riesling Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim - This was probably my 2nd highest ranked wine of the night. This is a must buy, even though it retails for $49.99. Only 1,000 cases were produced.
2009 Gewurztraminer Reserve - again the entry level wine, was more than entry level. It had a wonderful nose of fresh flowers and tropical fruits that followed onto the palate along with some spiciness and orange peels. The grapes for this wine come from 30-50 year old vines. This well structured wine retails for $23.99.
2006 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim - This, along with the Riesling Grand Cru were my two favorites. This is the real deal!!! A nice semi-dry wine with great tropical fruit aromas and tropical fruit flavors. This golden yellow wine was perfectly structured with a long finish. This will be great for the next 5 years. The perfect pairing for many foods from appetizers to white meats and sausages to seafood to spicy ethnic dishes. The 2006 Grand Cru retails for $59.99.
2008 Pinot Noir Reserve. This was the first red of the evening. I paired this with a steak and it was the perfect match. It could be served with other red meats, but will also go really well with veal and lamb. I was expecting a bigger wine like the West Coast US Pinot Noirs but this was a softer, less in-your face wine. As the meal went on, this wine became more expressive and more enjoyable. Be sure to decant this wine for 30 minutes. The Pinot Noir Reserve is an un-oaked wine with raspberry and cherry aromas and a hint of red currants. The red fruits continued onto the palate. Surprisingly, it was better chilled than slightly warmer. Although it is very drinkable now, I think a few more years will bring the best out of this wine. The 2008 retails for $23.99.
Cremant d' Alsace Rose (non-vintage) - This Cremant is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. This sparkling rose wine had a nose of cranberries and red rose petals. Although it was well received by many dinner guests, this one did not work for me. It was a little too sweet for me and, as mentioned earlier, sparkling wines are generally not my favorite. The Cremant d' Alsace retails for $24.99.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the Gustave Lorentz wines and would strongly recommend you picking some up. The Lorentz family takes pride in their food friendly wines. They are served in the small Brasserie to the highly rated Michelin stared restaurants in France. Thank you to Lorraine and to Pascal for inviting me to this enjoyable dinner and for the introduction to some very good wines. I look forward to a tour of the winery this summer.