The Wine Scholar Immersion trips are action-packed but never did I imagine I would be sitting in a vineyard overlooking a medieval town sipping 30 year old riesling with the wind fluttering through the trees. But that is what we did with owner Philippe Blanck of Domaine Paul Blanck in Kientzheim.
We had an informative, thought provoking and philosophical tasting comparing rieslings from the 2 Grand Cru vineyards of the area, Furstentum (marl, sandstone and limestone) and Schlossberg (granite). We were lucky because we had had 2 previous days of rain (of course in our studies we learned that it never rains in Alsace because of the rain shadow effect of the Vosges mountains) and we woke up to a glorious morning. Mary (our cheerful, knowledgable and helpful guide) welcomed us as we boarded our huge bus and it made it ways through the narrow roads and then went as far as it could up the tiny road through the Furstentum vineyard and then we walked up the steep slope to a spot where a table had been laid out with glasses among some large trees.
We sat underneath trees in the Furstentum vineyard on the map above, you can faintly see a pen scratch which marked where we were.
Philippe gave us a very rounded discussion of breathing, of yoga, of tai-chi, of thoughtfulness when tasting wine. I learned that yoga and wine really do go together quite well because the stillness and centeredness of yoga puts your mind and spirit in a connected place to taste and appreciate the nuances in a wine with more clarity.
For some background, “The Paul Blanck estate traces its history in Alsace back to the 17th Century, where they produce a stunning and diverse lineup of wines from enviable parcels in the Haut-Rhin district of Alsace. Located in the village of Kientzheim, Domaine Paul Blanck produces wines that are balanced, terroir-expressive, and versatile. Owners Frédéric and Philippe Blanck farm ther vines without the use of chemicals, seeking to gain the clearest possible expression of vineyard character. From the chiseled, sumptuously mineral Schlossberg to the opulent and broad Furstentum, Blanck’s Grand Cru offerings rank with the best in the region.”(Skurnik importer site)
It had not been on our agenda that we would taste wine in the field and it may not have happened if the weather had not pulled through. I will always remember this particular day whenever I taste a Blanck wine. On the Blanck’s website they have a quote ” The Terroirs – The poetic and creative essence of a terroir wine open a wealth of sensations“.
I decided Alsace is the land where wine never grows old, it just evolves. The Blanck’s are focused on caring for their vines in a sustainable way without using insecticides to produce outstanding grapes. I have in my notes from Andrew Jefford’s comments that the Furstentum (limestone) had citrus, herbal and notes of confit. The Schlossberg (granite) had a salty, herbal, lemongrass, parsley and rosemary component. I noticed slight nuances between the 2 but they both were so good and it is such a treat and a pleasure to taste 30 year rieslings in the vineyards. Words cannot really express the pleasure of sipping well-made wine in the vines and wines this old have such concentration of flavors.
We tasted several of the Blanck’s wines including a Muscat D’Altenbourg. It had floral and fruity primary aromas and I noted down, asparagus, sashimi and tempura as potential food pairings.
We had a traditional lunch at Cote Vigne in Kientzheim. Yes, there is sauerkraut underneath the sausage and pork belly. I would have been happy with just a sausage which was a meal in itself.
At the end of the meal as an accompaniment to cheese we had the Blanck Gewürztraminer Altenbourg VT 1985. Between the age of the bottle and the light hand in terms of the grape, the wine was bright, lively, aromatic and delicious with the cheese. This was dessert in a glass for me. During this trip and at meals like this I developed a whole new relationship with Gewürztraminer. It is obviously not every day that I can taste such an old VT but it had an elegant aroma and was just a very harmonious wine. I don’t have a ton of extensive wine travel but I have to believe it is not every day that a reasonably large group gets to taste such old wines. The morning spent with Philippe continued to reinforce in my head, that well-made white wines from good vines, like the Blanck’s dry rieslings and the gewürztraminer VT’s can age a long time and in Alsace there is access to these old wines as compared to other regions, as well as very generous people like Philippe Blanck!!
Kientzheim itself is a beautiful town and no wonder the fountain in the square includes a statue of people dancing. good food and wine makes for happy people.