Monthly Archives: April 2009

Tasting Alsatian Wine with Frederic Helfrich

                   Spring seems to be the time of year for white wines from Germany, Austria and France.  Recently, I read Eric Asimov’s article in The Times entitled “The Wines of Spring”, attended the Wine Media Guild’s Austrian Riesling tasting, and enjoyed dinner with the Alsatian producer Frederic Helfrich.  The name of his winery is Helfrichmetz and it is located in the village of Marlenheim in Alsace. The day to day winemaking is in the hands of Benoit Pattin.

 

Frederic Helfrich, a  sixth generation descendent of the winemaking family, invited us to taste his wines over dinner at Corton Restaurant.  He was here to introduce both the Steinklotz Grand Cru and Noble Varieties wines for the first time in the US.  Frederic explained that his family’s winemaking philosophy is to have minimal influence in the cellar, to preserve the natural terroir and bring out the true flavors of the grape. In Alsace the grape and the place where it is grown is of the highest importance. The flavor of the grape and the terroir must come through. Because of this there is almost no blending of grapes. Natural yeast is used and the wines are aged in stainless steel or cement tanks, or old casks know as founders. When I asked Frederic if their wines underwent malolatic fermentation his answer was “never” I asked about “chaptalization” (the addition of sugar) in Alsace where it is legal. He did not say that it was never done but hinted that in a very poor vintage…. There is no way to tell when a producer does this.

 

Before we tasted the wines, Frederic said that with the release of these wines they are keeping one foot in the past and stepping one foot toward the future. By the future, Fredric was referring to the “Noble Varieties” line of wines. These wines are light in style, easy to drink, and consumer friendly because of the screw cap and the price. They were all 100% varietal from the 2007 vintage and retail for $15 a bottle.

 

Noble Varieties

Noble Varieties

            The first wine we tasted was the Pinot Gris. The grapes for this wine, like all of those in their Noble Varieties line, come from the Couronne d’Or (Golden Crown), an association of local vineyards and winemakers that run through the middle of Alsace. The vines are dry farmed and trained upwards for maximum exposure to the sun. Frederic added that the wines are bottled in Stelvin screw caps to preserve the aromatic potential. The wine was full and round,

with nice fruit flavors and a long finish.

 

            Next was the Riesling.  He said that this noble variety loves the long, cool and dry season afforded by the Vosges Mountains that hold out the marine influence. The wine was crisp and well structured, slightly off dry with aromas of apples and peaches and hints of minerals in the mouth with good acidity.

 

            Frederic feels that the Gewürztraminer is the quintessential Alsatian variety. It thrives in this region with the long, cool dry seasons and depth of minerality from the soil. This wine was very fragrant and fruity with hint of spice and aromas of pear. It is full bodied with a long finish and pleasant aftertaste.

 

            Then we tasted the Grand Crus, the Riesling A.O.C. Alsace Grand Cru “Steinkotz” 2005, 2006 and 2007.  Steinkoltz is one of only fifty vineyards in Alsace that has the Grand Cru designation.  Fredric said that this is one of the oldest vineyards recorded in Alsace and records indicate that in 589 it belonged to the Merovingian King Childebert II. It is located at the Northern end of the Alsatian wine trail. The wine was well structured clean with aromas of peach, apples and a hint of minerality. I asked Federic about these three vintages. He said that they were all very good vintages but very different. The 2007 he described as being bright and clean with a mineral character.

  

In 2006 the weather was very hot and humid so that it was a bigger, richer vintage.  2005 was the most balanced — a high quality vintage since the weather being almost perfect.

The 2006 Reisling had the same aromas as the 2005 only fatter, riper and richer, with a hint of pineapple and a darker color. The 2007 was fresher with good acidity and a high quality vintage.  Frederic also added that they only want Botrytis in their sweet wines. 

 

We also tried the Gewurztraminer A.O.C. Alsace Grand Cru “Steinklotz” 2005 ,2006, 2007.  The 2005 had hints of honey, tropical fruit and a touch of spice.  2006 was lush ,honeyed with hints of pineapple and flowers. I drank the 2006 with lobster, which was my main course.  It was a great combination.  2007 was fragrant with good acidity and hints of tropical fruit.

 

The 2005, 2006, 2007 Pinot Gris shared the same flavor and aroma profile being rich and full with a hint of smoke and good fruit flavors and aromas with slight differences according to the vintage.

 

Steinklotz Alsace Grand Cru

Steinklotz Alsace Grand Cru

The suggested retail price for the Grand Crus is $25 and, like the Noble Varieties, I feel that they are a bargain though I prefer the former.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Austrian Riesling

        Some members of the wine community think that Riesling is not only the best white wine, but also the best wine, period. There is even an International Riesling Foundation, with worldwide membership.

    In his article “ The Wines of Spring” Eric Asimov wrote in The Pour “I love Austrian riesling- just last weekend we celebrated my son Jack’s 18th birthday with a bottle of 2000 Wachau Steinriegl Smaragd Riesling from Prager”.

 On April 1, the Wine Media Guild held a tasting and lunch at Felidia restaurant and the topic was Austrian Riesling.While I am more familiar with Riesling from Germany, France and Italy, I have tasted very few Austrian Rieslings and looked forward to the event. The speakers were Steve Miller, Director of Marketing, Lauber Imports and Jodi Stern from VinVino Imports. Jodi has a special fondness for Austrian Riesling and this came out in her presentation. There were 16 wines from the 2005, 06 & 07 Vintages. Steve Miller said that all three were great vintages but very different. The 07 was a classic vintage, bright, clean with a mineral character. In 06 the weather was warm and humid, with the result that the vintage was richer, fatter, and riper.  As a result of the weather, Botrytis (Noble Rot) attacked the grapes.  05 was a perfectly balanced, high quality vintage, with a reduced crop.

  

 
 
 
 
 

Knoll Austrian Riesling

Knoll Austrian Riesling

 Domain Wachau Riesling “Wachau” 2007 ($ 20) — citrus, fruit, peach and pear, a hint of spice and a mineral character in the aftertaste. This might be the best buy

  Domail Wachau Riesling Smaragd Achleiten 2005 ($30) — undertones of peaches and apricot with a strong mineral character.   Domain Wachau is the largest cooperative in the Wachau Valley.

  The Prager Riesling Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein 2007 ($65) had good fruit but also an earthy and mineral quality. I found myself drinking this wine with lunch.

  Shift Gottweig Riesling Gottweiger Berg 2006 ($?) — Very good fruit flavor of citrus, peaches and apricots with a mineral quality and a pleasant finish and after taste.

  Aldo Shom, the sommelier at La Bernardin, attended as a guest and spoke about some of the problems of selling Austrian Riesling in a restaurant.

 Steven Miller said that Lauber does not have a problem selling these wines. These produces can sell all their wine in Europe and very few cases make it here.

 It was a very informative and interesting tasting. I can now see why Riesling has such a devoted following.

             I am having dinner at Corton this week with the Alsatian producer Federic Helrich and I am looking forward to tasting his Riesling.

 

   

 


 

 

 

 

       Jodi Stern spoke about the terroir and wine making techniques. She said that the terroir is very important because the wine makers prefer to let the grapes speak for themselves and interfere with them as little as possible. The different qualities in the wine come from the place where the grapes are grown.

     Both Jodi and Sreve believe that the Wachau region in the lower portion of the country, one of Austria’s smallest regions, is one of the best grape growing regions in the world. They think it is so special that they compared it to Burgundy.

      Jodi also pointed out that the Wachau has its own levels of quality: Steinfeder (the name of a local grass), Federspiel (Falcon and a feather), and Smaragd (Emerald – the name of the bright green lizards that live in the vineyards) which is the highest.

 The Wines:

  Hirtzberger Riesling Federspiel Steinterrassen 2007 ($34) — Very fruity with pineapple aromas and flavors on the nose and palate as well as in the finish and aftertaste.

 Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel 2007 ($110) — Very well structured and elegant wine with ripe fruit, tangerine, deep rich flavors and mineral accents with a great finish and aftertaste.This wine will age very well.

  Knoll Riesling Federspiel 2007 ($21) — citrus, herbs and a hint of spice and a mineral character.

 Knoll Riesling Smaragd Schutt 2005 ($30) — Very balanced wine with rich[MSOffice1]  deep tropical fruit flavors and a lingering aftertaste.

 

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