Ostertag: Alsace’s Singular Spirit

“The next generation is terrific and will keep writing the history of the domaine in its own way. Prepare to be surprised by this new wave blossoming at the domaine with contagious energy!” That was how André Ostertag let the world know of the great things to come here as he steps back somewhat from the helm. France’s great pioneer has been living with Parkinson’s disease for 10 years, and is easing off in order to heal. André’s son Arthur, who’s been more deeply involved in the running of the estate since 2015, will play an even greater role.
Arthur is also ably supported by Thomas Larmoyer, who’s been at André’s side for seven years and who visited Australia in February to take part in CellarHand’s 20th Anniversary celebrations. The wines Thomas showed are evidence of a domaine in fabulous form, with the just-released ‘17 Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from the ‘Les Jardins’ range carrying on where the superb ‘16s left off.
The latest vintage is yet to be reviewed, but the critics who visited in the European autumn were effusive about the current shape of the estate. “Ostertag’s 2016s are formidable! In terms of freshness, mineral expression, elegance and finesse, they are absolutely fabulous,” wrote Stephan Reinhardt of Wine Advocate. That was echoed by Ian D’Agata of Vinous Media, who wrote: “The line-up of wines I tried this year at the estate was extremely impressive.”
That joy, of course, was tinged with the sadness of knowing the André’s boundless, contagious energy will be held in check, for a while at least. “I first met André in 1992, and he is one of the nicest people in Alsace wine,” D’Agata notes, one of many to comment with great affection on this singular spirit of the region. “André’s ésprit, will and energy have always been great,” says Stephan Reinhardt. “We don’t have any doubts that we will taste with him again soon. Until then, take care André, and take our very best and warmest wishes.”
We, too, send our best wishes, but know how genuine this fine man’s faith is in the vineyards around him and the people he’s inspired. The wines are always stimulating, emotive and pure in spirit, with every sip a reminder of why this special domaine is held so dear the world over.

2017 Ostertag Pinot Blanc Les Jardins RRP $43
Vins de Fruit are wines in which the primary expression of the grape is put before from any specific terroir consideration. They are, in a way, André Ostertag’s village wines, and embody the complexity and diversity of the Alsatian terroirs.
The Pinot Blanc Les Jardins results is a blend of six small gardens of vines, farmed biodynamically, and located in the town of Epfig with a small part coming from the Clos Mathis parcel in Ribeauvillé. Half the plots are true Pinot Blanc, the other half is Auxerrois which comes, for the most part, from the slopes of lieu-dit Fronholz. They are based on three “natures” of soil: clay-silt, marl-sandstone, and a touch of granite.
The Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois blend is a classic combination in Alsace, the former bringing the structure and the latter the flesh. However the result is rarely interesting given how poor in aromatics and structure these two grapes can be when they are not farmed with care. Ostertag’s vision for the Pinot Blanc is to look for flesh to balance its naturally tight and tense character, by fermenting and ageing it in Burgundy style, as the family does for the Pinot Gris. This is a radically untraditional approach in Alsace, but it is how Pinot Blanc was made in Burgundy for centuries. Indeed, since 1988, the Pinot Blanc at Domaine Ostertag is entirely fermented and aged in 228-litre oak barriques. The goal is to stretch the wine both in width and length, nourish it with the lees to give it structure and salinity, and develop greater aromatic complexity. The 2017 vintage was handpicked on 6th September. It was gently pressed with the whole bunches, in a pneumatic press, for about nine hours. It was fermented entirely in used oak barriques with natural yeasts, and went through malolactic conversion. It was kept in the same barrels for 11 months, and bottled at the end of August 2018 with a balance of 12.5% alcohol and 1g/L of residual sugar.
The result is an uncommonly full-bodied and structured Pinot Blanc, yet bone-dry and mouthwatering. It exudes fresh and fruity aromas of yellow peaches and nectarine. A hint of hazelnut comes out with air. The mouthfeel is dense yet tense thanks to the zesty minerality. – André Ostertag

2016 Ostertag Riesling Les Jardins RRP $49
The certified organic and biodynamic Riesling Les Jardins is a blend from 12 different plots located around the winery, in the village of Epfig and towards neighbouring Itterswiller and Nothalten. The soils are varied: clay; sandstone; and sand with volcanic sediments.
The result is a fruit-driven wine in which André captures the personality of the village’s terroirs, which are predominantly based on sandstone. They give the wine a particularly delicate, saline character.
The 2016 fruit was hand-picked on 10th, 12th and 17th October. The grapes were gently whole-bunch pressed with a pneumatic press. The juice was then slowly fermented with wild yeasts, and the wine aged on its lees in stainless steel tank for one year. It was bottled in early September 2017 with a final balance of 12.5% alcohol and 3g/L of natural residual sugar. – André Ostertag

Good bright straw-green. Spicy, zingy aromas and flavors of powdered stone, jasmine, lemon verbena, green apple and fresh ginger. Very pretty wine that lingers long on the aftertaste, displaying noteworthy clarity and cut. One of the best entry-level Rieslings from Ostertag in years. This is the first vintage featuring this wine’s new name, Les Jardins (formerly Vignoble d’Epfig). 92 points. Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media January 2019

2017 Ostertag Pinot Gris Les Jardins RRP $62
The Pinot Gris Les Jardins is a blend of four small “gardens” of vines, farmed biodynamically, and located in the towns of Epfig, Itterswiller and Albé. These plots are based on three distinct natures of soil: Clayey sandstone (50%), loess (15%), and schist (35%). A small part of the lieu-dit Zellberg’s youngest plot – on clay-limestone-sandstone soil – was also blended into this cuvée in 2017.
Ostertag has been making Pinot Gris its own way since 1984, using 228-litre Burgundy oak casks for fermentation and ageing, and taking it to a fully dry balance which is even now pretty unusual in Alsace. The 2017 vintage was hand-picked on 13th September (29th September for the Albé plot). It was gently pressed as whole bunches, in a pneumatic press, for about nine hours. It fermented with natural yeasts in used 228-litre barrels, and went through malolactic conversion. It was kept in the same barrels for 11 months, and bottled early September 2018.
The result is a fresh and intense Pinot Gris, with a very refined floral and slightly smoky nose, and ripe yellow fruits, citrus fruits and honey. In the mouth the complexity of the soils and the barrel vinification is felt through a combination of full body and vibrant, refreshing personality with an intense mineral structure. – André Ostertag

2017 Ostertag Clos Mathis Riesling RRP $81
The Clos Mathis belongs to Ostertag’s long-time, freshly retired vineyard manager, Hubert Mathis. This remarkable 0.6-hectare vineyard surrounded by stone walls is located in Ribeauvillé, in line with the grand crus Geisberg and Kirchberg. The soil is composed of a granitic mother rock and gneiss, with poor fertility. The vines are grown on terraces, on a very steep south-east facing slope which benefits from hot days and cool nights. The heat is tempered by cool winds coming down at night from the valley that ends just after the vineyard. This particular location allows slow ripening, preserving acidity and finesse in Riesling.
Hubert Mathis inherited this plot from his parents. He has entirely rebuilt it and was initially selling the grapes to a local merchant, until 1997 when he and André decided to reveal this very beautiful historic vineyard which has been esteemed since the Middle Ages and the time of the Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre.
The 1997, 1998 and 1999 vintages were dedicated at working on the soils and starting to farm the clos biodynamically, in order to reveal the soul of this beautiful terroir. The first vintage as part of the single-vineyard range of the domaine, under the Clos Mathis label, was 2000.
Clos Mathis gives birth to classic, distinguished, long-lived Rieslings. Some aspects can make it seem austere in its youth, the structural elements (acidity, mineral tannins) in the foreground while textural and aromatic elements are rather timid, but with time the Clos Mathis becomes a sappy, classically dry wine in the breed of greatest Alsatian Rieslings.
The 2017 vintage was hand-picked on 29th October. It was gently pressed with the whole bunches, in a pneumatic press, for about nine hours. It naturally fermented in stainless steel, and kept on lees for one year. It was bottled in early September 2018 with a balance of 13.5% alcohol and 2g/L residual sugar. – André Ostertag

2016 Ostertag Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg RRP $107
Muenchberg means the “mountain of the monks” and was first planted in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks. We own 2.05Ha of which 1.65Ha are planted with Riesling. Muenchberg is one of the most unique grands crus of Alsace because of its very particular soil of red sandstone and volcanic sediments. It’s a wonderful south-facing amphitheatre of vines in a closed valley, in the Vosges foothills, protected to the west by the 901m Ungersberg peak. The altitude ranges between 250 and 300m which prevents excessive heat and helps to keep complexity in the wines. Like all the domaine’s vineyard the Riesling vines are farmed using biodynamic principles, and certified organic. We pay particular attention to manual tasks on the vines, because machines may be sometimes necessary but they will never have “man’s hand’s intelligent sensitivity”. – André Ostertag

From vines ranging from 30 to 75+ years old and planted on red sandstone and volcanic sediments, Ostertag’s 2016 Grand Cru Muenchberg Riesling is intense and concentrated on the deep, clear and elegant nose, with perfectly ripe (mirabelle) fruit aromas that are perfectly mixed with the spicy-warm terroir notes. Round, juicy, very compact and tensioned but highly elegant and deep on the palate, the 2016 reveals great density and complexity and indicates lots of mysteries that will be revealed over the years in the bottle or with more aeration. A fascinating Muenchberg, it is intense and dense but highly finessed and with lingering salinity. Tasted October 2018. 95 points. Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate November 2018

Pale straw-yellow. Powdered stone, lemon verbena, and jasmine complicate the green apple and nectarine aromas and flavors. Then juicy and tight, hints of anise and minerals framing the lively pomaceous orchard fruit flavors. Finishes long, with repeating nuances of lime and flowers and a laser beam of acidity. Outstanding, very fresh, classically dry Riesling. Very old vines here (some are 70+ years old). 94+ points. Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media September 2018