Through the Eyes of Riesling with André Ostertag

Domaine-Ostertag32-150x150 andre André Ostertag is a man who very much walks his own path. A constant student of wine he, like many of the producers we’ve met on this trip, is not one to rest on his laurels. To stand still is to go backwards, someone said at one of the visits, and André is a case in point. Our tasting today is a mix of mostly 2010 and 2011 vintages. 2011 in Alsace was reminiscent of 2007, with very early flowering finishing by the end of May. A cold wet summer followed by dry winter and spring. Picking started late September.
2010 one of the coldest vintage for a long time. An average temperature 9.9 compared with 11.6 in 2011. That’s a pretty huge difference! A very small crop followed. André says its a vintage a bit like 1996, with a lot of extraction, great concentration and long ageing potential.
All Pinots (Blanc, Gris) have been made in barrel since early ’80s. This point has always raised some conjecture in regard to the Ostertag wines, but put simply André feels, quite rightly, that these varieties have “very tiny primary aromas”, so secondary components need to arrive by wood. That is to say wood for ageing, breathing, lees contact…not for oak flavour. There is no bâtonnage.

2011 Pinot Blanc
50% each Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, this was bottled just at the end of May. Dry fleshy textural, soft balanced, André calls it “gras” – all about texture and weight. Like our current stocks, the 2010, this is a great example of what Pinot Blanc can be handled sensibly.

With the Riesling wines the subject of malolactic comes up, as André doesn’t go looking for it but doesn’t stop it if it does arrive. Sometimes the effect is more successful than others I feel, and out of curiosity I wonder if sometimes the wines would be different or even better without it. Sometimes!

2010 Riesling Clos Mathis
From Granite soils, the only Riesling from granite in the line-up. This is quite limey, clear and full, with rounded flavours, some nice minerality and poise.

2010 Riesling Fronholz
From quartz soils. Nice crisp acid here, fine but generous, zesty, salty character typical of Fronholz regardless of variety. Some citrusy fruits. This is perhaps emerging as my favourite of the Rieslings, with great definition and drive.

2010 Riesling Heissenberg
Sandstone and granite soils. Really intense stones and earth, dense and concentrated. A more showy, confident wine, open, exuberant, fragrant. Lovely zesty orange citrus palate notes.

2010 Riesling Muenchberg
Very open from the red earth volcanic soils. Creamier nutty characters, full flavored, supple, some earthy notes. Caramel notes that showed in Sydney. Here’s where I wonder about the malo. Certainly takes the wine in an interesting textural direction, which makes it a super wine for a wide range of food matches, but does it lose just a little bit if zip un the process?

2010 Zellberg Pinot Gris
From limestone soils, a southeast-facing site next to Muenchberg. This is a barrel sample, not fully dry, will be bottled in September. Full, opulent, great depth, mineral drive balance already. Very nice wine.

2010 Fronholz Pinot Gris
Here, like Achleiten vineyard in the Wachau, the vineyard impact is stronger than the grape. This has good acid drive, minerals, tightness, some savoury notes.

2010 Fronholz Muscat Ottonel
More delicate than Muscat d’Alsace. Restrained pot pourri fragrance, nice balance. Soft wine.

2011 Vignoble d’E Gewürztraminer
Does not look like it’s 35g/L R/S. Quite earthy spicy nose, with unusual parsnip aromatic, concentrated nose, quite powerful, low alcohol, 12.5%, no heat burn, natural residual sugar. André strives to reduce rather than expand on the aromatics of Gewürztraminer, and looks at it ‘through the eyes of Riesling’. Now there’s an idea. In my view this is the best version to date and I look forward to landing some in Australia.

2009 Fronholz VT Gewürztraminer
90+ g/L RS. Vanilla custard openness to the wine, not so much Gewurz character, more of the vineyard, again! Quite salty finish. Very powerful at the same time.