The foudres that Pierre Gassmann (below) uses to make his marvellous Rolly-Gassmann wines are 350 years old. Or almost exactly the same age as the South African wine industry. Which puts things in perspective. As does the observation that Catholics used fish for their brass spigots while Protestants preferred mermaids and a drier style of wine. Which fits.
Time passes slowly up here in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. In medieval times, the intense whites grown in a bewildering variety of geological environments (there are over 20 different soil types in the 50ha of vineyards) would be kept for five years for those made from fruit grown on granite soils to between 25 and 50 years for limestone soils. One barrel for the King, another for the Pope, another for the Abbott, taxation was unavoidable.
The stone walls of Pierre’s winery in Rorschwihr (below) reflect the diversity of terroirs, all spectacularly tasteable in the 55 odd wines he opened for Jonty Steyn, Julien Schaal and I this morning. Smokey notes from Rotleibel; explosive citrus from Silberberg; tobacco and spice from Haguenau; and so on and so forth.
My favourite was a Vendages Tardives Rotleibel Tokay Pinot Gris 1996 with black truffles on the nose and palate. Pierre is still keeping back 1990 vintage wines as they’re not yet ready for release. The 2009 Silberberg Riesling at €14 is amazing value and certainly worth buying to lay down for a few years.
Attention to detail is a feature – corks are purchased only from wetter vintages in Portugal to minimize the tannin content which reflects in the austerity profile of the wines. 20% of production is exported, with the UK #1 market, accounting for 8% of production. Gewurztraminer is the largest cultivar at 28% and the diversity of flavour on offer, from ginger and pepper to acacia, green pears and mango, opened my eyes to the complexity of this grape I usually write off as Turkish Delight. A super match with Thai food, the only problem as Pierre points out, being that Thais cannot pronounce Gewurztraminer.
Another eye opener was my own inability to quantitatively estimate residual sugar content, especially in older wines. Pierre is not afraid of residual sugar nor high alcohol levels. It’s all about balance with the colour of pips the deciding factor for ripeness. The family celebrated 400 years of making wine from the same vineyards last year and it shows. They’ve got it right. One of the best tastings ever.