"If your vines have deep roots, then you probably had a great vintage in 2000, with a lot of noble rot," said Jean-Michel Deiss, leaving little doubt about the attributes of his own vines. "If not, then you probably got a lot of gray rot. There was certainly a big panic at the beginning of the harvest, when gray rot was spreading quickly." Deiss now offers essentially three categories of wines: varietally labelled fruit wines, under which heading he includes his communal bottlings; classic late-harvest wines; and vins du terroir field blends of varieties designated by their site, including his grand crus and a number of additional vineyards that he refers to as his premier crus. It is clear that he regards his vins du terroir which reject Alsace emphasis on variety over site, as the top of the quality pyramid: he shows these wines after the late-harvest bottlings even though they typically carry less residual sugar. The reason they can be tasted after the late-harvest examples, he says, is that they are simply more complex and more complete. Tasting these pure expressions of terroir without having the crutch of the variety to lean on was certainly one of the most fascinating experiences of my tour of Alsace. (New Castle Imports, Myrtle Beach, SC)
Orange skin, honey and spices on the nose. Juicy and intensely flavored, with a strong spicy character. This went through malolactic fermentation, but Deiss noted that there was relatively little malic acidity in the first place. Finishes firm and dry.
Musky aromas of flowers and butter. Firmly structured and penetrating; serious pinot blanc with good density and noteworthy depth of flavor. Impressive combination of power and finesse. A complete pinot blanc, and very strong for this cuvee
Very ripe nose hints at dried fruits. Dense, chewy and off-dry; gamey and concentrated. Conveys an impression of solidity.
Aromas of vanilla, smoke and hazelnut. Denser and sweeter than the Beblenheim cuvee but also more austere, thanks to firm, almost riesling-like acids. Still, the fruit character is ripe and apricotty. Longer, more ambitious tokay.
Grapefruit, white flowers, nuts and spices on the nose. Brisk and fruit-driven, with lime and mandarin orange flavors and lovely cut. Firm and refreshing.
Precise, pure aromas of grapefruit, wet stone and spices. Shows a mineral austerity but also superb ripeness and supple texture. Juicy, intensely flavored, sharply focused riesling, with 13.2% natural alcohol. No rot here, according to Deiss.
Aromas of mint and honeysuckle. Fairly dry and quite brisk, with rich, pure fruit flavors and complicating hints of mint and chlorophyll. Deiss vinified two lots separately, one with a lot of noble rot. He did a 12-hour maceration pelliculaire with the clean part, then added the nobly rotten parcel in order to extend the fermentation. The result will be one of the better examples of muscat from the 2000 vintage.
Vinous, rather reticent nose hints at spice and cress. Very spicy in the mouth but also nicely minerally, with the firm structure that comes from granite soil. Here one really tastes the grapes. Will be fresh and strong.
Aromas of vineyard peach, rose and five-spice powder; reminded me of Puligny-Montrachet. Dense, chalky and fresh, with solid acids buffering the substantial (50 g/l) residual sugar. A rather extreme style, but deep in the middle and ultimately well-balanced. Finishes quite long and spicy, without any gewurztraminer bitterness.
Medium cherry-red. Raspberry, cherry, pepper and a hint of truffle on the nose. Juicy, intensely flavored and quite lively in the mouth (perhaps still a bit of unconverted malic acidity?); pure and rather delicate but solidly structured. Finishes with fine tannins and lovely lightness of touch. An Alsace pinot noir with finesse and strong material.
Pale, healthy cherry-red. Raspberry, cherry and spices on the nose. Richer and sweeter than the '00 but less racy. Possesses terrific pinot fruit but here the tannins seem a bit less noble than those of the 2000. Deiss says this wine has a deeper color than it showed six months ago.
Pineapple, grapefruit, mandarin orange and licorice on the nose. Juicy and rather lean for VT; still fermenting its sugars. A very young wine that appears to combine high sugar and high acidity, but today it not yet showing much nuance. Too unevolved to assess with confidence.
Peach, candied orange peel and spices on the nose. Superconcentrated but supple, with racy acidity giving the flavors excellent definition. Hint of oak spices. Very long, youthfully aggressive finish. This wine received a more oxidative vinification and elevage than the Riesling VT and was presenting itself more clearly. "A barrel, after all, is like a theater," Deiss explained.
Highly perfumed aromas of smoked meat and cinnamon spice; almost too much. Supersweet (80 g/l r.s.) and spicy, but not at all sugary thanks to firm, ripe acidity. Still, this very rich and powerful wine is a bit spiky today, and verging on aggressive.
Fruit-driven aromas of white peach, lime, lemon peel and white flowers. Juicy, leanish and penetrating, with lively, pure mineral and grapefruit flavors. Quite complex but lacy and light on its feet. Finishes long and precise. This first vin du terroir is already more intriguing than the three VTs that preceded it. A blend of riesling, pinot gris, muscat and sylvaner.
Nose shows strong stony cut: chalk, lime, orange oil. Very dense and succulent, with racy acids brightening the sweet fruit. Delicious and brilliantly delineated. Sweet but lively . . but sweet but lively. From riesling and pinot gris.
Rather closed nose hints at flowers, spices, butter and white fruits. Dense and spicy, but currently less interesting than the Rotenberg. This has more of everything than the Rotenberg but is not yet ready to speak. The pH here is actually extremely low, says Deiss, who agrees that the wine "is too much now." Still, this is quite sophisticated. A blend of riesling, gewurztraminer and pinots blanc and gris.
Subdued aromas of soft citrus fruits and spices. Sweet, spicy and large-scaled; very rich and layered, and already highly aromatic in the mouth. This has an almost tannic structure that calls to mind a red wine. I would have guessed riesling and tokay, but it actually one-third each riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot noir (!). Deiss bought the parcel last year, and immediately cut the crop load in half.
Reticent, subtly perfumed nose hints at violet and rose. Extremely dense, powerful and primary; quite austere and forceful. Very dry for a Deiss wine. There absolutely no hint of a particular cepage here, which has the effect of making this wine more complex than, say, the Engelgarten but also more demanding. Still, this rather rigorous will require extended aging in order to express itself.
Exotic aromas of mango, licorice, honey and smoked meat, with a mentholated aspect. An incredibly spicy, concentrated wine that almost too big for the mouth. Large-scaled and powerful but utterly lively and light on its feet. All the pinots are planted here, including pinot beurot [often found in old vineyards on the Cote d'Or]. Finishes with tannic bite. Offers extraordinary potential.
Pungent, musky aromas of minerals, quinine, lime and mint. Dense and intensely flavored, with strong acids to buffer its considerable sugar. Spicy, penetrating and extremely long; as chewy as a solid. This is downright difficult to swallow: the finish goes on as if the wine is still in one mouth.
($70; picked without a trie Reticent aromas of crystallized orange peel, resin, almond paste and honey. Thick, spicy and supersweet; unctuous yet amazingly fresh, thanks to its firm acids and chewy buffering extract. Finishes extremely powerful and persistent. This may go on for decades.
Reduced nose dominated by smoked meat scents. Then shockingly lively and light on its feet despite possessing great density, with juicy, spicy flavors that show more varietal character than jammy SGN superripeness. (The hard grape skins here resist botrytis, notes Deiss.) Bright, harmonious acids extend the very subtle finish.
Flamboyant aromas of lime, minerals, flowers and mint. Extremely dense and dusty; boasts an amazingly chewy, tactile quality. In fact, this extraordinary wine, despite its 80 grams per liter residual sugar, seemed almost dry next to the tokay SGN from the same vineyard. Already shows incredible inner-mouth complexity. Clings to the palate in a way that few wines from Alsace, or from anywhere else, can match.
Compelling aromas of dried fruits, fresh citrus scents and honeysuckle. Then supersweet and chewy, with great suavity and sappy verve. But currently locked up tight in the middle; remarkably austere today for a wine so rich. Finishes with great purity and persistence. This is a Protestant, "interior" wine, hiding its richness, says Deiss, while the Altenberg is a flamboyant, Catholic wine.
Orange peel, spice, honey and an exotic suggestion of strawberry on the nose. Fat, spicy and rich, but less penetrating and precise than the 2000 version. Only moderately concentrated for a Deiss wine.
Reticent aromas of flowers, lime, spices and smoke. Bright and aromatic in the mouth, with floral and citrus elements. Supple, nicely concentrated and deep, with solid backbone and very good length.
Bright, lively lime aroma. Easygoing but quite vibrant and light on is feet. Subtle mineral and floral nuances add interest to the citrus flavors. Penetrating, persistent riesling.
Vibrant aromas of lemon, lime and stone. Penetrating, bright and citric; quite tightly wound for a '99. Very much a wine from granite soil.
Tangy aromas of spice, honey and soft citrus fruits. Fat, ripe and sweet; fairly fresh but not as precise or detailed as the 2000 version. An easygoing tokay, with a chewy texture.
Deep, charry, slightly exotic aromas of vanilla, hazelnut and tangerine. Sweet, fat and dense, with ripe acids framing and extending the intense, enticing fruit flavors. This offers much more character than the Beblenheim bottling, and considerably greater finesse.
Highly perfumed, charry aromas of spices and smoked meat. Dense and fat but a bit one-dimensional. A rather linear wine of moderate flavor intensity and complexity, but maintains good freshness.
Expressive nose melds flowers, herbs, peach, mirabelle and a whiff of tobacco. Denser, sweeter and deeper than the St. Hippolyte, with stronger fruit flavors. Finishes firm, fairly dry and much longer on the back end.
Lime, white peach and cress aromas. Quite dry, juicy and citric, and not yet really expressive. A rather unevolved wine that displays a youthful hard edge.
Cool, austere but subtle aromas of minerals, mandarin orange, peach and lichee. Then rich and supple in the mouth, with moderate sweetness nicely cut by perfectly integrated acidity. This has very good texture and depth and conveys an almost salty impression of extract. Finishes brisk, ripely fruity and long.
Complex aromas of mandarin orange, spices, butter and honeysuckle. Superripe and deep; has thickness but its ripe acids and pronounced mineral character keep it fresh. Hints at strong, spicy fruit but is not yet revealing its complexity. Quite long but youthfully unevolved on the back end. The richest and deepest of Deiss three "premier crus" in '99.
Highly nuanced nose combines exotic dried fruits, peach syrup, honey, smoke, lichee and blond tobacco, along with the powerfully spicy character displayed by the young 2000. Reticent on entry, then explodes with chewy exotic fruits and spices on the back half. Boasts strong (especially for Mambourg) but perfectly integrated acidity that keeps the flavors brisk. Tactile and very distinctive.
Aromas of vineyard peach, peach melba, honey and white flowers; more exotic and less minerally than the 2000. A sweet explosion of ripe yellow fruits in the mouth, but over a solid backbone and firmed by a suggestion of peach pit. Very sweet and very long. These vines are always attacked by noble rot, Deiss notes. Although there were three degrees more of potential alcohol here, the acids were also higher than those of the Mambourg. Wonderfully stylish wine, with compelling fruit and honey flavors.
Detailed aromas of dried fruits and stony minerality. Very rich yet firm and delicate; still rather unformed but already remarkably complex. A bit easier in style than the 2000 but shares some of that wine austerity of structure. I never would have picked this wine blind for a '99. Very long and youthful on the finish.
Complex nose melds pineapple, white peach, minerals, vanilla, honey and resin. More or less dry, lacy and still quite subdued; shows riesling-like citrus and spice and modest flesh, as well as good structure for further aging in bottle. Still rather closed in on itself.
Captivating aromas of rose petal, orange, lichee, lemon ice, wet stone and spices. Fat, full and spicy, with a texture like gewurztraminer (but the blend is more than 50% riesling, the rest pinot gris and gewurztraminer); a soft, smoky wine with spice and lichee flavors. Began rich and almost blowzy but took shape as it opened in the glass. Finishes with subtle persistence.
Rich, sweet aromas of pineapple, lemon cream pie, orange oil, minerals, honeysuckle and rose. Vigorous on the attack, then seductively sweet and velvety in the mouth, with a honeyed richness supported by surprising mineral firmness. As lush as this is, there also lovely lightness of touch and terrific thrust. Captivating, classy wine.