In contrast to growers in the warmer southern portion of Alsace, who brought in a good bit of fruit prior to the rainy spell in early October, Jean-Michel Deiss reported that rain during the 2005 harvest resulted in "more difficult rot." For him, the 2005 growing season was "complicated and changeable," and he noted that his harvest yielded the smallest crop here in 25 years. He preferred the climate of 2004, although he admitted that the crop load in the earlier year was potentially huge. Because Deiss takes his time to release his vins de terroir (wines made from two or more co-planted grape varieties and labelled only by vineyard name), he only showed me a handful of these offerings in September. However, he shipped me most of his terroir wines to sample in June, and these wines were noteworthy for their extraordinary range of tastes and textures. Tasting Alsace wines without having the guideposts of the variety to fall back on is always an adventure. (Vintus, Pleasantville, NY)
Also recommended: 2005 Vin Rouge de St. Hippolyte (86+).
($24) Pale gold-tinged yellow. Subdued aromas of soft citrus fruits; gives the impression of a bit more acidity than the '04. Then fatter and broader than the earlier vintage, with more sweetness and a bit less grip. Less subtle and a bit more aggressive than the '04, but less tight on the back end.
($33) Pale color. Primary, precise aromas of pink grapefruit and blood orange. Rich, supple and densely packed, with a saline character to the pink grapefruit and stone fruit flavors. Finishes quite firm. Deiss told me he does a "ferocious" triage of this fruit and has vinified his muscat without any gray rot for the past six or seven years. He ferments the healthy grapes very quickly, then adds some nobly rotten berries at the end to get more fat and depth of flavor. The objective is to make a more complete muscat whose aromas are not simply ephemeral. In '05, this fruit was harvested around October 10, noted Deiss.
($27; Deiss assembled his St. Hippolyte and Beblenheim cuvees into a single wine due to the tiny crop in '05) Mute on the nose following the bottling ten days before my visit; showed hints of exotic ripeness with aeration. Ripe, pliant and peachy, with an attractive sugar/acid balance. This doesn't offer the mineral cut or freshness of the '04 but it boasts more texture and density. Needs time to harmonize but offers very good potential and persistence. "I once offered nine different rieslings," said Jean-Michel Deiss, "and it was a catastrophe, as they were all so far from the riesling 'type'."
($33) Aromas of floral honey, smoke and butter. A bit soft on entry, then fat, sweet, round and concentrated, with good fullness in the mid-palate. A hint of acidity on the back firms up and extends the wine's fruit.
Straw-yellow, deeper than the '04 version due to a touch of botrytis. Flamboyant nose offers orange peel, fresh apricot, honey and spices. Sweet and concentrated, with an explosive quality to its vibrant flavors of apricot, orange and honey. Finishes with considerable sweetness but enough acidity to maintain its balance and verve. This is way better than the '04. As sexy as this is today, the Beblenheim bottling is much better suited for early consumption. By forcing the roots deeper here, Deiss has lowered the typical pH of this wine by 0.5 in recent years. And he has also planted more pinot beurrot. "The grape is more rustic but it has a better acid structure and thicker skins."
Bright yellow with a golden tinge. Pure but tight on the nose. Fat, creamy, ripe and sweet, but with its fruit currently in the background. Not as aromatically interesting today as the '04 but deeper and more glyceral. Turned spicier with aeration, with some yellow fruit flavors emerging. This is still absorbing its free sulfur.
($44) Medium yellow. Tangy, honeyed aromas of peach, mirabelle and spiced meats. Glyceral and quite sweet, with exotic yellow fruit flavors enlivened by lovely balancing acidity. Plenty sweet but this is serious juice, and superb for a "village" wine.
($43; from densely planted riesling, muscat, pinot gris, sylvaner and chasselas on terraced granite vineyards in St. Hippolyte that Deiss compared to Cote-Rotie) Pale color. Complex, soil-driven aromas of orange zest, wet stone, flowers, mint, licorice and lichee; I would have guessed that there was a gewurztraminer element here. Fat, silky, round and thick but still youthfully tight. Sweet but not sugary. A complete blend with a fairly large structure-and quite extroverted for a wine from granite soil. Finishes with excellent length.
($43; Deiss's holding here includes riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, muscat, sylvaner and chasselas) Pale copper with a pink tinge. Aromatic nose offers strawberry, peach, melon, anise and pepper. Rich, spicy and fairly dry, with lovely inner-mouth floral character. In an essentially gentle style, but the peppery element gives the wine a positive dryness. Finishes slightly sweet and serious.
($58; riesling and pinot gris) Pale bright yellow. Sexy, subtle aromas of nectarine, peach, honey, stone and sweet butter. Vibrant, spicy and rich, with moderate sweetness nicely leavened by ripe acidity. This showy wine boasts a honeyed richness but could use a bit more energy on the back. I note that I found the 2004 a tad flat too, but this wine has richer, cleaner fruit.
($58) Bright, pale yellow. Lovely perfumed lift to the aromas of pink grapefruit, melon, anise, oregano and smoke. Rich, spicy and dense with extract. Juicy acids give energy to the complex flavors of stone fruits, brown spices and licorice. Opulent and tactile wine, expanding impressively on the back and finishing with a whiplash of fruit. This boasts an exhilarating sugar/acid balance.
($58; Deiss's holding includes all 13 Alsace varieties) Full yellow. Exotic aromas of bitter orange, botanical herbs, peach skin and dried nuts. Sweet, exotic, concentrated and liqueur-like; reminded me a bit of Cointreau. Offers a fascinating combination of opulent texture and bitter-edged orange and spice flavors. There's a positive dry edge on the back that gives this wine a touch of austerity, along with an explosion of flowers. Needs aging, but this singular wine can't quite match the Grasberg for length.
($58; includes roughly equal components of riesling, pinot noir and gewurztraminer) Copper-gold. Aromas of peach skin, yellow plum and earth; not at all a perfumed style. Sweet and rich, but with a firm edge to the intense flavors of red berries and fruit skin. Today the pinot noir and gewurztraminer dominate the riesling. A note of tangy wild strawberry carries through to the finish, which is long on extract.
($105) Copper-tinged orange-gold color. Wild aromas of cured meat and Indian spices; there's a Hungarian sausage shop around the corner from me that smells just like this. Spicy, exotic and high-toned, with the smoked meat character following through in the mouth. A rich style but fairly dry, with a dusty impression of extract and subtle inner-mouth perfume. The juicy, lingering finish offers good lift. I don't believe this has any gewurztraminer in it, but that's the first variety I would have named. One of the wildest white wines I've smelled this year.
($105) Light gold color. Reticent but wonderfully pristine aromas of pear, nectarine and pineapple. A supersweet fruit bomb in the mouth: this enters bright, then explodes to saturate the palate with pure fruit salad flavors enlivened by firm acidity. I wouldn't describe this as complex, yet, but the fruit expression here is utterly captivating. Very long and sweet on the aftertaste, with no shortage of grip. This really showcases the fruity character of this vintage.
($105) Yellow-gold. Discreet, pure nose offers scents of fresh pineapple, peach, licorice, spices, minerals, fresh herbs, dried nuts and mint; I picked up a note of trail mix. Wonderfully dense but youthfully backward; conveys a powerful, pungent impression of tactile, minerally terroir and ineffable fruits, spices and herbs. Plenty sweet but distinctly laid-back today, with its ripe acidity and dusty texture leavening the impression of residual sugar. This actually comes across as less sweet and more backward than the superb 2004 version. With extended aeration, strong acids emerge to give the wine even greater energy. I'd love to compare this and the '04 in ten years.
(bottled in September of '06; this represents a heavily botrytized trie of Altenberg de Bergheim; 160 g/l r.s.) Palish yellow. Deep, brooding nose combines exotic orange oil, pineapple and rose oil; perfumed but quite fine. Then opulent and silky but almost magically fresh, with bracing acids underscoring the purity of the grapefruit, clove and nutmeg flavors. This seemed to grow thicker after a minute or two in the glass, with its explosive essence-of-fruit flavors complicated by saline soil character. Offers an uncommon balance of sheer thick material, great fruit intensity and vibrant (9 grams per liter) acidity. Deiss described it as a "TBA gold capsule." This is hard to scrape off the palate.