Soaking up the Alsatian tastes

I had an interesting tasting here at Lutyens last week. Christophe Ehrhart from Josmeyer gave a talk with accompanying wines from the estate he runs in Alsace, the sliver of land between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine that boasts some of the lowest rainfall in France and a complex and varied landscape predominantly planted with aromatic white varieties.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the wines, which are excellent. The domaine is rightly regarded as one of the finest in Alsace and I highly recommend them, it was particularly instructive to taste wines made from a range of different grape varieties but from the same Grand Cru “Hengst” vineyard (a 53 hectare vineyard of limestone and marl shared between a number of producers including such other luminaries as Zind-Humbrecht and Albert Mann) where the distinctive characteristics of the terroir shine through (in the wine trade we often talk about minerality, this taste of the soil, which this wine had in spades but I also found something surprisingly herbaceous, even minty on the nose).

Christophe is a follower of a wine-making philosophy called Biodynamism. It’s a complicated subject but the gist of it is that the vineyard is treated, not just organically but, as a living organism, with homeopathic remedies that are applied at times dictated by the phases of the moon. It’s pretty outlandish and there’s a part of me that rebels from what, frankly, can sometimes sound like superstitious gobbledegook. Nevertheless it is a philosophy that, regardless of the seemingly tenuous science and even logic underpinning it, produces extraordinary results in some of the finest wine estates across the globe.

We’re living in interesting times and wine-makers are questioning the status quo in terms of traditional vineyard management and wine-making interventions. People are making wines with wild yeast, with little or no addition of Sulphur, with laissez faire attitudes to protection from oxidation or temperature control. It’s good to question the consensus. I’ve gone on record criticising some of the products of what has become known as Natural wine-making. Let me qualify it a little, I don’t mind how you do it – but let’s judge the results on how good the wine is rather than on the philosophy behind it. In Josmeyer’s case, at least, the results speak for themselves.
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