Domaine Schlumberger, Pinot Gris, Kitterle, Grand Cru, Alsace, France, 1989
Many years ago I was working for the Louis Roederer portfolio of wines. To start my journey with them, I was sent on a 3 ½ week long trip through Italy, Portugal, and France. The things I experienced, and places I was welcomed into created priceless memories that I will forever cherish. Someday I hope I get to meet Jay Z to share with him a story that only I can claim to tell.
The trip profoundly contributed to who I am as a person and of course elevated my appreciation for some of the finest wine regions on earth. Being in Europe for the first time is tough to describe. The depth, pace, and way of life was inspiring. I was pretty close to leaving my whole life behind and becoming a dishwasher in Florence. Then the majesty of the Douro River and its hillside vineyards took my breath away. And then I found myself walking through the vineyards of Alsace.
Alsace is a fascinating region of France just west of the German border. Its wines and grapes may seem reminiscent of Germany on a shelf but the key difference to remember is that the wines are all almost bone dry compared to predominantly sweeter whites from Germany. Pinot Gris is exceptional from Alsace and is probably the greatest expression of this grape anywhere on earth. You may be more familiar with Pinot Grigio. They are the same grape but can yield dramatically different results. Pinot Gris from Alsace is a bit richer, definitely more floral, and with an acidity that balances everything. Pinot Grigio on the other hand tends to be more crisp and mineral driven, definitely meant to drink while young and vibrant. The wine, not you.
I got to tour the hillside vineyards of Domaine Schlumberger with the Séverine Schlumberger, a vineyard dog, and the wine maker. We then sat in the cellar room at a wooden table cut from one single fifty foot tree that had to be lowered inside through a window toward the ceiling.
As we tasted through the recent releases of crisp and intriguing wines from what was the 2001 vintage I think, I looked around at the iron gated storage bins in the brick walls, housing many older vintages. At the time I had never really thought of crisp dry whites like this as something to age for extended periods of time. I asked the wine maker, what happens to these wines when they truly age like that. After my question was translated to French, he got up, walked over, and opened the cage for the 1989 Kitterle.
He opened it on the spot without saying a word and poured it for me. I still remember the nose! It smelled of brûléed banana cream pie and wild flowers. So unctuous and sweet smelling but then on the palate but was still bone dry. It was fascinating. So many layers and so much to give. It really taught me that all great wines can age and how sad it is that most us don’t have the patience or means to let a majestic wine like this truly reach its potential.
If you haven't yet experienced the wines of Alsace, you need to. It will make your wine life more interesting.