(from left to right: Denis Dubourdieu, Philippe Dry, Jancis Robinson MW)
Tuesday afternoon saw a plethora (well 2) of the wine world’s most powerful people gather at Bibendum for a superb tasting: ‘Sweetness without sugar’ – Denis Dubourdieu on the great dry white wines from Bordeaux to Alsace.
If you haven’t the foggiest what I’m on about then let me explain. Denis Dubourdieu, who is a professor of oenology and also consultant oenologist for Cave de Ribeauville in Alsace, was this week named at No.30 in the Decanter Wine Power List. On his left sat Jancis Robinson MW who jumped in at No.8 in the same list – lofty company indeed! That said, Jancis is probably the last person to be interested in such a list, especially as she is sandwiched between Dan Jago at 6 and Nicolas Sarkozy at 9. What a place to be!
Anyway, I digress (what…again?). Denis took a group of collected sommeliers and press through his white wines from Bordeaux (including Chateaux Reynon, Doisy Daene sec and Clos Floridene), the Rieslings from Cave de Ribeauville, and then a final flight of classic Alsatian varieties from Ribeauville. The point he managed to very successfully make is that white wines do not need unnecessary levels of residual sugar in order to offer sweetness and flavour. Through proper processes in the vineyard and winery you can achieve the sensation of fruit sweetness without perceptible levels of residual sugar (made up of fructose and sucrose).
Towards the end of the tasting he left us in no doubt as to which side of the fence he stood on. “In the future, the enemies of white wine are: oak, alcohol, sugar and oxidation.” Now he’s not advocating that we grab our rotary fermenters, gather in lynch mobs and hunt down blockbuster wines, but it’s very clear when tasting the delicious Ribeauville wines that he strongly values freshness, dryness, fruit character, lively acidity, terroir and ageing potential.
Some of the wine highlights for me were:
Cave de Ribeauville Riesling Terroirs 2008 – complex nose with soft citrus, white stone fruit and vanilla hints. Tonnes of zingy fruit – really bright up front with great structure. It’s dry yet there is an abundance of sweet fruit character.
Cave de Ribeauville Grand Cru Osterberg 2007 – nose is less obvious and intense than the Terroirs but much more complex again. Lemons, oranges, musk and white flowers. Incredibly elegant, structured and long, long finish. Super concentration. He wants to see the sugar come down again in the future, which is really strange for Alsace, especially at Grand Cru level – retain the Riesling finesse, but turn up the intensity further. The lower sugar level means it’s great with food and will age well.
Cave de Ribeauville Pinot Gris Prestige 2008 – Strong, spicy nose. Savoury and dry on the palate. A serious wine which is quite austere at the moment. Give it time to develop in the bottle and it will be incredibly interesting. Perfect with food.
Cave de Ribeauville Clos du Zahnaker 2008 - this is the wine that Ribeauville and GM, Philippe Dry, are most proud of. From a 1.2ha vineyard they have pieced together through purchases over the years, the blend is one third each of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Vanilla, musk and spice on the nose. The components are blended and then fermented together . Sometimes you see the citrus of the Riesling coming through, sometimes the musk of the PInot Gris – fascinating stuff. Rich, yet finesse-driven and with a neverending finish. The acidity is in check so this could be drunk now (“Life is short” says Denis), but my suspicion is that this could age beautifully for years, adding layer upon layer of secondary characters.
The tasting amply illustrated that the wines of the Cave de Ribeauville are better now than they have ever been. This is sexy Alsace that is trying to break the shackles of tradition and leave behind the reactionism of its peers. This is ‘sit up and take notice’ stuff.
Next time you’re in a restaurant try an Alsatian wine – the styles will go well with your food and the value you’ll find compared to France’s other great whites will be phenomenal.