Rolly Gassmann Riesling Pflaenzerreben 1988
Although there is certainly a Loire and Bordeaux focus to my chosen wines of the week, I do think it is healthy to look beyond these two regions every once in a while. This week I’m doing just that, with a rather randomly chosen wine from Alsace. A lone bottle bought many years ago, perhaps when I was exploring Alsace in the early days of writing on Winedoctor, this is a true cellar orphan; I’ve never tasted the wine before pulling the cork here, and I have (or rather, had) no idea as to its character, style, residual sugar, or what propensity the wine might have had for aging. Despite that, I have allowed it to languish in the cellar for a decade or two. Well, it is Riesling, after all. Is it possible to leave Riesling in the cellar too long?
The wine in question is from Rolly Gassmann, the only grower of note (that I am aware of at least – Alsace experts feel free to disagree) in the village of Rorschwihr, which lies directly between Bergheim (to the south) and Saint Hippolyte (to the north). There are no grands crus within the commune, although there are some noteworthy lieux-dits, all of which seem to be associated with the Rolly Gassmann domaine (which makes me wonder whether the quality of the wines is more to do with the people, rather than the terroir). Having said that, just a few hundred metres to the south-west lies the grand cru Altenberg de Bergheim, in the Bergheim commune obviously, and just to the west again its diminutive sibling Kanzlerberg, so the region is not exactly a qualitative desert.
The Pflaenzerreben lieu-dit lies just to the east of the road which runs between Rorschwihr and Bergheim. Although the slopes of the grand cru Altenberg de Bergheim are south-facing, here we are further round the side of the hill, and thus the slopes run down towards the east. The vineyard actually straddles the border between Rorschwihr and Bergheim. Rolly Gassmann owns 1 hectare of Riesling and Pinot Gris vines here, planted on a marl of silty clay over deeper limestone.
And so to the wine, the 1988 Riesling Pflaenzerreben from Rolly Gassmann. It has a moderately rich gold on inspection, not particularly deep, and certainly there is no clue here as to this wine’s age. Aromatically it is unbelievably fresh and fruit-rich; I don’t think anyone would suspect, if tasting blind, that this wine has more than twenty years behind it. The fruit profile is immediately lime, later showing some tinges of blackcurrant leaf, as well as some richer tones suggestive of fresh vanilla and aniseed. The palate has a bright and yet gentle and fleshy style, there being no hard edges here; the main backbone of the wine comes from a vein of chalky minerality, together with a little sense of grip, but the acidity is really rather muted, at first at least; with a second taste it does in fact display a subtle, tingly acid core. It is really quite dry though, and it doesn’t feel blowsy or overly soft as a result of this lighter structure. There are thankfully some complex characteristics here, providing an appealing frisson of interest, with some subtle aniseedy, fennel-like notes alongside the lime-leaf and tinges of orange bitterness. Overall this is remarkably youthful and unexpectedly soft; it is attractive and fresh, but doesn’t quite display the verve and definition I would have really enjoyed, not indeed the more dense complexity I might have hoped for at 24 years of age. Nevertheless, perhaps I should be impressed simply that this wine, from what is really a rather humble lieu-dit, has survived at all; I suspect it was never really intended to be left this long. It’s the power of Riesling, I suppose. 16/20 (29/10/12)