New ‘Les Jardins’ Wines From Alsace Ace Ostertag
Biodynamically farmed for 22 years now, Domaine Ostertag is one of those places whose virtues are so simple, strong and enduring that you kind of forget to mention them. Conviction and constancy hold sway in the family’s farming. They follow the season, follow the vine, follow nature – and thus the spirit and the vital wines flow.
We’re due a recap on what this looks like. With André taking a step back to heal from Parkinson’s – a disease that’s afflicted him for more than 10 years – son and co-owner Arthur Ostertag is at the helm. You may remember how André warned us when handing over of the reins: “Prepare to be surprised by this new wave blossoming at the domaine with contagious energy!”
So then, those virtues we spoke of. Organic viticulture here is adapted to each plot’s individual nature – and if you read the notes on the entry-level “Jardins” wines, you can see what André means. He speaks of “respect of the life in and around the vineyards in a constructive collaboration with nature”. Also in the vineyard, the team has reintroduced horse-ploughing in steep and close-planted vineyards, and among young vines. Picking and sorting are, naturally, done exclusively by hand.
In the cellar, whole clusters are pressed slowly and with infinite care. It’s gentle winemaking, respectful of the wine’s natural cycles. This is followed by long fermentations with indigenous yeasts and long lees ageing. The wines are dry, except the Gewurztraminers and dessert bottlings. Stainless steel is used for the aromatic varieties (Riesling, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer and Muscat), and a minor part is played by concrete egg and stoneware jars. Barriques (228-litre capacity) are used for the Pinots. Unusually for Alsace – and because André feels the varieties need help building presence and character – Pinot Blanc and Gris undergo full fermentation and ageing in oak.
This is one of Europe’s superstar domaines. One like no other. We hope you continue to discover and share the unique charms of Ostertag père et fils.
Sylvaner is a grape originating from central Europe, taking its name from the region of Transylvania. It can also be found in Germany’s Franconia, and Alsace which is the western limit of its growing area.
Sylvaner is a cornerstone of Alsatian food and wine culture. Our cuisine is based on white wine as one of the main ingredients, Sylvaner in most cases, which is used for marinades (Baeckeofe) or cooking sauces (Choucroute). It has long been the everyday wine: in my family Sylvaner is drunk during lunch and dinner as well as during the snack in the vineyard or after a day of work to quench thirst.
Sylvaner has been planted to up to one-third of the whole production in Alsace, and just 6% today as it is facing a big decline to the advantage of Pinot Noir and Riesling, and even more Auxerrois or Chardonnay that are planted all over the flat fertile areas to produce sparkling wines. At its peak it was totally neglected from the cultural aspect (very rustic and regular yields), as well as the oenological aspect (quick and technological winemaking) and commercially (sold by the litre in train stations).
But things are starting to change. It’s been seeing a discreet revival for a few years, being accepted on a Grand Cru (Zotzenberg), finding new interest from producers in “historical” Sylvaner sites, and fitting perfectly the trendy low-alcohol, easy-drinking category. Domaine Ostertag’s Sylvaner vines have an average age of 55 years, and have been farmed with biodynamic methods since 1998, like the whole vineyard. The vines were planted between 30 and 80 years ago. Half the plots are located in top single-vineyard sites, and have a deeply established root system which brings a surprisingly rich mineral structure for this variety which has the reputation of being quite dilute.
This wine comprises 10 small plots in total, located in Epfig and Nothalten, with 5 natures of soils: sandstone, clay, marl, granite and alluvium. The 2017 was picked on 11th and 18th September. It was gently pressed as whole bunches, in a pneumatic press, for nine hours. It fermented naturally in stainless steel and was kept for one year on its lees. It was bottled late August 2018 with a balance of 12.5% alcohol and 3g/L of residual sugar. – André Ostertag
This is really tangy and lightly spicy with green-herb undertones to the lemon-rind flavors. Medium body. From biodynamically grown grapes. Drink now. 93 points.Nick Stock, jamessuckling.com August 2019
Pinot Blanc Les Jardins is a blend of six small gardens of vines, farmed biodynamically, and located in the town of Epfig with a small part coming from the Clos Mathis parcel in Ribeauvillé. Half the plots are true Pinot Blanc, the other half is Auxerrois which comes, for the most part, from the slopes of lieu-dit Fronholz. They are based on three “natures” of soil: clay-silt, marl-sandstone, and a touch of granite.
The 2018 vintage was hand-picked on 10th and 11th September. It was gently pressed as whole bunches, in a pneumatic press, for about nine hours. It fermented in used oak barriques with natural yeasts, and went through malolactic fermentation. It was kept in the same barrels for nine months, and bottled in May 2019 with a balance of 12.5% alcohol and 4g/L residual sugar.
It’s an uncommonly full-bodied and structured Pinot Blanc, bone-dry and mouthwatering. It exudes fresh and fruity aromas of yellow peaches and nectarine. A hint of hazelnut comes out with air. The mouth is thick yet tense by a zesty minerality. – André Ostertag
The Vins de Fruit are wines that emphasise the grape’s expression rather than a specific terroir expression. They are not limited to a single site or soil type, and instead embody the intricate parcellation and diversity of Alsatian terroirs that exist even in a small area like a single village.
The Riesling Les Jardins results from a blend of twelve different plots located around the winery, essentially in the village of Epfig. The soils are varied: clay, sandstone, sand and volcanic sediments. These are farmed biodynamically. Most plots are located on gentle slopes with light soils, and it also contains a varying amount of declassified lieu-dit or grand cru fruit.
We look for an unpretentious, youthful, fruit-driven wine that captures the personality of the village’s terroirs, which are dominantly based on sandstone. They give the wine a particularly delicate, aromatic and mouthwatering character.
In 2018 though, the climatic conditions lead us to downgrade more single-vineyard fruit than we usually do (which is already a lot). Bits and pieces from lieux-dits and grand-cru vineyards bring even more complexity and mineral structure to Les Jardins, which is going to help it age quite long, while also preserving a mouthwatering and fruity character making it easily approachable in its youth.
The whole bunches were pressed very gently for around nine hours in a pneumatic press. The fermentation started spontaneously in stainless steel tank and was exclusively conducted by indigenous yeasts. Like the other wines it went through a complete malolactic fermentation, and was aged on its lees for one year, in the same tanks. It was bottled in early September 2019 with a balance of 13% alcohol and 2g/L of residual sugar. – André Ostertag
What a juicy and exotic delight this is. I’m thinking honey and mint nougat, dried mango, oranges and apples. It’s fleshy and almost creamy, but cuts in with green mango acidity, something a little woody and savoury, and does a Starbust finish of fine length. Great drink. This would be a ripper wine with some Chinese food, as a broad generalization. 93 points.Gary Walsh, The Wine Front July 2020
The Pinot Gris Les Jardins is a blend of four small “gardens” of vines, farmed biodynamically, and located in the towns of Epfig, Itterswiller and Albé. These plots are based on three distinct natures of soil: Clayey sandstone (50%), loess (15%), and schist (35%). The blend is completed by several single-vineyard plots: a young (15-year-old) vine; a recently acquired plot in the Zellberg’s clay-sandstone-limestone soils; a plot in the Fronholz on the opposite side from the one we bottle as lieu-dit; and any over-producing rows in the Muenchberg grand-cru that we don’t include in the top bottling.
We’ve been making Pinot Gris our own way since 1984, using 228-litre Burgundy oak casks for fermentation and ageing, and taking it to a fully dry balance which is even now pretty unusual in Alsace. We never look for overripeness with Pinot Gris, which is usually the first grape we pick during the harvest. It is gently pressed with the whole bunches for around nine hours and ferments spontaneously in 228-litre Vosges oak casks, none of which is new. It stays on gross lees in the same barrels for 11 months. The 2018 was bottled early September 2019 with a balance of 13.5% and 5g/L of residual sugar.
The result is a fresh and intense Pinot Gris, with a very refined floral and slightly smoky nose, and ripe yellow fruits, citrus fruits and honey. In the mouth the complexity of the soils and the barrel vinification is felt through a combination of full body and vibrant, refreshing personality with an intense mineral structure. – André Ostertag
The Clos Mathis belongs to Ostertag’s long-serving former vineyard manager, Hubert Mathis. This remarkable 0.6-hectare vineyard surrounded by stone walls is located in Ribeauvillé, in line with the grand crus Geisberg and Kirchberg. The soil is composed of a granitic mother rock and gneiss, with poor fertility. The vines are grown on terraces, on a very steep south-east facing slope which benefits from hot days and cool nights. The heat is tempered by cool winds coming down at night from the valley that ends just after the vineyard. This particular location allows slow ripening, preserving acidity and finesse in Riesling.
Hubert Mathis inherited this plot from his parents. He has entirely rebuilt it and was initially selling the grapes to a local merchant, until 1997 when he and André decided to reveal this very beautiful historic vineyard which has been esteemed since the Middle Ages and the time of the Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre.
The 1997, 1998 and 1999 vintages were dedicated to working on the soils and starting to farm the clos biodynamically, in order to reveal the soul of this beautiful terroir. The first vintage as part of the single-vineyard range of the domaine, under the Clos Mathis label, was 2000.
Clos Mathis gives birth to classic, distinguished, long-lived Rieslings. Some aspects can make it seem austere in its youth, the structural elements (acidity, mineral tannins) in the foreground while textural and aromatic elements are rather timid, but with time the Clos Mathis becomes a sappy, classically dry wine in the breed of greatest Alsatian Rieslings.
In 2018 the hand-picked grapes were gently pressed with the whole bunches for about nine hours. The wine ferments spontaneously in stainless steel tank and is kept on its gross lees until a couple of weeks before bottling. It was bottled in early September 2019 with a balance of 13.5% alcohol and 2g/L of residual sugar.– André Ostertag
Heissenberg means “the hot mountain”, so named for its heat-driven microclimate. This lieu-dit located in Nothalten has a particularly hot micro-climate, due to its south-facing exposure combined with a limited airflow. It’s a very steep hillside, located in a small “combe” between a granitic and a sandstony massif. As a result, it has a bit of both geological formations with mainly pink sandstone but also gneiss and a splash of volcanic ash resulting from the nearby Muenchberg.
Heissenberg is a candidate in the current process of creating premiers crus in Alsace. This is a vineyard where only a careful farming with low yields can produce interesting wines. The climatic personality of the place is so strong, that without a terroir vision, the wines result flabby and flat. But with an organic and biodynamic approach, old vines and strict yield control, the sub-soil expresses in a unique, dense and structured mineral core that brings a very special balance. This is what the label shows: when sky and earth are in perfect balance through the vine, harmony comes in the wine.
The 0.75 ha of vines are close-planted and grown biodynamically,like all the domaine. They produce small, very concentrated and aromatically rich grapes, of exceptional structure and intensity. The wines are never based on a high acidity, but rather on dry extract that brings a combination of noble bitters and salty minerality. The hand-picked grapes are gently pressed with the whole bunches for about 10 hours. It ferments spontaneously in stainless steel and is kept on gross lees until a couple of weeks before bottling. It was bottled early September 2019 with a balance of 13.5% alcohol and 4 g/L residual sugar.
It is a great gastronomic Riesling with a pronounced personality, which requires spicy and aromatic courses of white meats, fish served with sauce, or aged hard cheeses. Above all, a pairing with foie gras is always superb. – André Ostertag