The furthest north of the vineyard plots is on the Eichberg Grand Cru at Eguisheim, which is really at the southern end of the Alsace wine region. The Eichberg with its gravelly layer of sandstone and marl has a big reputation for Gewürztraminer and that’s the only variety Jean-Pierre grows here. Funnily enough I have never tasted an example and that’s on our list of must do’s. Nothing like starting off some tasting notes with a wine I’ve never had. Now that’s radical.
Moving south with the Grand Cru vineyards and we land in the Steinert, just west of Pfaffenheim. As you would expect from the name, the Steinert has a dry stony soil and that sits on a limestone base. We have had pale lemon, bone dry Muscat from the Steinert, which was all grapes on the bouquet and complex floral layers on the palate. Also, Gewürztraminers from different years that were discrete and controlled, with their 4-8 grams of residual sugar nicely held in check with the acidity. The Rieslings we have tasted have had that theme where the tight, nervous, vertical aspects are tugged by the natural wine approach, to give wines that are more unctuous and rounder. A favourite Riesling year is 2013 and the acidity level and ultra-long finish in that cuveé, bodes well for a wine that will age well.
The third stop Grand Cru vineyard is the Vorbourg west of Rouffach, where the domaine produces Riesling and Pinot Gris. Another hot and dry climate location pushes these varieties into more exotic expressions. The Riesling’s can have toasty notes and ripe fruits on the palate, and we picked up ripe quince on the 2014. The Pinot Gris can get really exotic with ripe peaches and apricots on the palate. For both these varieties some great work is done in pulling them in to be light and fresh, and the élevage on the lees in large foudres encourages delicious, lingering, saline finishes. That saline minerality works so well with these wines that have a tendency towards the exotic.
Here we go with the lieux-dits sites, approximately running north to south.
The Bergweingarten (the wine garden on the hill), butts on to the north end of the Steinert. This is where the Frick Sylvaner comes from. The Premier Cru dossier includes Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer from this vineyard. We have pretty consistent tasting notes on the 2012, 2013 and 2016 Sylvaners. The wines were clear, with white peach, white flowers and agrumes on the palate. There is a touch of sweetness that makes this a great wine for food pairings, and we had the 2013 with Baeckaofa at a tasting dinner at Terroirs in London. This is another cuveé for Back-In-Alsace to follow, as we are big, big, Sylvaner fans.
Heading south to the Bihl vineyard which is across the main road and to the east of Pfaffenheim. The Bihl is a hill that sits up on the plain and faces west, which is quite an unusual exposure in Alsace. This is another Premier Cru site, for Riesling this time, and Jean-Francois Ginglinger and Domaine Rieflé also work this vineyard. West facing means it misses out on the morning sun, gets blasted in the afternoon and is hit with cooling winds from the Vosges in the evening. The thin calcaire soil is fast draining and this often leads to hydric stress. The Rieslings from the Bihl are sharp and crystalline with loads of minerality that often comes from this type of terroir.
Further south and just next to the town of Rouffach, is the high plain vineyard of Rot Murlé. The calcaire, iron based, reddish soils give the vineyard its Rot (red) name. Here, there is Riesling and most definitely Pinot Noir. Again, hydric stress and the climate drive low yields and up the concentration of the grape juice. The Riesling’s are fresh and croquant. The Pinot Noir tends to have that fragile tension which holds the baked fruits precisely in place. The high plain topography of the site allows all day sunshine, which is not as intense as some of the suntraps on steeper sloped vineyards. The Premier Cru dossier for this vineyard is in the most advanced batch, currently under consideration at the INAO.
The next jewel out the bag is the Lerchenberg vineyard, which sits to the north east of the Rot Murlé. The Premier Cru dossier for this vineyard is unusual in that it promotes a cremant and the Frick’s grow Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. We have not seen the Premier Cru file, so not sure if specific ratios/blends are set out. I have tasted several cremants from the domaine and was unaware if any were specifically from the Lerchenberg site.
The Strangenberg vineyard is the furthest west of the sites, close to Westhalten and on the road to the Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru. This is another hill site, with limestone soils on east facing slopes, running up to 320 meters. Like the Zinnkoepflé, this site has a Mediterranean type of flora and fauna based on its hot, dry summer climate. The Fricks produce Pinot Noir here, and the Premier Cru dossier lists twelve producers. We recently had the 2015 Pinot Noir which was deep ruby in colour, with complex baked griotte on the palate and a forest floor undertone, providing a lively complexity.
Also, at Westhalten is the Grosstein vineyard, and the last lieu-dit is the east facing Carrière vineyard sitting above the Vorbourg Grand Cru and directly west of Rouffach. The Grosstein with its clay soils is a Pinot Noir site and the two-hectare Carrière produces Auxerrois, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, on a rare yellow sandstone soil. We haven’t had any named wines from these sites and that will have to be part of the next discovery trip to the Frick’s.
Last but not least is an elusive Chasselas cuveé, quite hard to find unless you are in London or Quebec where it all goes for export. This wine is from a small 0.5 hectares plot on the Carrière site, with only 2000-3000 bottles produced each year.
That wraps up our first pass for the domaine profile and we are looking forward to the next field-study trip to Pfaffenheim, where we can continue our devoir.