Domaine Albert Mann
By Franz Scheurer
Albert Mann has always been my favourite producer in Alsace. Their wines are made the way their grandparents and great grandparents have made them ever since they started their family vineyard in 1654. Handpicking, whole bunch pressing and wild yeasts all help to let the terroir speak for itself. Fully organic and biodynamic since 1997, this small, family-owned company is run to respect nature to the fullest. The terracing in some of their vineyards is so steep that they have to plough unwanted weeds back into the soil using horses. It’s backbreaking labour and everyone in the family takes their turn. As Maurice Barthelmé (vigneron) says: “We’re all chiefs and indians, accountants, vignerons, packers and cleaners, just depends on the time of day”.
Ultimo Wine Centre organised a wine dinner with Albert Mann on 18 July 2005 at the ‘The Restaurant at 3 Weeds’ and it was a privilege to be able to taste so many of their wines matched to the food of Chef Darrell Felstead.
The NV Crémant d’Alsace served on arrival was light, fruit forward and easy drinking but shone with its wonderfully small bubbles (the reward of the winemaker’s patience). Once seated in the cosy dining room we were offered a flight of 3 wines:
2004 Cuvée Albert Riesling and
2004 Pinot Blanc Auxerrois
and a fabulously rich and unctuous chestnut and eschalot soup, followed by a terrine of guinea fowl, girolles and baby leek with muscatel purée. This was an inspired food / wine match. The Muscat was easily the best aperitif wine with its strong grapey perfume and light body. The Riesling proved a perfect match to the soup with its citrus-based acidity with hints of almond blossoms. While the Pinot Auxerrois worked a treat with the terrine, standing up to the robust flavours without dominating them. The Pinot Auxerrois should probably be called Auxerrois Pinot as Auxerrois makes up 70% of the blend. A grape variety mainly used for the production of crémant in Alsace, Auxerrois lent a steely acidity to this blend, which tempered by the fruitiness of the Pinot Blanc.
The next flight of wines allowed a comparison of some of Albert Mann’s Gewürztraminers:
2004 Grand Cru Steingrubler Gewürztraminer
2004 Grand Cru Fürstentum Vieilles Vignes Gewürztraminer
2002 Grand Cru Fürstentum Vieilles Vignes Gewürztraminer
Alsace’s climate is interesting. Although it can be very cold in winter (down to -15°C) and it’s not unusual to have a metre of snow dumped on the serene landscape, it is nevertheless protected by the Vosges mountains, which shield it from the icy winds in winter and keep it warm and dry in summer, giving the grapes a solid 100 days of gentle, warm and dry ripening time. Colmar is France’s driest city and Albert Mann’s Domaine is only about 1 km outside Colmar. This mini terroir speaks through the Gewürztraminers. They’re spicy and floral without ever being overblown, fat or oily. Gewürztraminer is a wine that will keep for a long time due to its balance of sweetness and acidity. These wines were paired with a braised pork cheek raviolo with albufera velouté and it was interesting to see that the non-classified 2004 Gewürztraminer and the older (2002) Grand Cru were the two best matches. The 2004 Grand Crus showed that they were mere children and that even 2 year’s maturation can make a considerable difference.
Next Darrell Felstead served a Murray cod a l’Alsacienne; in other words on choucroute (sauerkraut or fermented cabbage), paired to a flight of Rieslings:
2004 Grand Cru Fürstentum Riesling
2004 Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling
2002 Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling
2001 Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling
2000 Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling
It was obvious that the 2001, a very dry year, did not produce any botrytis. With a yield of around 40hl/ha, it is an incredibly elegant, bone-dry wine. Riesling is a little like Pinot Noir in as much as it needs a cerebral approach; this is not a quaffing wine like some of our Australian, Beaujolais Nouveau style, rushed releases. Grapes are endlessly observed and inspected, mollycoddled and tasted until the winemaker is sure of biological ripeness (rather than just relying on a technological measurement such as sugar levels), treated with unequalled respect and careful winemaking; the result is very complex, layered and textured wines, that are a pure joy to drink. I can’t think of many wines that would perfectly match choucroute but the 2002 Grand Cru Schlossberg did this with aplomb.
The last savoury course, a roast loin of Tallabung pork, parsnip purée, fondant potato and fricassee of snails was matched to the inimitable Pinot Gris. When I think of Albert Mann, Pinot Gris is what first comes to mind. They’re masters at preserving the fruit characters and managing to give it depth and mouthfeel at the same time. These wines are elegant yet bold, they make you think despite the fact that they can be in your face, and they’re never flat or simple.
2004 Cuvée Albert Pinot Gris
2004 Grand Cru Hengst Pinot Gris and
2002 Grand Cru Fürstentum Tokay Pinot Gris.
Since Hungary joined the European Union they returned the favour to Cognac, Champagne, etc. by claiming ‘Tokay’. Habitually all Pinot Gris wines produced in Alsace were labelled Tokay Pinot Gris, although the region has never grown the Tokay (Tokai in Hungarian) grape. Although the change has been on the cards for years old habits die hard, but slowly everyone is losing the word ‘Tokay’ from their labels and as of 2006 it will be illegal to use it. The 2004 Cuvée Albert was not botrytis affected and showed dry spice, wafts of smoke with hints of pain d’épice and a clean, almost savoury finish, whereas the 2002 Grand Cru was luscious, sexy and alluring and would make a perfect partner to a fresh lobe of foie gras.
A palate cleanser of a mandarin and ruby red grapefruit jelly with lemon verbena granita prepared us for the final dish of the night: a superb apple tarte tatin with botrytis Semillon parfait and clove jelly, served with a 2003 Vendanges Tardives (late picked) Altenbourg Gewürztraminer that was full of luscious rosewater and Middle Eastern yeasty pastry flavours. Alas, in my opinion, the sweetness of the dessert overwhelmed the wine totally and made it dry and reasonably unattractive.
This was a rare opportunity to taste wines from one of the world’s most respected producers, paired to fabulous food, with service to match from the restaurant’s floor staff.
For more information, or to order some of the wines (as long as stocks last), contact:
Ultimo Wine Centre
99 Jones Street
Ultimo NSW 2007
Tel.: 02 9211 2380
And if you want to try Darrell Felstead’s terrific food:
The Restaurant at 3 Weeds
193 Evans Street
Rozelle NSW 2039
Tel.: 02 9818 2788