Tuesday, December 20, 2011

André Ostertag Veilles Vignes Sylvaner

André Ostertag is my kind of winemaker: He uses biodynamic methods, but prefers not to talk about them; he is deeply suspicious of the mystical aspects of biodynamic practice. And while this may classify him as a practical winemaker, he his hardly one who lacks imagination. For example, he has devised his own classification system. Domaine Ostertag produces 16 different wines classified in 3 different types: Vins de Fruit (Fruit wines), Vins de Pierre (Stone wines) and Vins de Temps (Time and Weather wines--typically, late harvest wines). He is very much a believer in terroir, and, as his classifications demonstrate, he understands how different aspects of terroir can come to the forefront in a wine's production.

He is also my kind of winemaker in that he not only grows the much-maligned Sylvaner grape, but treats it with respect and actually gets something good out of it. Most (but not all--see below) of those growing Sylvaner in Alsace are using it as a blender, where its neutrality, high acidity, and high yield are appreciated, although enthusiasm for the grape has diminished over time: 35 years ago it claimed about 30% of Alsace vineyards; today it is more like 10% (about 3,000 acres). Although it is thought to have originated in Transylvania, Sylvaner (or Silvaner)'s true homeland is southern Germany, far from the Mosel, where it makes the excellent Franken wines.

The Chef wanted to make an “easy” Sunday dinner with one guest, and decided to bake chicken on a bed of cabbage, apples, and sweet onion, spiced with juniper berries and allspice. Here's the link to her recipe. The cabbage/apple combination suggested something from Alsace, and when I went looking, my hand fell to a 2009 Domaine Ostertag “Les veilles vignes de Sylvaner.” It had a bit of cinnamon in the nose, along with notes of pear and yellow fruit. In the mouth, it tasted of pear (skin and flesh) and very forward mineralty. The overall impression mingled rich fruit flavor and crisp mineral character. Sylvaner is noted for high acidity; it was not particularly assertive here.  It played very nicely with the baked chicken, demanding no special attention to itself: It was very relaxing wine. This was made from 50-70 year old vines. Mindful of Ostertag's three classifications, I'm guessing this gets filed under Vins de Fruit, since the old vines bring the fruit to the fore, and I don't believe this is a wine intended for aging.  Kermit Lynch imports; we got this at Vinsite. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember how it was priced; it was well under $20.

There was an earlier encounter with excellent Sylvaner in these precincts; described here.

PS: I'm glad some of you enjoyed the games posted a while back. I don't know about you, but I find these little amusements helpful during the holiday season. So here's the Motherlode.

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