Rediscovering the Greatness of Alsace Riesling ~ Tasting the Hugel Schoelhammer Riesling 2008…

Alsace is a strange wine category in the UK. Generic promotional marketing activity has mainly been focused around the food and wine connection, thus primarily targeting the on-trade or restaurant sector. But like with German wines, dry or sweet, the regional message never seems to be communicated in a clear and digestible consumer format.


I love Alsace wines. Along with the Loire and Jura, it’s probably still the cheapest, most value for money, under appreciated, premium region in France. For goodness sake, there are 51 Grand Cru appellations to choose from after all! So today I revelled in the opportunity to hook up with Charlotte Hugel to taste their new releases. 


Some how I missed the first vintage of the incredible Schoelhammer Riesling 2007. Luckily today I got to drink the superb 2008 follow up vintage. But the Schoelhammer plot, from the Schoenenbourg Grand Cru, which overlooks Riquewihr, has always been one of Hugel’s favourite single vineyard sites and as such, was often vinified separately to the other Riesling parcels.


In 2008, climatic conditions were a carbon-copy of the excellent 2007 vintage. Budburst at the end of April was quite late, but May was warm and sunny so flowering began on 15th June and took more than a fortnight to complete. July and August were particularly cool with hardly any rise in temperature, but in mid-September the Indian Summer arrived. As a result, the grapes ripened slowly but fully, perfectly healthy and with excellent acidity. 

Schoelhammer covers a mere 6 300 square metres (67 800 square feet), 30 rows of vines dedicated to Riesling and organically farmed. Its triassic clay-marl terroir is farmed organically so as to best reveal the complexity of its rich sub-soil. Only 2534 bottles 750ml were produced with a 12.35 Abv., a 7,85 g/l TA, from vines with an average age of 23 years old, yielding 31 Hl/Ha.


Tasting Note: Famille Hugel Schoelhammer Riesling 2008 – This wine has a very pale, youthful colour despite being almost 10 years old. The nose is liquid minerality personified. Limestone, wet pebbles, and crushed grey slate marry with intense notes of dry lemon citrus, lemon grass, white pepper, spring flowers, and yellow grapefruit. There is such amazing intensity of lemon / lime cordial and green apple pastille fruits. What a profound wine with such power, intensity, breadth and length. Wow. This wine’s finesse and sophistication really leaves you breathless. 

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting Profound Dry Australian Riesling at its Very Best ~ Clos Clare Riesling 2015, Watervale, 12.5 Abv.

Who can remember the late 1990s or early 2000s when Riesling meant fruity QbA classifications like Kabinett, Spatlese etc from Germany and sales were perpetually waning as the market cemented its love affair with dry (fruity) Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc?


I remember visiting Weingut Donnhoff in the Nahe in 2002 and tasting all the fruity wines as well as one or two trocken (dry) styles. When I asked Helmut why he did not export the dry styles to the UK, he replied that only Germany wanted them and the UK only drank the fruity styles. I then proceeded to place the first large order of dry wines Donnhoff had ever exported to the UK. 


More importantly, what allowed this to transpire, was the sudden interest and demand among new, educated consumers, inspired by dry Australian Riesling styles from Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley and Margaret River primarily. Germany stood up, took note, and have never looked back. Anecdotally, I’d say dry styles and dry Grosses Gewachs out sell the fruity styles in the premium categories. So Germany owe Australia a free lunch.


Few dry Aussie Rieslings typify this revolution in quality more than Tom and Sam Barry’s Clos Clare Winery in Watervale. Adjoining the famous Pewsey Vale “Florita” vineyard, these 45 year old dry grown vines were harvested on the 17th of February in 2015, chilled for 24 hours, and then whole bunch pressed before fermentation. Having recently tasted a vertical back to 2000, I can honestly say that dry Aussie Riesling doesn’t get any better. 


Tasting Note: This young Riesling has the pristine clarity of a crisp Spring morning. Pale straw and lime yellow. The nose is ultra cool and pure with subtle notes of lime cordial, crunchy white peaches, fresh lemon grass, limestone minerality and dusty mandarine citrus. So pure and seductive. The palate is every bit as vibrant, laden with lime peel, lemon Bon Bon boiled sweets, wet chalk, green apple peel and subtle mixed dried Thyme herbs and lime pastille length. Crystalline and mineral, this fresh zippy Riesling sucks you into its tractor beam and does not release you until the bottle is finished. A classic, fresh, bone dry Clare Valley version that shows dry Aussie Riesling at its very best. Keep or drink over 10 years. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)