Monday, April 23, 2018

Crémants & Aromatic Whites from Alsace's Lucien Albrecht

For the money, Crémant d’Alsace is some of France’s best Champagne-method sparkling wine. And for that, we largely have Lucien Albrecht to thank.

In 1971, this Alsace producer began trying the Champagne method on their own grapes. They liked the outcomes, so, along with two other producers, they pressed French authorities for an official designation. In 1976, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Crémant d’Alsace was born.

Forty-two years later, Lucien Albrecht is still carrying the Crémant d’Alsace torch, producing two main cuvées: a Brut (made from Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay) and a Brut Rosé (made from Pinot Noir). They produce other white wines as well (Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc), but the firm is perhaps best known for their bubbles.

The Albrecht name in Alsace goes quite a ways back, to 1698, when Balthazar Albrecht settled in Orschwihr, a village in southern Alsace. This was a few decades after the Thirty Years’ War, which left much of Alsace destroyed, but Balthazar pieced together a living cultivating vines around Orschwihr, and passed this on to his descendants. Today, the firm
sources grapes from Grand Cru vineyards Pfingstberg, Spiegel, and Ollwiller, as well as Bollenberg.

I recently met up with Lucien Albrecht winemaker Jerome Keller when he visited Washington, DC, to chat and taste through his wines. Today, the winery is owned by a cooperative, and it purchases many grapes from very small, independent producers, all around the winery’s home of Orschwihr. They produce about half a million cases, with most of their production focused on crémant. The vineyard sources around Orschwihr are planted in dry clay and heavy chalk soils, and I found that the chalky terroir element shines through nicely in the finished wines.

Jerome talked a lot about the dryness of his wine, something I’ve heard from other Alsace winemakers still trying to point out to American consumers that Alsace wines are frequently dry and zesty or just so zesty that they taste dry. And while the importance of history is always front and center in conversation about Alsace wines, I was excited to hear that Jerome has some new plans to make a skin-fermented (i.e., orange) wine from Chardonnay. While not “new,” (orange wines are as old as wine itself), it’s nice to see some Alsatian innovation in this realm, and I, for one, am stoked about the idea.

My notes on the wines I tasted are below, and the prices are based on
Wine-Searcher averages.

N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé - France, Alsace, Crémant d'Alsace
Nose shows bright flowers, ruby red grapefruit, and peaches. Zesty on the palate, slight creaminess, this is bright and tangy Cremant with flavors of red apple, ruby red grape fruit, and chalk dust. Fresh, fun, reliably good. All Pinot Noir. (87 points)

N.V. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut - France, Alsace, Crémant d'Alsace
I get chalk dust, white and yellow flowers, along with peaches and yellow apples on the nose. The palate is crisp and tangy with flavors of yellow apples, peaches, a solid streak of saline and chalk dust, hints of biscuits. Delicious for the price. A blend of Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc. (87 points)

2013 Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Brut 1698 - France, Alsace, Crémant d'Alsace
This really surprised me. Aromas of rich yellow apples and pears, some salted almond, honey and crushed chalk. Zesty but some creaminess adds depth. Pears, yellow plums and bruised apple mix with sea salt, chalk dusty and a slight note of fresh biscuits. Richer than the non-vintage wines, but still focused, crisp, mineral-driven and very bright. I'd love to bury a bottle of this for three to six years. This was aged three years on the lees, and it has a 4 g/l dosage. All Chardonnay from limestone soils. (91 points)

2017 Lucien Albrecht Riesling Reserve - France, Alsace
Rich and honeyed and peachy on the nose, but also some chalk dust and flowers. Crisp acidity and a fresh appeal (2g of sugar in here) with peaches, apricots, limes. Honey, saline, chalk and minerals add complexity. Concentrated fruit from a low-yielding vintage, this is delicious right now but will improve with a few years. (90 points)

2017 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvée Romanus - France, Alsace
Juicy aromas of peaches, honey and yellow flowers. Bold fruit (peaches, mango) but still fresh. Fruit-forward but some interesting floral, spice tones as well. (88 points)

2012 Lucien Albrecht Riesling Pfingstberg - France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
Gorgeous aromatics of peaches, nectarines, tennis balls, honey. On the palate, this is richly textured but so crisp and delicious. Juicy fruit but deep mineral presence. Lots of life ahead for this beauty. (92 points)

2016 Lucien Albrecht Gewurztraminer Reserve - France, Alsace
Pretty aromatic display of lychee, peach nectar and spiced tea. Rich and lush on the palate with medium acidity, hint of tannin on here, too (this gets a bit of skin contact). Apricots, mango, peaches, bold fruit but laced with spices, herbs and nuts. (89 points)

2015 Lucien Albrecht Gewurztraminer Spiegel Alsace Grand Cru - France, Alsace
Intense aromatics of pineapples, peach nectar, lychee, with white pepper. Rich and full but bright acidity. Peaches and mangoes topped in nougat, honey, white pepper, spiced tea. Wow this boasts a lot of complexity and will age nicely. (91 points)

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