Wine Review: 2003 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Laurence Gewurztraminer Furstentum Grand Cru (375 mL)

1 05 2011

Grand Cru, baby. That's how we roll.

I don’t usually buy wines and then drink them immediately, but I couldn’t bring myself to wait on this one.  I was in Aspen Wine & Spirits yesterday to see what was on special when I noticed these half-bottles of back-vintage Alsatian Grand Cru Gewurztraminer selling for $28.  Like many other older wines available at AW&S, these used to be inventory of another wine store that went under a little while ago; as these library wines near their peak drinking window and the urgency to sell them increases, their prices drop accordingly.  I was told that the $28 selling price for the Weinbach was close to the store’s cost and that these half-bottles usually run around the $50 mark at normal retail prices.  I bought one about 0.02 seconds later.

In order to explain why this wine is so exciting to me, I have to back up a bit.  Alsace is a cooler region in northeast France that almost exclusively produces white wine; it is right on the border with Germany and has much more in common viniculturally with its eastern neighbour than it does with the rest of France (this is not terribly surprising, since Alsace has been passed back and forth between France and Germany throughout history).  Alsatian producers are known for wines from a number of white grapes, including Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat, but each of these varietals are more famously represented in other wine regions around the world.  On the other hand, Alsace is the single best known region for Gewurztraminer, and the top quality wines in the world from that grape are found there.  The best and most exclusive Alsatian wines come from a select few high-end vineyards designated as Grand Cru (“great growth”) — both the vineyard name (in this case, Furstentum, which is basically located right in the centre of Alsace) and the Grand Cru designation are set out on the bottle.  Domaine Weinbach is one of the most renowned producers in the region and has a lengthy history of producing quality artisanal wines.  So to recap, for $28, I get a bottle of 8 year old Gewurztraminer that is (1) from the best region in the world for that grape, (2) from one of the best producers in that region, and (3) from a Grand Cru single vineyard in the heart of that region.  Putting all that together, it doesn’t seem farfetched to suggest that this wine has the potential to be one of the truest expressions of Gewurztraminer available anywhere…not the kind of wine you usually see on clearance!

You can almost imagine what it tastes like just by looking at it.

While the Weinbach had rounded out and mellowed a bit with age, it was still drinking beautifully.  It was a deep golden yellow colour (see the pictures) and was ludicrously, ridiculously aromatic:  I could smell the flavours catapulting out of the glass when it was a foot away from my nose.  Gewurz’s trademark aroma, lychee, featured strongly on the abundant nose, melding with stone fruits, mango, burnt sugar, some petrol/gasoline notes (which you see a lot on older Rieslings but that I hadn’t seen show up before in an older Gewurztraminer) and a certain muskiness that permeated throughout.  It almost had the texture of a dessert wine on the palate — lush, rich, full and viscous — but even 8 years on it still had a clear saving streak of acidity running right down the middle of it that kept it from becoming too dense or syrupy.  It also wasn’t overly alcoholic or sugary (unlike some other Gewurzes I’ve had), although it was definitely off-dry (slightly sweet) and had some residual sugar left.  It managed to be big and hedonistic while still being controlled, which is a dainty and difficult line to walk.  The peach and lychee flavours from the nose carried over to the palate, which also featured strong notes of honey (and honeycomb — like the inside of a Crunchie bar), maple and smoke.  Despite that fruity, sugary flavour profile, the wine didn’t finish sweet at all; instead, the delicate, lingering finish was dry and almost floral.  What a fantastic, fascinating wine.

Cork Rating: 4.5/10 (Soaked halfway through, and sort of meh.)

I couldn’t drink Gewurz every day, because it is so rich and full that it can be overpowering in large doses.  But it was a huge treat to try a world class example of what this grape can do at a budget price, and also to buy a pre-aged wine right around its peak drinking period.  If you’re a Gewurz fan, or if you’ve never tried Gewurz and want to know what it’s all about, I urge you to grab a half-bottle of this Weinbach while it’s still around…and then of course crack it right away like I did.  Great Sunday wine!

92+ points

$25 to $30 CDN (half-bottle)

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