I first met Jean-Michel Deiss about 7 years ago. I had heard a great many things about this controversial inconoclast, but had very little hands on experience with his wines. I had heard that his wines were unique not only to Alsace, but the world. I had heard that he was elected president des Grands Crus d’Alsace by his peers. I had heard that he was fiery and enthusiastic, that a discussion with him about wine was not just about wine. it was about philosophy and morality. I had heard that his oratory prowess was legendary……
In spite of these preconceptions, I was hardly prepared for what I sensed when I finally met him. I was seated in his family’s home in Bergheim, hosted by his wife Marie-Helene. We were tasting through some of the entry level varietal wines when Jean-Michel arrived straight from the vineyards, the energy in the room shifting dramatically. The dude was INTENSE. He immediately began to speak of the history of Alsace, the ways and character of its people. He spoke of a global indentity crisis that affects all corners of the world, one where standardization and industrialization stands to obliterate the singularity of a “sense of place” that gives meaning to a people and their history. He spoke of quasi fascist bureaucrats whose decisions stand to strip Alsace and its wines of its unique identity. He spoke of his fierce conviction that it is the vineyard that gives a wine its identity and character, that the expressiveness of terroir trumps grape variety. This is why he chose many years ago to return to the ancient way, to coplant his vineyards with several varieties, and harvest and vinify them all together. Riesling, pinot gris, pinot blanc, pinot noir, gewurtztraminer, auxerrois, muscat and others are all coplanted in varying proportion. One by one, we tasted through several of his 1er cru wines, all single vineyard wines whose architecture is built upon the building blocks of their soil type, exposure to the sun, and their elevation. One by one, he explained how these concrete details reveal a wine’s origin, in each and every year. Lower laying clay rich sites that are prone to botrytis have a spicy richness, every year. Higher elevation limestone rich sites are always more taught and mineral. With his guidance, it made perfect sense. It “clicked” in a most concrete way. His unwavering conviciton and intensity was quite frankly startling, as he looked me in the eye, fire burning bright. He was a man on a mission. He knew exactly what he believed, and he knew exactly where he was going. The dude was INTENSE.
We then tried his Grand cru wines. Sweet god, I was BLOWN AWAY. I had not, and still have not, ever tasted anything like them. Dizzyingly kaleidoscopic, unimaginably complex, impossibly baroque yet weightless, hints of flavors shifted and changed with each sniff and taste. These are wines that can come from nowhere else, not to be replicated nor imitated. There is only one Altenberg and Schoenenbourg………
Some years later, as I found my feet standing for what I believe in with the birth of my own wine company, I thought first and foremost of Deiss to represent Alsace in my portfolio. I reached out to them to see if they were interested. When I mentioned other growers whom I work with, other biodynamic growers who serve their homelands and sense of place, our philosophical kinship opened the door. Since my visit some years prior, Jean-Michel’s son Matthieu had taken on an ever increasing role. As I find in many many domaines with whom I work, it is my generation that is taking the baton forward, carrying on the traditions into the next era with a subtly different perspective, continuing to evolve. I met with Matthieu and we walked the vineyards. He spoke of each parcel and its subsequent character with a fire that was reminiscent of his father, yet with a gentler mellower personality. He clearly shared the same vision and values as his father, yet looked to improve the wines’ freshness and overall balance. One generation growing upon the strengths of the last…….Matthieu has created a pretty AMAZING vineyard tour using google earth. Check it out at their homepage, which is magnificent: http://www.marceldeiss.com
As the wines all have such singularity and character, I chose to work with a broad variety of the ten or so “1er” crus that Deiss vinifies.
2011 Alsace coplante $19 : Deiss’ entry level wine, an important coplanted blend of varieties that represents 1/3 of Deiss’ total production. It is quite frankly a gorgeously perfumed, poised dryer style offering with the peacock’s tail of flavors and aromas that could only come from one place. Alsace wine Exhibit A.
“”Full, slightly hazy red. Sexy, soil-driven aromas of raspberry, smoked meat, crushed stone, licorice and brown spices; way beyond mere fruit. Then sappy, savory and complex in the mouth, with real calcaire energy to the tactile, palate-dusting flavors of red berries, spices and earth. Finishes very long and saline, with suave tannins building with air. A fascinating mostly pinot noir wine, and a convincing example of this limestone-rich site. This appears to be built for long life in bottle. 92 points”
2009 Langenberg 1er cru $30 : Here is David Schildknecht’s review:
“A vintage-typical bitter-sweet alternation of flavors on a – for this granitic site – relatively full palate characterize Deiss’s 2009 Langenberg. Alkaline, saline, marine mineral notes mingle with herbal concentrates and winter pear in a satisfyingly persistent finish that is virtually dry. This will be best enjoyed over the next 5-7 years.”
2009 Engelgarten 1er cru $30 : From gravel soils, this has a wonderful cool finesse to it. Flint on both the nose, and in the mineral finish. Me likey…..
2008 Rotenberg 1er cru $35 : Stephen Tanzer’s review:
“(made from riesling and pinot gris). Bright medium gold. Fascinating nose melds pear, flint, brown spices and botanical herbs. Sweet, supple and powerful, with a lush pinot gris-like texture given shape and considerable early appeal by vibrant but well-integrated acidity. The slightly exotic stone fruit and butter flavors suggest an element of noble rot and currently mask the underlying calcaire Finishes very long and smooth.” 92 points
2007 AND 2008 Grasberg 1er cru $39: Stephen Tanzer’s review of the 2008:
“Full yellow-gold. Musky spices, orange liqueur, hazelnut, toffee and earth on the nose, all lifted by a chalky element; smells like a liqueur. Broad, tactile and highly concentrated, with toffee and soft citrus flavors lifted by wild herbs and ginger. Juicy, sharply delineated wine with harmonious acidity, excellent length and a light touch.” 92 points
2007 AND 2008 Burg 1er cru $39: Stephen Tanzer’s review of the 2007:
“this blend includes all 13 Alsace varieties, with the gewurztraminer component representing between 20% and 25%; Deiss considers Burg to be his longest ager following the Schoenenbourg) Good bright pale yellow. Pure, musky, highly complex nose melds citrus peel, flowers, brown spices, smoke and lichee. Very rich, dense and tactile yet fine-grained, with compelling depth of flavor, great verve and a captivating balance of sugars (35 g/l r.s., according to Deiss) and acids. The note of graphite in the mouth is due to the cold clay soil, says Deiss. Finishes with a superb whiplash of fruits and flowers and outstanding aromatic persistence. A great young example of this bottling. Deiss told me he’s enjoying the 1995 right now.” 94 points
David Schildkncecht’s review of the 2008:
“A high-toned nose of licorice and maraschino; litchi and apricot distillate; wisteria, honeysuckle, and rowan in Deiss’s tous-cepages 2008 Burg led me to anticipate even more than the modest sweetness that greets the taster on a silken palate. In a manner reminiscent of this year’s Langenberg, this displays lovely lift and sheer lusciousness of fruit that engages in positively shimmering, kaleidoscopic interchange with profuse and alluring floral essences and saline, chalky, flinty mineral notes in a riveting, truly haunting finish. This should be a profound pleasure to follow for 15-20 years. “ 94 points
2008 Altenberg Grand cru $79 : Steven Tanzer’s review:
” Bright gold-tinged medium yellow. Brooding aromas of ginger, curry powder, botanical herbs and crushed rock; lower-toned today than the more obviously botrytis-affected Altenberg. Suave and silky-sweet on entry, then nearly painfully intense in the middle for such an opulent wine. Perfectly integrated acidity and a tannic impression give this a powerful structure-as well as a somewhat less sweet impression than the Altenberg. Also less complex today than that wine, but this remarkably tactile, chewy wine is still an infant. Finishes with outstanding palate staining length.” 95 pointsThese are wines that defy categorization; they could only be signature Alsace and Deiss. The intensity and variety of flavor, aroma, and texture is truly like no other. His Burlenberg rouge is on many people’s short list of top Euro Pinot Noirs made outside of Burgundy….the Burg bottling is the sweet spot in the lineup for the money….
Come take a peek, you will be surprised at what you find……
As always, with any questions or interests, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To the uncompromising vision of Jean-Michel Deiss, and his family’s labor of love,
TO YOUR HEALTH,