2009 Domaine Ostertag, Muenchberg Grand Cru Pinot Gris
When we had lunch last year with Andre Ostertag, it was hard to believe that he is considered revolutionary and even controversial in his native Alsace. Reserved yet friendly, with a deep tan from spending time out in the vineyards, Andre is passionate about wine and not at all intimidating or confrontational. Nonetheless, his pioneering practices have challenged the Alsatian wine establishment. After he returned from an apprenticeship in Burgundy in 1997, he converted his family’s fourteen hectares of vines into a completely biodynamic estate, the first in Alsace. In creating a community of “natural” wine growers, Andre has shifted attention from varietals to the nuances of specific sites. Not surprisingly, this flagship Pinot Gris is from his top parcel in Muenchberg, a hill that rises about 1,000 feet above the commune of Nothalten. About 5% of the wine was aged in oak barrels, another Burgundian practice little seen in Alsace. The result is a rich, opulent Pinot Gris, teeming with baked apple, apricot and flan-like aromas and a soft, mouth filling palate. While delicious now, the wine has the acidity to age for another decade. It would pair well with a variety of chicken, pork, and fish dishes, but Andre did recommend trying it with stuffed mussels, an Alsatian favorite. It’s $58 and exclusive to our shop; we have a tiny bit left. We also have in stock some of Andre’s Grand Cru Rieslings, some of the best dry Rieslings available.
2009 Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Pinot Noir
Hamilton Russell was founded in 1975 by Tim Hamilton Russell, chairman of one of South Africa’s leading advertising conglomerates. It is located in the cool, maritime Walker Bay area, in a beautiful valley behind the old fishing village of Hermanus. It is quite a distance away from the rest of the South African wine industry, as the most southerly wine estate in South Africa and the closest one to the sea. (It should also be noted that it was the leading force in the movement to pay black workers in cash wages instead of wines.) As noted on the label, the shale soils of the area have proven themselves to be particularly suitable for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With their wines rising in international prominence after the end of apartheid, Hamilton Russell has continuously sought to improve, by planting better clones, buying the latest equipment, and even by constructing their own oak barrels. This flagship Pinot is aged for 10 months in large French barrels. It is a nice combination of earthiness and power, with lots of minerally red fruit, very fine tannins, and a distinctive brambliness. Burgundy fans will not be disappointed, particularly with price: $42. Already quite complex, it will continue to develop over the next five years. Try it with grilled lamb chops with mint and feta salad. It’s quite limited, although we have been always been able to get a few bottles every year.