2014 Domaine Ostertag "Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner", Alsace, France
Andre Ostertag is making Sylvaner look good. Oft’ described as ‘bland,’ Sylvaner is a grape that makes the argument for influence of terroir. The grape, which once reigned over as the most planted white varietal of Germany in the earlier 20th-century, was dethroned by Muller-Thurgau and later on, Riesling. Despite it’s international reputation for ‘meh’-ness, in its more attractive expressions, it can be racy and angular or broad across the palate with a smokey perfume. It is recognized as one of the more commonplace varietals currently planted in Alsace, although it is not classified as a ‘Noble’ grape of the region.
Ostertag has farmed Biodynamically since 1997 and is a bit of Seussian Lorax of the wine estate (you could argue ‘he speaks for vine & wine’). Although admittedly intended as a little guffaw at the AOC/AOP, he has invented a system for classifying his own wine: ‘Vins de Fruit’ is wine that expresses the fruit character rather than the specific vineyard site, ‘Vins de Pierre’ expresses the soil of the terroir more readily and ‘Vins de Temps’ depends on time and weather that allows for successful botrytis rot growth. These 40-year-old Sylvaner vines set their roots into clay, granite and gravel, but critics rave about Ostertag’s precise hand (or “caress”) in the vinification process. Smokey, soapy, limey and floral, this wine is best enjoyed with fruits of the sea.