This is one big vineyard--at 80 hectares, it is the largest of Alsace's Grands Crus. It is comprised of two parcels, one gigantic one on the main face of the hill, and a non-contiguous section that is composed of the same soil types. This site was famous when the Romans still maintained interests in this part of northern Europe, and has remained a cherished vineyard for over 16 centuries. When Alsace finally began to designate Grands Crus in 1975, Schlossberg was the first vineyard to be classified.
Vines and Wines of Schlossberg
The vines on this steep hillside are terraced over a mineral-rich alluvial clay and sand topsoil with the bedrock of granite. It is one of the greatest sites for Riesling, with widely varying styles that depend upon the location within the vineyard. The soil at the top of the hill is rather shallow and it deepens as you come down the hill. The Rieslings from the top of the hill are testy and, as the French might say, "nerveux". The Rieslings from the middle of the hill are richer but retain a sense of minerally tension. Rieslings from the bottom of the vineyard are dense and almost atypical, yet they still retain ample minerality, exhibiting the characteristics .
A surprising amount of Pinot Noir is planted in the Schlossberg, considering it is not one of the "noble" varieties. I have not encountered one from this site that has been given its due. Half of the fruit for Weinbach's Pinot Noir comes from the Schlossberg, but I haven't had it in almost ten years. When I was familiar with it, it tended to be light in color and weight, which is certainly true to the typical Pinot Noirs of Alsace. I wonder if it could be more without overdoing it. There are a number of great Pinots Noir made in is this corner of France, and I am curious to know if this vineyard can compete with them.
I understand that Gewurztraminer is planted in this vineyard as well, but I have not had one.
Illustrating the Grand Cru Controversy
One of the main controversial aspects of the Alsace Grand Cru system is summed up in the very existence of this vineyard. At 80 hectares (almost 198 acres), a survey of all of the wines from this vineyard would reveal wide variations in quality as well as in style, as mentioned above regarding the different styles of Riesling afforded by different sections of the vineyard. How can all of these wines truly be great? Within certain strictures (for example, those that are self-imposed by a quality-conscious producer), i.e., culling out substandard fruit, isolating parcels based on micro-climate, etc., can lead in this direction. For specific evidence of this, the three main wines from Domaine Weinbach's holdings illustrate this beautifully. The hillside vine locations of each of the wines are in parentheses: Riesling Schlossberg (top), Riesling Cuvée Ste.-Cathérine (bottom), and Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Ste.-Cathérine (middle). All are clearly of supreme quality, but they are fascinatingly and manifestly different from each other. These three wines do, however, offer what any Grand Cru wine OUGHT to: a sense of mystery and breeding that is elusive and exclusive to only the best sites. It seems to me, however, that these wines are evidence of the need to break up the site into smaller Crus, and indeed, the intent seems to be to represent three separate Grands Crus carved out of the Schlossberg.
Major Producers of Grand Cru Schlossberg
Schlossberg is situated between Kaysersberg and Kientzheim (though most of it falls within the communal area of Kientzheim), and the CV Kientzheim-Kaysersberg makes a fine Schlossberg Riesling. The best however, are the Rieslings from Domaine Weinbach, which produces up to four different Rieslings from different portions of this site. Also getting exceptional results is Domaine Paul Blanck, which makes so many different wines from this vineyard (most of which cannot be bought outside Alsace) that you get the sense that they won't rest until they intimately know every inch of their holdings. Albert Mann rounds out my top three--their Schlossberg is sensational and generally comes off as a great value, as it is generally the most affordable.
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