André Ostertag in da house
Tommi | 19.11.2013 | 08:00

Finnish wine and spirits importer Vindirekt kindly offered a group of young (or at least young-minded) food and wine professionals a nice Friday treat by serving us two interesting gentlemen: Alsace’s biodynamic revolutionary and pioneer André Ostertag of Domaine Ostertag, and Matthieu Perrin of the famous Perrin family – best known for Château de Beaucastel, one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s most prized jewels.

Starting today with André and hopefully following later this week with Matthieu, I’ll briefly and bluntly state my feelings about the wines offered to us during the 4-hour Friday vinobath. So brace yourselves, here we go (in order of appearance).

Calm before the storm

The first two wines came from Montsecano – a tiny 7 ha estate set up about 10 years ago by André and his three Chilean friends. Pictures of the main site’s dramatic and steep hillside location in Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley set up the mood for two examples from the estate. Situated only 10 kilometres from the ocean and at 300-500 metres of altitude, the sites are prone to morning fog. André condensed the overriding philosophy of the estate quite eloquently: high in spirit, low in technique. Harvest decisions are always based purely on physiological ripeness of the grapes instead of daily measurements of sugar and acidity. The grapes ripen early compared to most sites in the region, which André likes to merit on the biodynamic (main site Montsecano) and organic (smaller site Refugio) viticulture.

Refugio Montsecano Pinot Noir 2011

The smaller, 2 ha site. Medium deep ruby. Violet, red cherry, soft darkness. Vibrant fruit with good acidity, fine medium strength tannins. Felt like zero oak, which was confirmed by André – instead 12 to 18 months in egg-shaped concrete vats. To drink young.

Montsecano Pinot Noir 2011

Medium deep, slightly purplish ruby. Quite significantly more spicy than the Refugio and also has more personality. A peculiarly salty mouthfeel, demonstrating André’s view of how terroir should be reflected in the glass. Should possess good ageing ability.

And now… The Alsace Crew

After the warm-up it was time for the main course – a selection of eleven Domaine Ostertag whites of Alsace, including a couple of mature examples of the wines’ long-term potential. (Disclaimer: I absolutely love Alsatian white wines in their dry/off-dry, pure, acidic guise.)

According to André, the estate’s grounds hide 15 different types of soil. Only natural yeasts are used alongside bentonite (for fining) and some sulphur as the only additives. And what comes to batonnage… well, Andre does not like it anymore. ”If you need to do it, you have made a mistake somewhere.” And the same goes for green harvest – so there you have it.

Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner 2012

According to André 2012 is overall a very good vintage, and it seems his old Sylvaner vines (up to 75 years old) have done a sterling job at producing a decent example of this quite rarely-seen varietal wine. Rather light yellow in appearance, the surprisingly aromatic nose reveals nice citrus and floral notes. Somewhat fat on the palate but with nice fruitiness. Still, fat is fat and for me it rarely works in young bottlings without some overriding aromatic compensation e.g. by a rough herbal edge.

Pinot Blanc Barriques 2011

One of the intricacies of Alsatian appellation rules, this one is actually only 50 percent Pinot Blanc and 50 Auxerrois. Auxerrois is very low in acidity but strong in fruit, so in an academic sense it can complement Pinot Blanc’s often austere acidity quite well. Lightish but vibrant yellow. Both the nose and palate exhibit rich and ripe, but still sufficiently subdued, tropical fruit covered by a thin layer of oak- and malo-inspired creaminess. Interesting, but for me more of a one night stand than a long-term romance.

Riesling Vignoble d’E 2011

The Riesling notes on the nose are not too apparent but still immediately mouthwatering. However, while it seemed many others particularly enjoyed this one, a hint of peculiar gummybear sweets in the aromatics blew it for me. The best part of the wine is clearly its unique mouthfeel, with pronounced acidity and identifiable tannic structure! The fruit is ripe but not overly so.

Riesling Fronholz 2011

Fronholz is a particularly sunny and windy hill of quartz and white sand, situated (by Alsatian standards) quite far away from the Vosges mountain range. With its salty backend, this minerality-driven wine is also rich in fruit and has significantly more weight and alcohol than the Vignoble d’E. Both the fruit and acidic structure can easily take on another 15 years of bottle age. Quite impressive but way, way too young to be enjoyed today.

The Man himself: André Ostertag

Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg 2011

This Grand Cru site is typified by the red sandstone and volcanic elements of the soil. Three different labels can be seen in the bottles of this vintage (nine were actually produced but was deemed too much)! Despite the malo this off-dry is quite austere in the entry, but provides good intensity and length towards the back end. Delicious, but still a baby. Probably quite versatile as a food wine: fish, seafood, white meat, cheese.

Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg 1982

As a dedicated lover boy of mature Rieslings, this one managed to raise my heartbeat before even sniffing at the glass. As an interesting side story, ’82 was André’s first Muenchberg and was bottled in the then-required 70cl bottles (75cl only from ‘83 onwards). While the appellation rules were quite different from today (i.e. way too loose in the form of high crops and low concentration), also picking was done earlier than now, resulting in greener notes, more acidity and less outright fruit in the finished wine. As a result André considers the ’82 to be “not the best vintage”. However, the earthy/stony/flinty nose got me going immediately and while this absolutely bone dry wine has hardly any primary fruit left, it is still amazingly and vibrantly acidic and fresh, making it feel on the palate like a young wine in the first half of its first decade. Talk about deception! André’s food pick: parmigiano cheese. Even with its shortcomings, for me this was the wine of the evening and the one I will reminisce with warmth for years to come.

A360P Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 2011

Friday’s final expression of the Muenchberg site. One of the wines that earned André his non-conformist reputation, it was originally rejected at the local AOC panel tastings (last occurrence in 2000) as atypical of the region, meaning the wine had to be labeled differently to keep it outside the official appellation rules – hence the A360P name, referring to the cadastral name of the Pinot Gris plot. After gaining international reputation the wine was finally “accepted” so the official Grand Cru labeling can now be used. Fermented and aged in barrel (including new, preferably local Vosges oak) – something André feels is important to balance the character of the variety as it is picked early to ensure complete dryness in the finished wine instead of the more typical off-dry style. Somewhat deeper in colour compared to the Rieslings. Amazing structure! Oily tropical fruit is supported by sharp acidity and some tannins from the oak ageing. Very, very powerful.

Pinot Gris Zellberg 2010

Moving on to another site. Again, barrel fermented and aged, including new oak. Despite of what was said above, this one seems off-dry on the palate – I wonder whether it is actual residual sugar or whether it could be due to the rich fruit and oak? In any case I preferred the Muenchberg cousin to this one.

Pinot Gris Zellberg 1996

The 17-year-old big brother of the previous wine. 1996 was the coolest vintage in 20 years, with very little rain. If there ever was a dictionary definition for a truffle nose in wine, this has to be it! While it is apparently typical of a mature cool vintage Pinot Gris, the pungent truffle covers everything else that the wine might have to offer. Too much is too much and so I can’t see much other point in this one except to try it with a rich truffle risotto and see what happens.

Gewurztraminer Vignoble d’E 2009

With potential alcohol of 14-15 percent and the variety’s inherently low acid levels, Ostertag always balances its GWT’s with some residual sugar (here, 35 g/l). This weighty, ripe and super spicy Gewurz was slightly too concentrated for my taste.

Gewurztraminer Fronholz Vendanges Tardives 2010

Moving into the sweet territory with the last, late harvest wine’s 100 g/l residual sugar. Dried fruit and light botrytis have taken over the typical Gewurz aromas on the nose. The palate is sweet but extremely fresh and finishes long and pleasantly (and surprisingly) off-dry. Indeed very nice and has easily another 10 years ahead of it.


And that’s it, not quite so brief after all. None of these wines is available in Alko but at least some of them can be found in a reasonable selection of Finnish restaurants. In any case it was not a bad way to kick off Friday evening, so many thanks to Vindirekt.

ps. I just noticed that my dear and astronomically more famous colleague Arto Koskelo has written a piece on the same tasting so it should be interesting to compare our notes – as long as everyone understands that in case the notes differ, Arto is always the one that got it wrong…