As an interesting pendant to my recent post about Alsace, I’ve opened this bottle from Julien Meyer: the 2001 Sylvaner Zellberg.
Patrick Meyer (who runs this estate named after his father Julien) is one of the more interesting vintners on Alsace. A fervent follower of biodynamics, he now also makes wines with minimal added SO2, or none at all. And he also allows some oxidation into some of his wines: the 2009 Pinot Gris N.O. is aged in barrels that are left unfilled, resulting in a vaguely amontillado-like brew of interesting dimension, but surely challenging if you’re used to the off-dry powerful superfruity standard Pinot Gris from Alsace.
I’ve long followed Meyer’s wines and they lately have the tendency to be rather erratic. Some bottles of the Muscat Petite Fleur, 2010 Riesling, or Crémant d’Alsace have definitely veered towards spoilage: oxidation or dirt. Not too pleasant. Other bottles of the same wines are fine. When I spoke to him in December Patrick Meyer was disarmingly honest: “I make quite some bad wine. It doesn’t matter. Everybody does. It’s about being true to yourself. And it’s about the taste of your wine when you do are successful”. He’s right in the sense that his good wines, like the 2009 Grittermatte Riesling or 2008 Muenchberg Riesling, have a stunning mineral depth that is allowed to shine unencumbered by sulphury reduction.
This 2001 is a special wine in several aspects. It comes from before Meyer’s biodynamic and no-SO2 period (he converted to BD in 2004). It is made with Alsace’s most modest, unloved grape: Sylvaner. Sylvaner is meant to be drunk in a year or two, and this bottle cost me 6€. But extraordinary Sylvaner it is. Picked late with a portion of botrytised grapes, it reaches for ripeness and aromatic breadth that are usually beyond the variety’s ambition. It is Sylvaner that becomes a bit like Pinot Gris, with its abundance of sweet, spicy notes. But there is also Sylvaner’s steely acidic backbone, lending the wine real minerality, fantastic length, and helping it age: in fact this bottle at age 11 was very far from exhausted. The intensity was incredible, as was the balance: pack in so much botrytised richness and then so much fresh acids, a rarely seen feast of winemaking. Do you believe in great wine? Here’s one.
Source of wine: own purchase.