Domaine Mittnacht Freres Cremant d'Alsace
A family-run estate begun in 1958, Mittnacht Freres is a domaine to watch. While relatively low on many radars (in the United States, at least), this 20-hectare estate produces spot-on, expressive, beautifully made wines from traditional Alsace varietals. Run by the conscientious Christophe Mittnacht, the domaine employs organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard, believing that biologically complex, complete soils are essential for producing original, meaningful wines. The domaine has holdings in Grand Cru Rosacker (in which Trimbach's fabled Clos-St.-Hune is located), as well as excellent parcels between Ribeauville and Riquewihr, whose vines are the source of Mittnacht's terrific varietally labeled wines. With this kind of quality, they won't remain under the radar for long.
With its fairytale aesthetic, Germanic influence and strong emphasis on white wines, Alsace is one of France’s most unique viticultural regions. This hotly contested stretch of land running north to south on France’s northeastern border has spent much of its existence as German territory. Nestled in the rain shadow of the Vosges mountains, it is one of the driest regions of France but enjoys a long and cool growing season. Autumn humidity facilitates the development of “noble rot” for the production of late-picked sweet wines, Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles.
The best wines of Alsace can be described as aromatic and honeyed, even when completely dry. The region’s “noble” varieties, the only ones permitted within Alsace’s 51 Grands Crus vineyards, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Pinot Gris.
Riesling is Alsace’s main specialty. In its youth, Alsatian Riesling is dry, fresh and floral, but develops complex mineral and flint character with age. Gewurztraminer is known for its signature spice and lychee aromatics, and is often utilized for late harvest wines. Pinot Gris is prized for its combination of crisp acidity and savory spice as well as ripe stone fruit flavors. Muscat, vinified dry, tastes of ripe green grapes and fresh rose petal.
Other varieties grown here include Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Chasselas, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir—the only red grape permitted in Alsace and mainly used for sparkling rosé known as Crémant d’Alsace. Most Alsatian wines are single-varietal bottlings and unlike other French regions, are also labeled with the variety name.
A term typically reserved for Champagne and Sparkling Wines, non-vintage or simply “NV” on a label indicates a blend of finished wines from different vintages (years of harvest). To make non-vintage Champagne, typically the current year’s harvest (in other words, the current vintage) forms the base of the blend. Finished wines from previous years, called “vins de reserve” are blended in at approximately 10-50% of the total volume in order to achieve the flavor, complexity, body and acidity for the desired house style. A tiny proportion of Champagnes are made from a single vintage.
There are also some very large production still wines that may not claim one particular vintage. This would be at the discretion of the winemaker’s goals for character of the final wine.