Melanie Pfister Berg Riesling 2020
The acronym Berg (formerly Riesling Tradition) comes from Auf dem Berg and Silberberg, two neighboring hillside vineyards. This is a wine full of earthy stone fruit and a dry, crisp length that rises far above its "entry" class. The vineyard soils are a variation of France's famous argile-calcaire mix, or claylimestone mix. (Locally, Berg's soils are known as Muschelkalk, a geological term referring to the middle Triassic period, and in Berg's case it's Muschelkalk topsoil--averaging 3-feet--over limestone bedrock.) The clay gives Riesling body while the calcareous limestone gives finesse, focus, and length.
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As early as 1780, Nicolas Pfister lived as a "bourgeois wine-grower" using the farm buildings that are still in place today. The estate and how-know were subsequently handed down from father to son, in the traditional manner.
There was a turning point in 1972, when Alfred Pfister handed over the business to his son André. With the support of his wife Marie-Anne, the latter would implement a new approach, resolutely forward-thinking and designed to benefit future generations. Having inherited the expertise of the six previous generations of wine-growers, he soon decided to devote himself to ecologically responsible wine-growing while modernising facilities and equipment. The work carried out on the vines and in the cellar pursued the single objective of obtaining the highest quality fruit and wines, bearing the hallmark of their terroir.
The latest chapter in the story has seen the arrival on the estate of Mélanie, the eighth generation of Pfisters, and the first woman in the line of succession. Trained in Bordeaux and then Dijon as an engineer and oenologist, she intends to apply her knowledge and diverse practical experiences to the ongoing quest for perfection that epitomizes the estate.
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, Alsace 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 Alsace wines are single-varietal bottlings and unlike other French regions, are also labeled with the variety name.
Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining its identity. A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, this versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Somm Secret—Given how difficult it is to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling from the label, here are some clues to find the dry ones. First, look for the world “trocken.” (“Halbtrocken” or “feinherb” mean off-dry.) Also a higher abv usually indicates a drier Riesling.