I don't like to use the word "genius" in describing winemakers. Intelligence and sensitivity are pre-requisites, of course, but beyond that there is just too much plain hard work. So let's just call Marcel Deiss' winemaking inspirational.
What makes the winery special in Alsace is the fact that its greatest wines are not varietals but rather field blends, intended to highlight the terroir and not the fruit. And, except for the final wine of the evening, that's just what we tasted.
Grand Cru Mambourg, 2004
This is a blend of all the Pinot varieties allowed in Alsace*, and it shows, as my notes make obvious. The nose is the most explosively minerally nose I have ever sniffed, ash and fossils dominating over a background of quince. This is quite Pinot Gris, only those fossil notes make it more intellectual on the one hand while more lunatic on the other. A Mad Scientist type. I also find, after some airing, hints of forest floor and red fruit which I suppose is the Pinot Noir's contribution to the mix. The palate is just as minerally as the nose, but also razor sharp and l-o-n-g. Those minerals are packed so tight that the wine almost feels tannic. I don't often score wines but this wine just makes me want to stand up and announce: "NINETY-SIX!". 522 NIS.
* Anat Sela from Giaconda corrects me that Pinot Auxerrois is not included in the blend so the above should read "almost all of the Pinot varieties allowed in Alsace". I never could count past Pinot Meunier.
Premier Cru Engelgarten, 2005
In any other context, I'd say this is a minerally wine as well, but the Mambourg is a tough act to follow. At any rate, the minerals here are of a cooler nature, more of the frozen slate I delude myself into finding in Mosel, deftly framing the fruit. This is a Riesling based blend as the petrol and apple aromas attest. The palate is sweeter, yet there is a taut structure, with pleasant, if perhaps not abundant, acidity. By the evolution of the wine in the glass, I'd say this will turn out to be even more mineraly, though I very much doubt it will ever be as convoluted as the Mambourg. 225 NIS.
Premier Cru Rotenberg, 2004
While the nose is less intense than that of the Mambourg, it is my kind of wet dream, with a heady mixture of flint, minerals, honey and quince. But just like that kind of dream, it peaks within minutes... and then comes back, less intense but more finessed. The quince are present on the palate as well but soon make way for apples while here too the minerals lend great structure. Better balanced, longer and more delicious than the Rotenberg, this is arguably the best value of the tasting, even at 288 NIS.
Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim, 2004
Sylistically, this falls between the Mambourg and the Rotenberg, but is fruitier than either. Quince again, with ripe, almost baked apples and noticeable botrytis while any minerals remain in the background. Long and wide, fruity where the Mambourg was minerally, this is an excellent wine and while it seems bigger than the Rotenberg because of its breadth, for my taste the Rotenberg has a slight edge. 460 NIS.
Grand Cru Schoenenbourg, 2004
I find this wine hard to encapsulate. There is at first a lot of kerosene on both nose and palate, which transforms into a more subtle sculptor's clay, and that's all there is to it: kerosene, clay and apples. It's what it does with them that makes it a great wine. That and the deep, long French kiss of that juicy acidity. What a sexy wine. Only the ever-present shadow of the Mambourg ruins its bid for wine of the night. 450 NIS.
Gewurztraminer, Bergheim, 2004
This is the only varietal wine of the night and to be honest, it really doesn't take the Gewurztraminer paradigm to any new places. Just a classic Gewurztraminer, maybe a bit more finessed than the norm, with the telltale leechee and smoke, perhaps some flowers. It's a tough act to follow the Schoenenbourg but anyway, for the same price I'd go for Albert Mann's Furstenstrum (and in fact I did). 207 NIS.