I first came across Rieffel wines when visiting the domaine together with a group of UK wine writers in 2007, and haven’t looked back since. Whenever I’m up in the Bas-Rhin – as happened this week – I make a point of looking in on this prime 10-hectare domaine in the beautiful village of Mittelbergheim (one of France’s plus beaux, no less).
Lucas Rieffel, when still understudying his father André, did stages in several other domaines, but the winemaker whose approach really spoke to him (“c’était le déclic”) was André Ostertag, the winemaker-poet, philosopher and gentle mystic in nearby Epfig. Try and arrange a tasting when Lucas is around; he’s a natural didact, warming readily to the subject of the different terroirs on the domaine and their influence on the wines, as well as his overall approach to winemaking – which could be loosely described as ‘non-interventionist’.
In warm autumn sunshine we walked up behind the domaine into the Grand Cru Zotzenberg vineyard. It’s the only GC vineyard where Sylvaner joins the ranks of the so-called noble varieties (Riesling, Gewurz, Pinot Gris and Muscat) that are otherwise the only ones permitted. Lucas grows fine Sylvaner here; he’s also planted a parcel of Pinot Noir, another variety excluded from the permitted GC vines. “It’s definitely a bit of a risk planting Pinot Noir in a Grand Cru vineyard,” he explains ruefully, “you lose something.” But Lucas has high hopes of his ‘risky’ Pinot Noir. He labels it Kreuzel, the parcel in which the vines are grown; no mention of Grand Cru Zotzenberg may appear.
Back in the tasting room we started with a 2010 Pinot Noir Kreuzel – good Pinot bouquet, a bit tough still (far too young), but some has been squirrelled away in my cellar for later. Both the entry-level Sylvaner (now under screwcap – a relative novelty for Alsace) and the GC Zotzenberg Sylvaner are fragrant, appley, crisp – and light years away from the high-yielding, acidic Sylvaners of old. Other standouts were a floral, light, clean Riesling Vieilles Vignes, a Pinot Gris Hagel which spends a year on the lees in barriques and finishes its elevage in stainless steel, and a rich but not OTT Gewurz GC Zotzenberg.
If you’re not in the happy position of being able to pay a visit to the domaine to load up your boot/trunk, Rieffel wines are available in the UK from Berry Bros & Rudd. Otherwise, give Wine Searcher a try.