Maurice Schoech, Riesling Grand Cru “Kaefferkopf”

Alsace, France 2016

Character
Fruit
Earth
Body
Acid
Alcohol
I’m admittedly a little heartbroken to see that Domaine Maurice Schoech, one of my all-time favorite producers in Alsace, has done away with the eccentric technicolor label that has graced every bottle of Grand Cru “Kaefferkopf” as far back as I can remember. Fortunately, I can assure you that aside from the conventional new label, absolutely nothing has changed with this historically epic wine! 2016 is a superlative vintage in Alsace and this is an incendiary Grand Cru white.

It’s bold, powerful, and deeply evocative of vineyard and vintage of origin. And if, like me, you live for the full body-and-mind stimulation of top Chablis, Grosses Gewächs Riesling, or the finest expressions of Austria’s Wachau region, then trust me: this is your bottle! The extraordinary quality and complexity of today’s wine should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Domaine Schoech’s truly world class dry Rieslings. Not to be outshined, Grand Cru Kaefferkopf has a seven-century history of producing elite wines. This wine is a perennial favorite with many of our most devoted subscribers and in the outstanding 2016 vintage, it’s an absolute stunner. Whether you’re eager to experience one of Alsace’s finest dry Rieslings—or if you simply wish to enjoy a world-class wine at a relative bargain price—I encourage you to get acquainted with the ancient Grand Cru Kaefferkopf!

[*PLEASE NOTE: Due to scarcity, this wine is only available on pre-arrival and will be shipping from our warehouse the week of April 29th.]

I often say that Alsace is the most breathtaking wine region on earth. It holds deep sentimental importance for me, and I visit as often as my schedule allows. As such, I’m extremely selective about the region’s wines: We only offer a handful of Alsatian Rieslings on SommSelect per year. That’s not because the region isn’t overflowing with some of France’s most historic and impressive whites—and the country’s ONLY Grand Cru Riesling. It’s because of the prices. For instance, one of my favorite Alsace Rieslings is Trimbach’s “Clos Sainte Hune” (a sub-parcel of Grand Cru Rosacker, just south of the hillside that produces today’s wine), which currently retails for $275 a pop. Ouch. So, rather than cramming a bunch of extremely expensive Alsace whites into your inbox, I prefer to hold my fire and wait for the rare instances wherein top quality meets a reasonable price. Today is an especially noteworthy example.

Riesling is one of the most age-worthy varieties on the planet and it’s a chameleon capable of expressing even the most subtle distinctions of various soil types. Those who question the concept of terroir need only compare a glass of slate-grown Riesling to that of a neighboring limestone parcel—they will encounter two dramatically different wines. Terroir is a real thing and few grapes illustrate the concept as definitively as Riesling. 

In a restaurant, sommeliers lean heavily on Riesling because it is also one of the ultimate “skeleton keys” for unlocking exotic dishes and cuisines. For instance, my fiancée is the far superior chef in our household and when she prepares the more unusual dishes from her native Guangdong Province, Riesling is the most compatible wine. Yes, white Burgundy and Champagne pair surprisingly well with many Asian dishes—but when I need one bottle to flatter the entire meal, I reach for top-tier Riesling. Alsatian Riesling, particularly, seems to possess a gift for managing unruly salt/soy and vinegar notes—not a surprise, given the region’s choucroute-intensive local cuisine.

Most wine professionals will agree the noble Riesling grape achieves its most transcendent expression in three ancient growing regions: lower Austria, southwestern Germany, and northeastern France’s Alsace region. Germany has perfected the art of chiseled, angular Riesling while the Austrian “house style” generally balances both precision and weight. Still, if you seek the absolute maximum in texture, depth, and power, Alsace is your destination. But Alsace remains a challenge for sommeliers and consumers alike: Mediocre, semi-sweet white wine from the region crowds retail shelves in the US. With little in the way of classification or labeling standards, it’s often challenging to determine what’s in a bottle of Alsace Riesling until after the cork has been pulled. So, let me be 100% clear: This is a deliciously dry wine!

Today’s bottle hails from one of Alsace’s gems, the ancient Grand Cru “Kaefferkopf.” This vineyard clings to a steep, verdant hillside in the Vosges mountains at 800-1,000 feet elevation. Soil is a mix of granite and limestone, and the vines that produce today’s wine are farmed organically. The most interesting thing about this vineyard isn’t soil or farming, though—it’s temperature! Whenever I’m in Alsace, I marvel at the region’s seemingly ever-present sun and warmth, even when it’s cold and rainy in nearby Champagne and Burgundy. That’s because Alsace’s Vosges mountains create what locals refer to as a föhn, or rain shadow breeze. As severe storms make their way through the Vosges, they gradually offload precipitation and cool air on west-facing slopes. By the time the weather system arrives at Grand Cru “Kaefferkopf,” often all that’s left is a warm, dry breeze, or föhn. This warmth is one of the many reasons why today’s wine offers such disarmingly vivid yellow apple fruit and seductive texture. It’s a special site with a truly unique microclimate.

Despite my own personal hangups with their new label, I can’t deny that brothers Sebastien and Jean-Léon Schoech have delivered an absolute monster in 2016. The Schoech family has been working these same hillsides since the 1600s, but today’s 2016 Grand Cru “Kaefferkopf” has got to be a high point in the Schoech clan’s vinous legacy. The fleshiness of the Asian pear, underripe peach, golden apple, and the piercing yuzu acidity are catnip for a Chablis and GG Riesling lover like me. Still, there’s so much more than fruit and mouthwatering citrus acidity. A second sip quickly reveals Chinese dried white mushrooms, wet stone, white peony tea, saffron pistils, and wild Summer flowers. It’s also the rare Grand Cru that 1) is an extremely pleasurable drinking experience today, and 2) promises 1-2 decades of reward. Just decant 45 minutes and serve in large stems at 55 degrees. Admittedly, two nights ago I attempted to enjoy this wine with a Thai feast, but the unbridled citrus and explosive ghost pepper heat only masked this wine’s greatest attributes. So, I reinserted the cork after one glass and was thrilled to remove it a night later alongside a far more regionally appropriate, and built-for-Riesling choucroute garnie! Cheers!
Print Tasting Notes
Country
France
Region
Alsace
Sub-Region
Kaefferkopf Grand Cru
Variety
Riesling
Alcohol
13%
Oak
Neutral French
Soil
Sandstone, Clay, Limestone
Farming
Organic
Service Temperature
50-55ºF
Glassware
White Wine / Bordeaux Stems
Drinking Window
Now-2030+
Decanting
45-60 Minutes