Monday, January 4, 2016
Tour and Tasting at Maison Léon Beyer in Eguisheim, Alsace, France, with Marc Beyer – Germany-South Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015)
The Germany-South Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015) also included a visit of 2 wineries in Alsace.
We left the Baden area on the right bank of the Rhine River, at the foot of the Black Forest Mountains, in Germany in the afternoon and crossed over the Rhine River into France, into the Alsace region. This lies just across from Baden on the left bank of the Rhine at the foot of the Vosges Mountains.
In Alsace, we visited Maison Léon Beyer in Eguisheim and Domaine Weinbach in Kayersberg. We slept and had dinner in Eguisheim.
It was very interesting to taste the Léon Beyer and Domaine Weinbach wines and compare them with the German wines. Even wines of the same grape variety are distinctively different. This is due to different terroir but in a large part to the different philosophy of winemaking in Germany and Alsace. In a nutshell: the modern German winemaking aims at elegant, fruity, crisp, perfectly balanced wines whereas the Alsatian winemaker wants body, boldness and strength for the wines to accompany the hearty Alsatian food.
Since the year 1580 the Beyer family has been making wine in Eguisheim. The “Maison Léon Beyer” as we know it today came into existence in 1867, when Emile Beyer founded the domaine and the négociant house. Maison Léon Beyer produces wine sourced from its own vineyards (50 acres), -among them are holding in the two Eguisheim Grand Cru vineyards, the Eichberg and the Pfersigberg-, and from leased contracts (100 acres). The Maison Léon Beyer is run by the father and son team, 13th generation Marc Beyer and 14th generation Yann Beyer, with advice from Léon Beyer, the grandfather. The domaine has a long-standing reputation for making bone-dry wines.
Marc Beyer was our host. While Marc showed us around at the winery, the wine tasting took place at Weingut Leon Beyer’s little wine store in the center of Eguisheim. We did not see Marc’s son, Yann Beyer, who is in the process of taking over the winery and who had showed us around at the previous visit.
Eguisheim is a spectacular wine-producing town. Bruno d'Eguisheim was elected pope in 1049 under the name Léon IV. The city of the Counts of Eguisheim, which passed into the hands of the Bishop of Strasbourg in the 13th century, had always been at the centre of a flourishing vineyards. The present day vineyards, one of the most extensive in all of Alsace, total 300 hectares.
Eguisheim is the cradle of winemaking in Alsace. When the Romans conquered Alsace in the early centuries, it was here that winemaking was introduced. It is an incredible picturesque, medieval village, surrounded by vineyards, and its narrow, concentric streets highlight the architecture of the half-timbered houses.
Maison Leon Beyer and Alsace
Maison Leon Beyer has been wine making in Alsace since the 16th century, although the estate was not truly established until 1867 when Emile Beyer created the Maison de Vin d'Alsace.
Alsace is one of the several world class French wine regions, which produces many excellent still and sparkling, red and white wines, but above all it is highly appreciated for its unoaked, dry and crisp white wines. They tend to be different from those in the other parts of France: Higher in acidity, sometimes really sour, but always a pleasant experience to have them in the glass. And they go very well with the Alsatian food, which is also unique in France. The famous choucroute you find only there in France. But of course, you find it also in neighboring Germany, for example in Frankfurt am Main. Compared with Germany, which also is famous for its world class dry wines, Alsace wines tend to be drier, more full-bodied and higher in alcohol. Finally, sweeter white wines and red wines play only a minor role in Alsace, but they have a very good sparkling wine, the Cremant d’Alsace.
Picture: Yann Beyer in Front of the Office Desks of Marc Beyer and the Late Leon Beyer, see: Visiting Yann-Leon Beyer at Maison Leon Beyer in Eguisheim in Alsace
Alsace sits in the northeast corner of France, sheltered by the Vosges mountains to the west and hard against the German border to the east. The vineyards reach from around Wissembourg in the north to Mulhouse, 70 miles south. Some 12 million cases are produced annually from 32,000 acres of vineyards.
Alsace is a fascinating amalgam of the German and French. The end of the 30 Years’ War in 1648 gave Alsace to France. In 1871, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace was taken by Germany. After World War I, it was once more part of France — until 1940, when Germany reclaimed it. With the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, Alsace became French yet again — and so it has remained. Wine production in Alsace traces its beginnings to the early centuries of the Roman Empire, when the Romans conquered Alsace and introduced wine.
One of the most intriguing characteristics of Alsace wines is that they are bottled under their varietal names, unlike virtually all other French wines. Four grape varieties are considered to be the best:(i) Riesling – like in Germany, the most celebrated grape; (ii) Muscat – often used to produce sweet wines in France, the Alsace version is bone-dry; (iii) Pinot Gris and (iv) Gewurztraminer –Alsace's signature grape. Three other white grape varieties are also grown: (i) Sylvaner – A high-yielding grape, producing a refreshing wine, often used for blends, (ii) Pinot Blanc and (iii) Chardonnay – used only for sparkling wine. In addition, Alsace does have a little red wine made from the Burgundy grape, Pinot Noir. The Alsatian red wines tend to be quite lightweight, but can be delicious and interesting.
Alsace produces wines under three different appellations: (i) Appellation d'Origine Contrôlées (AOCs) for ¾ of the white, rosé and red wines, (ii) Alsace Grand Cru AOC for white wines from certain classified vineyards and (iii) Crémant d'Alsace AOC for sparkling wines. Alsace makes noble-sweet wines, but does not have the same reputation as Germany or Austria for its noble-sweet wines. I like the Edelzwicker from Alsace, which is blend and an easy to drink day to day wine.
Since the creation of the Grand Cru AOC in Alsace, a number of winemakers have however shunned the system. Maison Leon Beyer is one of the most notable names to do so. The issue Maison Leon Beyer has with the Grand Cru AOC is that in their view the Grand Cru vineyards in a number of cases have too extensive boundaries.
Maison Leon Beyer
At a crossroads, a little way out of the center of Eguisheim, Maison Léon Beyer is perpetuating the tradition of great Alsace wines. The Maison Leon Beyer was initially in the centre of Eguisheim, before relocating to a former post-house outside the village walls, at the end of the 1. World War. The business was then managed by Léon Beyer, who was succeeded by his son of the same name in 1959, who was also Mayor of Eguisheim, as was his father. An enlightened gourmet, the elegant and affable Léon Beyer II above all focused on creating the prestigious gastronomic aura that sets the winery apart from the others.
Maison Leon Beyer has a longstanding reputation for making elegant, bone dry wines. "Sugar in wine is like make-up on a woman's face – it masks the imperfections", comments Marc Beyer.
Maison Leon Beyer is both a domaine and negociant. It produces wine sourced from own vineyards (20 hectares) and from lease contracts (40 hectares). It has decent sized holdings in the two Eguisheim Grands Crus, Eichberg and Pfersigberg and markets the wines under the Comtes d'Eguisheim and Les Ecalliers designations, with no mention of any Grand Cru status anywhere. There are also Vendanges Tardives and Selections de Grains Nobles cuvées.
In terms of grape varieties, the emphasis is on Riesling, but Maison Leon Beyer also grows all other classic Alsatian grape varieties. In particular, Gewuerztraminer also figures prominently in the Leon Beyer wine portfolio. Yann reported about a vertical wine tasting of Leon Beyer Gewuertztraminer that he and his father had organized in Paris last year, tasting Comtes d’Eguisheim Gewuerztraminer from the vintages 1959 to 2009. “The 1976, 1964, 1961 and 1959 were brilliant” says Yann. Le Figaro carried a one page article about the tasting on July 8, 2010.
“We practice sustainable agriculture in the vineyard” says Yann Beyer “and the harvest is by hand. We do not use any screw caps. 90% of the cork is natural cork.”
The Maison Leon Beyer Cellars
Yann explains Leon Beyer’s wine making philosophy: “We ferment in stainless steel tanks and large, wooden barrels. It does not really matter, if a wine is fermented in a tank or a barrel. It is more a question of fitting our needs with what is available. The barrels are smaller than the tanks and therefore the wines we produce in smaller quantities tend to end up in the wooden barrels. We never use new oak. As a rule, we bottle very early to preserve the freshness and the fruitiness. This is what Alsace is all about. The wine then matures in the bottle.”
The Maison Leon Beyer has 2 quite impressive wine cellars. One is just below the winery with stainless steel tanks and large, wooden barrels plus large amounts of bottles wine sitting there to be released. Interestingly, wines are only labeled once Leon Beyer has received an order, because of the many country specific labeling regulations and language requirements that are implied by exporting all over the world. For example, a bottle exported to Russia needs a different label than one sold in France, at least as far as the back label is concerned.
Then, there is a special cellar, dug deep into the hillside beneath the vineyards, about 50 meters away from the winery. It is amazing what you see there when you walk with Yann through the cellar.
The Beyers let their wines age in the bottles in the cellar during several years before they release them on the market, especially the two Eguisheim Grands Crus, Eichberg and Pfersigberg, marketed under the Comtes d'Eguisheim and Les Ecalliers designations.
The Leon Beyer Wine Portfolio
“90% of the 3 Michelin star restaurants in Europe carry our wines” says Yann Beyer”. I ask about New York. “70% of the starred restaurants in New York carry our wines” says Yann. And what about China? “We were one of the first to go to China. We have been in China now for over 30 years” answers Yann. Yann took us through the whole Leon Beyer wine portfolio: (1) Les classiques, (2) Les reserves, (3) Les grandes cuvees and (4) Les vendages tardives et selection de grains nobles.
This is the Leon Beyer entry level range. Les classiques comprise Maison Leon Beyer’s 6 traditional white grape varieties: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Tokay Pinot Gris, Gewuerztraminer as well as the Pinot Noir. In addition, the Cuvee Leon Beyer and the Cremant d’Alsace come under this category. The prices ex-winery range from Euro 7.50 to Euro 12. Les classiques are fresh and fruity with a body and weight that reflect the grape varietal.
The Reserve wines are made from sections with mostly old vines. These are more complex wines than the Classic wines and can age longer. Les Reserve wines come as Muscat, Riesling, Tokay Pinot Gris, Gewuerztraminer as well as the Pinot Noir. They cost between Euro 12 to Euro 15.
Les Grandes Cuvees
The Grandes Cuvees wines are selected from the two Eguisheim Grands Crus, Eichberg and Pfersigberg and marketed under the Comtes d'Eguisheim and Les Ecalliers designations, with no mention of any Grand Cru status. They are only made in great vintages. Fully mature, these wines are of exceptional quality. The Grandes Cuvees currently cost Euro 22,50 ex-winery, except for the Riesling Les Ecalliers (Euro 15).
Les Vendages Tardives et Selection de Grains Nobles
Maison Leon Beyer has quite a number of these lusciously sweet wines in the portfolio. I counted 11 on the list, including an 1983 Gewuertztraminer Selection de Grains Nobles for Euro 1992.
Selection de Grains Nobles wines are even sweeter and richer than vendange tardive wines. They are harvested very late and the botrytised grapes are literally being picked one by one. They go very well with Foie Gras or very rich meals and desserts. These rare nectars have an enormous aging potential.
Restaurant Caveau Heuhaus in Eguisheim
Following the visit of Domaine Leon Beyer, we had dinner at Restaurant Caveau Heuhaus in Eguisheim. We had typical Alsation food in a typical Alsatian Vinstub (Wine Tavern) paired with local wine.
Hotel Hostellerie du Château d'Eguisheim
We spent the night at Hotel Hostellerie du Château d'Eguisheim - a 3-star, family-run hotel in a typical Alsatian half-timbered building in the center of this picturesque village. The rooms are beautifully designed with a stylish, modern twist. The hotel is included in the "Guides Charmes".
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