Marcel Deiss is considered one of the best wine-producing domaines in Alsace, as well as one of the most idiosyncratic. Deiss can be found in Bergheim (village profile at Per Warvinge’s Alsace site), and there is a Wikipedia article about Marcel Deiss. The domaine is run by Jean-Michel Deiss.
Deiss’ wines are very concentrated and in a style that is usually fruity and often shows some amount of residual sugar. What is most peculiar with Deiss is the vineyard wines, that all are blends of several grapes varieties. Thus, the labels only show the vineyard name, not the grape names.
The Deiss range is divided into three categories, with a focus on respectively the fruit (the grape variety), the terroir, and the vintage conditions:
- Vins de Fruits – wines carrying a varietal designation.
- Vins de Terroirs – all wines with a geographical designation, all of them blends of several grape varieties. This includes regional blends, wines with just a village name, and the vineyard-designated wines, both from grand cru vineyards and other vineyards.
- Vins de Temps – wines in a style dependent on the vintage, which means the late harvested wines - Vendange Tardive (VT) and Sélection des Grains Nobles (SGN).
Those Deiss wines that are varietal wines are therefore found in the categories Vins de Fruits and Vins de Temps. Not having any varietal wines at the higher level is quite odd for an Alsace producer, since most Alsatian producers only produce blends at the entry level, if they make them at all. Deiss’ thinking is different in this respect, and the idea is to promote the terroir by doing a mixed plantation (field blend) of different grape varieties in the better vineyards. These wines are those that make up the category Vins de Terroir, and it is those that really are Deiss’ signature wines.
Originally, the appellation regulations said that all Alsace Grand Cru wines were only allowed to be produced from one of the four “noble varieties”, i.e., Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat (actually meaning three different Muscat varieties), and it was mandatory to indicate the grape variety on the label. Deiss simply ignored this, and in this case stubbornness paid off: since a number of years, varietal blends are officially allowed in two of the 51 grand cru-classified Alsace vineyards: Altenberg de Bergheim and Kaefferkopf. That it still isn’t officially allowed in the other 49 apparently hasn’t stopped Deiss from continuing to sell his blends from Mambourg and Schoenenbourg under a grand cru label…
Until recently, the other vineyards (good, but not grand cru-classified) in the Vins de Terroir range were called “Premier Cru” by Deiss (this was the case when I visited them mid-2011), but now, the label says “Cru d’Alsace”. As it happens, there is no official Premier Cru level in Alsace, and terms that are official in connection with protected designations of origin in one place (in this case e.g. Burgundy) may not be used outside official use, including in other regions. In this case, it seems that the rebel Deiss has been forced to adapt to official rules.
When I’ve encountered Deiss’ wines at wine exhibitions I have sometimes tried to guess which grape varieties that dominate, but my guess have often turned out to be wrong. (“Surely there is much Riesling here?” – “No, there’s no Riesling at all in this one.”) It’s difficult to tell if this really indicates that terroir trumps grape variety in Alsace, because I’m not too used to taste Alsace blends, and Deiss’ wine style is somewhat eccentric.
The residual sugar in Deiss’ wines is a story of its own. Although many wines that “ought to be dry” (they aren’t VT or SGN) show significant residual sugar (off-dry or semi-sweet style), there’s no indication on the label about what sweetness that can be expected in the bottle. However, there is a trend that the wines from some vineyards usually are on the dry side, for example Langenberg and Engelgarten. The Grand Crus I’ve tasted, on the other hand, have always had noticeable residual sugar (and enormous concentration). To be frank, I think that the lack of any indication of the wine’s place on the dry-sweet scale is somewhat problematic considering the large number of vineyard wines produced by Deiss.
The wines produced by Deiss are definitely impressive, but the somewhat varying and often high sweetness make it something of a gamble to buy a Deiss wine at random. If you stick to a specific vineyard, on the other hand, it seems that there are not too big surprises between the vintages. Those that enjoy fruity and concentrated wines and aren’t afraid of noticeable amounts of residual sugar, can buy at random in the Deiss range. My recommendation to those that would like to explore the concentrated style produced by Deiss, but at the same time wish to avoid too much residual sugar, would be to try Engelgarten, Langenberg, or the non-vineyard designated Riesling.
The tasting notes below are from two occasions: the Alsace wine day in Stockholm at the end of Januray 2014, and a visit to the domaine in July 2011 that I hadn’t blogged about before. The older tasting notes from 2011 are in italics. Since this means tasting notes from two vintages of many wines, it gave me a better picture of the style and consistency of the wines to put these notes side-by-side. I tried to estimate the level of sweetness in the wines I tasted this year, and for my notes I used the 1-9 scale in use by several Alsace producers, and where 1 = completely dry.
I would also like to add that the 2011 visit was very pleasant! We were received in a very friendly way and we got to taste many wines. A Jean-Michel Deiss in a good spirit popped in his head in the visiting room – where some additional groups also were tasting – and waved hello. When I saw that I was taking notes he commented “aha, taking notes for me?” and made a thumbs-up. One thing was somewhat comical, though. The range was too big for us to aim at tasting everything, but when I after tasting a few wines noted in the list that they had a Pinot Noir, I became interested in tasting that one as well. I then got a firm “no” from the nice lady who handled the visiting room and poured the wines. No because it wasn’t available for tasting, but because I had missed the chance to taste it by already tasting some wines that by necessity must come after the Pinot Noir, and definitely not before. :-) This thinking seems to be more common in Alsace than in other region, i.e., not just that the wines are better to taste in a certain order, but that the unconditionally must be tasted in a certain order. Well, as you can see below, there was no lack of wines to taste, although I did miss out on the Pinot Noir. :-)
Vins de Fruits - varietal wines
These are the entry level wines in the Deiss range. Previously, some varietal wines included a village name or the soil from which they originate, but this seems to have been phased out in recent vintages.
2012 Pinot d’Alsace
Mostly Pinot Blanc, vinified in old oak.
Nose with apple, some pear, and a discrete spice note. Fruity palate with a hint of sweetness (about 2-3 on the Alsace scale 1-9), a hint of spice, some mineral. 86 p
I think I heard that this wine was produced in barrique, i.e., small oak barrels. This could explain the spice notes and the hint of bitterness, but I didn’t really find any oaky notes as such.
Nose with peach, spice, and with a discrete perfume note. Medium bodied, dry palate (about 1-2 on the scale 1-9) with ripe yellow fruit, spice, rather good acidity, and a hint of bitterness. Spicy for a Riesling, 87 p.
2011 impression: Fruity and powerful nose with zest, a hint of spice, and some mineral. The palate is medium bodied+, rather dry but still with some impression of sweetness, citrus with zest, powerful concentration, aftertaste with citrus. The focus is more on power than on elegance. Young, 88-89 p
2008 Muscat Bergheim
Typical Muscat nose, sweetish with elderflower, honey, flowery notes, hops, and some spice. The palate is off-dry (-), fruity with yellow fruit, rather good acidity, and some sweetness. 86-87 p
2011 Pinot Gris
(Here I think I heard something about large oak barrels being used.)
Spicy nose with fried apples and a hint of smoke. The palate is off-dry (2-3 on the scale 1-9) and spicy with good concentration. Foody, 88 p.
2003 Pinot Gris Calcaire
Nose with dried fruit, apricots, spice, and some botrytis notes. The palate is semi-sweet and very spicy with powerful concentration and medium acidity. The wine shows quite a lot of Vendange Tardive style but is not quite balanced. 86-87 p
Well, 2003 with its very hot summer has yielded a lot of odd wines. This wine, older than the other we tasted, was sold at a discount at my visit in 2011.
Nose with honey, lychee, mineral, and perfume notes (but still rather discrete for the variety). The palate is barely off-dry halvtorr (about 2-3 on the scale 1-9) and very spicy with mineral and fine balance. 89 p
From vineyards in Bergheim and St Hippolyte.
Nose with honey, spice, flowery notes and a slightly oily impression. The palate is semi-sweet, viscous and very concentrated, with honey, low acidity, spice, a hint of fiery notes and a hint of bitterness. Almost a Vendange Tardive style, 88-89 p
Vins de Terroir – regional blend without vineyard designation
I believe that blends without vineyard designations are a recent addition to the Deiss range.
A blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris (i.e., this is a high-class Edelzwicker).
Nose with apple, discretely aromatic. Rather dry palate (sweetness about 2 on the Alsace scale 1-9), rather noticeable acidity, some mineral. A foody wine, 87 p.
Vins de Terroir – vineyard-designated wines at the “Cru d’Alsace” level
These are the vineyard wines that are not Alsace Grand Cru. Until fairly recently Deiss called these wines “Premier Cru” but the designation is now “Cru d’Alsace”, as noted above. In similarity to the Grand Cru wines, they are grown and produced as blends.
Vineyard in Saint Hippolyte with a lot of granite.
Nose with apple, discrete perfume note, and mineral. Dry palate (1 on the scale 1-9), fruity with apple, peach, and good acidity. 89 p
Driest of all the Deiss wines I tasted in early 2014.
2008 Langenberg (“Premier Cru”)
Grape varieties Riesling, Pinot Gris, Beurot(?), Muscat, Pinot Noir(?).
The nose is noticeably herbaceous, somewhat aromatic, and slightly spicy with yellow fruit and some honey. The palate just show a little bit of residual sweetness – it is off-dry (-) – and quite a bit of acidity, a lot of citrus, yellow fruit with some honey, some spice, and some oily/viscous feeling. A fresh style with good acidity! 88-89 p
I believe the herbal note could be a vintage effect, because I also found it in the 2008 Engelgarten.
Nose with ripe apple, a hint of peach, spice and discrete perfume. Rather dry palate (approx 2 on the scale 1-9) with a high acidity, apple and citrus, foody style with citrus aftertaste. Good acidity, rather young, 89(+) p
I believe this wine could serve as a good introduction to the Deiss style, but in a reasonably dry (if not bone dry) and fresh version.
2008 Engelgarten “Premier Cru”
Grape varities Riesling, Pinot Gris, Beurot(?), Muscat, Pinot Noir(?)
The nose is herbaceous with honey, some dried fruit and apricots, and gives a more sweet impression than the 2008 Langenberg. The palate is basically dry (but still has some sweetness masked by the acidity) with citrus (blood grapefruit), powerful concentration, some grapefruit bitterness, and spice. 89-90 p
I noted the following about the vineyard: “high location, no clay”.
Nose with peach, ripe fruit, some apricot and discrete perfume notes. Off-dry palate (approx 3-4 on the scale 1-9), good concentration, good acidity, apricot and spice. Comes across as a typical Pinot Gris style on my palate. 89 p
50 meters from Engelgarten, but more chalky soil. Grape varieties: Riesling and Pinot Gris.
Noss with ripe citrus fruit, some flowery notes and some green notes that are not disturbing. The palate is off-dry and spicy with ripe citrus and yellow fruit, some dried fruit, honey, herbs, and good acidity. Good concentration but not as fresh as the 2008 Langenberg or 2008 Engelgarten. 87-88 p
Chalky soil, grape varieties: Riesling and Pinot Gris.
The nose is slightly nutty with notes of almond, slightly herbaceous with yellow fruit, vanilla or white chocolate, and some honey. The palate is almost dry (with the slight sweetness hidden by the acidity) with high acidity and yellow fruit, some spice and bitterness, and a long aftertaste. Concentrated style, fresh and balanced. 90-91 p
Hot location with dark clay soil, is supposed to give long-lived wines.
Nose with ripe yellow fruit, peach, apricot, honey, and a hint of spice. The palate is definitely off-dry (approx 4-5 on the scale 1-9) with powerful concentration, peach, honey, good acidity, and spice notes. To me a Pinot Gris/Gewürztraminer style that goes in the Vendange Tardive direction. 90 p
Was stated to contain “all grape varieties”.
Nose with honey, spice, yellow fruit, great concentration of aromas with some aromatic oil character. Semi-sweet palate with great concentration, rather spicy, yellow fruit with some dried fruit, honey, rather good acidity. Vendange Tardive-styled, 89-90 p
The colour goes in the orange direction with just the tiniest bit of rosé. Nose with some dried yellow fruit, some red berries, spice, some honey and a slightly developed note. The palate is off-dry (-) and very spicy with yellow berries, some red berries, citrus, powerful concentration, gives a slightly oily-viscous impression, and has a good acidity. Rather fresh style, pleasant development, 89-90 p.
Pinot, mostly Pinot Gris, some Muscat
The nose is slightly herbaceous with a flowery note, yellow fruit, some spice, and with a light botrytis note. The palate is semi-sweet with yellow fruit, grapefruit, honey, powerful concentration of fruit, a tiny bit of alcoholic fire, and a long aftertaste. Vendange Tardive style, 89-90 p.
Vins de Terroir – vineyard-designated wines at the Grand Cru level
2009 Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Cru
Nose with ripe peach, perfume, mineral, and some honey. The palate is off-dry+ (sweetness about 5 at the scale 1-9) with powerful concentration, honey, citrus, and spice. “Sneaky Vendange Tardive”, impressive, but rather discrete nose for such a powerful palate. Young, 92+ p.
2007 Altenberg Grand Cru
Grapes affected by noble rot.
Nose with honey, dried yellow fruit, zest, spice, and some herbaceous notes. The palate is semi-sweet, spice, herbaceous with honey, some mint, citrus, mineral, and rather good acidity. Vendange Tardive style. Slight more prominent acidity and minerality than the rest with such high sweetness. 90-91 p
Vins de Temps – late harvested wines
2004 Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive
The nose is spicy with honey, som flowers and oily notes. The palate is semi-sweet, oily, and noticeably spicy, with honey, dried fruit and a tiny bit of bitterness in the aftertaste. 89-90 p
Swedish version here.