Wine Blog

Pas à Pas from Jean-Pierre Rietsch: an Alsatian solera wine

Around a year ago, I first tasted Jean-Pierre Rietsch's Pas à Pas Savagnin rose at Frenchie in Covent Garden, London. It's a wine that stuck with me so much so that I chased it all the way to New York City. JK not really, but it was a wine that left its mark on me; one of those enigma wines that leaves an imprint. When I found it again on the list at Ten Bells, we ordered a bottle and it took my palate straight back to that enigmatic state.

The Ten Bells

The Ten Bells

It started when I was studying Frenchie's by-the-glass list. It's a really great place to drink BTG as the list is extensive and full of really interesting wines thanks to a great wine team, an open-minded train of thought, and that ingenious device, the Coravin. 

I came across a wine from Jean-Pierre Rietsch, who I had read extensively about but whose wines I had never tried as there's not much (if any) in the UK. I ordered it, and alas the girl behind the bar checked with me what kind of wine I like, as this was a solera wine and thus I might find it slightly out of the ordinary. Great - it's important in the restaurant world that the team knows how to approach the consumer with wine; this isn't exactly your straight-down-the-line Alsatian Riesling or Pinot Gris. Savagnin Rose is, according to Wine Grapes, the non-aromatic version of Gewürztraminer and produces "wines that are closer in style to Savagnin Blanc than Gewürz." 

Thanks to Bertrand Celce, I found out that vinous thing of magic began somewhat as an experiment, due to a stuck ferment (indigenous yeasts, cold winters) back in 2011. Rietsch waited for the 15g/L residual sugar to recommence for a couple of years, but it never did, so he added some 2013 juice to restart the ferment. He then added 2015 whole cluster wine a couple of years later, where it finished its fermentation. Alas, a sort-of solera system began, and according to Celce, Rietsch plans to continue replacing the volume that is bottled with juice from new vintages to continue the solera. 

The wine? It's fantastic. Heady dried rose petal and white flower notes; potpourri-like scents, meet almond skin, laced with crunchy rock salt. Thrilling and demanding; crunchy and powerful as hell but beautifully in balance. It's a real thought provoker.

Perhaps this wine may not be what we're used to from Alsace, indeed perhaps you may throw in the word "atypical." This does, however demand the question of: what do we deem as typical? What is typicity, and has typicity in wine become a model of what is deemed "correct," repeatable and invariable? I'm all for winemakers making wines like this, and let's hope that their voices carry.  If you haven't yet reached for Jean-Pierre Frick's book, du vin, du l'air, do so...