February 08, 2006

Alsatian wines of Marc Tempé

I’m a fairly adventurous wine drinker, and I certainly don’t shy away from naturally made wines with more than their share of rusticity. But the wines of Marc Tempé, tasted last week with my irregular wine group, leave me puzzled.

Tempé is a biodynamic wine producer from the Alsace region of France. He makes wines about as naturally as you can, with no added yeast, acid, or sugar, and he uses minimal sulfur dioxide. Not to mention the yeast foods, enzymes, and other things you find in many cellars these days that I’m guessing aren’t part of Tempé’s “program.” Instead, he relies on carbon dioxide to keep the wines fresh, and long aging on the protective lees.

Nevertheless, these are downright weird wines. Even if you tolerate less than squeaky clean wines, you’ll be challenged with these. After this tasting, I am still interested in learning more about this producer. But I’m not buying any of these for my table or cellar. They’re more a curiosity to me than pleasurable, intriguing but ultimately not something I’m going to serve.

We started with the 2001 Riesling Zellenberg, a wooly, earthy wine that first had me thinking it was Chenin blanc. Then came the telltale petrol aroma of Riesling, beautiful if not complex. The flavor was soft, earthy with a hint of sweetness but lacking intensity, a good enough wine and my favorite for its aroma. Still not compelling.

Then came the 2001 Pinot Blanc Zellenberg, fizzy upon pouring and positively reeking of cider and sherry. Prickly on the palate, apricots and walnuts, it actually seemed a little better with time but clearly something’s wrong here.

Next was the 2001 Pinot Blanc Priegel, overripe and marked by ethyl acetate aromas, later more typical yellow fruit. Tangy on the palate, clean apple and lemon flavors but bland.

Then the 2002 Gewurztraminer Rodelsberg, a darker gold color than the others with some fizz, leesy aromas with apricots, roses, and wild dill and brown sugar notes. Apricots on the palate with earthy, lightly sweet flavors, tangy acid and a silky texture, a showy Gewurz that sounds nicer than it was. More a glimpse into what this producer is rumored to be able to achieve, even if this was a little over the top.

Finally, the 2002 Pinot Blanc Zellenberg, not fizzy like the ’01 but more Oregon Pinot gris like with bland yellow fruit, mineral, and yeast aromas. Fresh on the palate, easiest to drink of the bunch but utterly bland in the mouth, lightly sweet and inoffensive but not better than good.

In sum, Marc Tempé is clearly up to something. But maybe his produce simply doesn’t travel well. I’d love to see what these wines are like in his cellar, but I’ll leave it to my favorite blog wineterroirs to check into that sometime.


Thor Iverson said...

They’re more a curiosity to me than pleasurable, intriguing but ultimately not something I’m going to serve.

Yeah, that's pretty much accurate. I'm completely mystified by the market penetration of these wines, which are uniformly "eh" in comparison to so much else that's available. I admire his philosophy, but there's something not right in the cellar. Also, frankly, his sites aren't the best.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Thor, thanks for the comment. I was wondering what you thought about this producer. Do his wines sell well in the US? I can't imagine many people here would enjoy what he's producing or even have access to pristine samples. This tasting group is largely made up of pretty techincal folks, and a few at least seem fairly puzzled by what they tasted. They were really polite, but I didn't get a sense any of them were going to rush out and stock up on Tempe's wine.

Thor Iverson said...

I don't really know if they sell well, but since they appear to be everywhere in some markets they must sell "well enough." I've never heard them on anyone's list of top-tier producers, though I vaguely recall some good words from Rovani. On which, I will say no more. ;-)

Vincent Fritzsche said...

There are issues with what Pierre Rovani thinks about wine? Next thing you know, there will be gambling in Nevada.