After dealing with the most famous French spirits, Monsieur Baco inaugurates a new series of articles dealing with “marcs” and “fines” from the different regions of France. The production of these spirits made from distilled pomace (marc) or distilled wine (fine) remains quite confidential and has almost disappeared in some areas. The first part will logically focus on marc d’Alsace, where pomace distillation is the most vivid.
Although every wine region in France has its own characteristics and assets, Alsace is poised with diversity. First, there is a patchwork of soils (13 different soils), terroirs (51 “lieux-dit” or localities) and grapes (8 different grapes). Second, there is a rare “elasticity” in the production styles (from dry and mineral wines to very sweet) and eventually a global use of the raw material leading a significant number of wine producers to distil the pomaces after wine are made for their personal consumption or sales.
Distillation is a tradition that goes back to the beginning of the 17th century. The presence of orchards and plants in low mountains made Alsace one of the leader regions in spirit production at that time. The distillation of pomaces is evidenced by a King’s statement in 1713.
If the tremendous number of spirits (up to 90!) distilled by a single producer can make you dizzy, ‘Marc d’Alsace de Gewurztraminer’ is the only pomace spirit protected by an “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (designation of origin) in Alsace.
What is “Marc”?
The “marc” (pomace in English) is the solid part of the grape that remains after the juice is extracted during the pressing. The pomace is therefore made of the skin, the seeds and sometimes the stalks when the grapes are not destemmed before pressing.
The AOC “Marc d’Alsace de Gewurztraminer’’ in a nutshell
The designation « Marc d’Alsace de Gewurztraminer » is protected since 1966. Here are the main characteristics:
- Fermentation: destemming (the fruit is separated from the stalks to avoid vegetal aromas) of the pomace obtained after direct pressing (no maceration of the skins in the juice). The fermentation then takes place in closed containers.
- Distillation: starts 2 months after the beginning of the harvests and ends no later than the 30th of April. The pomace is distilled twice in a pot still (like in Cognac) with a maximum load of 20hl. Holstein stills can be used if the plates are disengaged. The ABV cannot exceed 68,5% at this point.
- Aging: the new make spirit has to be aged at least 3 months and must be bottled transparent (no oak barrels).
- Sweetening: it is possible to add up to 10gr of sugar per litre.
- Bottling: the ABV is at least 45°.
Overview of grapes and producers
The “marcs” from the Lehmann distillery and from Domaine Christian Binner are initially reviewed here and may be completed with other producers later.
Distillerie J. et M. Lehmann
Founded in 1850, the Lehmann distillery is the oldest active distillery in Alsace. They use copper post stills like in Cognac. Spirits are aged for at least 3 years in demijohns closed by a cloth and sometimes in oak barrels. For more information, you can watch this comprehensive video (French only): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRyPTbaAWEo
All spirits were bought as samples on a website and tasted using the same tulip glass. You should know that some of the spirits presented below are not in the product range anymore. All spirits are white.
- Marc de Pinot Noir, 45°:
- Nose: resinous with notes of juniper and a certain freshness remining of humus, peppermint at first. Then, spices (white pepper and cloves) and fruits (William pear, a touch of sour cherries) and a suave scent (elderflower) in the background.
- Mouth: the attack is smooth and warming. The resinous notes of the nose are there with juniper and some liquorice. Very suave, the finish is long and stretches with a noble bitterness.
- Marc de Muscat, 45°:
- Nose: floral (lily, geranium, rose, honeysuckle) and fruity (mandarin peel, lychee, fresh grape).
- Mouth: the attack is smooth and round. Some citrusy notes (bergamot, clementine) come first followed by “pâte de fruit” (a kind of crystallised fruit juice), spices (cardamom, black pepper). The finish is moderately long and floral.
- Marc de Klevener (a.k.a. pink Savagnin), 45°:
- Nose: oxydative (walnut, old wooden furniture), reminds of some old French sweet wines. Fruits are there as well (red plum, blackberry, raisins, preserved sour cherries).
- Mouth: the attack is mild and brings notes of nutty milk chocolate. Walnut again and dry figs as well. The finish is medium and dry.
- Marc d’Alsace de Gewurztraminer, 45° (40€):
- Nose: quite powerful with pungent notes of rose and spices (allspice, saffron). At the second front, some notes of yellow fruits (mirabelles) and tarragon can be felt as well as some hints of citrus (bergamot, orange blossom).
- Mouth: the attack is of moderate intensity, on spices (allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon). Rose is back again before ending with saffron and orange blossom in a long finish.
Comments: all spirits were pleasant to drink, each in a different style, faithful to the original grape they are made from. I was surprised by the complexity of the Marc de Pinot Noir and by the charming profile of the Marc d’Alsace de Gewurztraminer. The Marc de Muscat makes its weaker precision up for a certain delicacy whereas the Marc de Klevener displays the expected oxidative profile of this peculiar grape.
Domaine Christian Binner
Domaine Christian Binner is a family-owned estate of 40 plots spread over the villages of Ammerschwihr, Katzenthal and Kientzheim, 2 lieux-dits and 3 grands crus among which Kaefferkopf. Extremely respectful of nature, Domaine Christian Binner favours quality over quantity (yields are twice less important than what’s allowed by the appellation specifications in average). The vineyard is certified organic since 2008 and is today cultivated biodynamically. On top of its wine production, the estate is also a “propriétaire bouilleur de cru” (or home distiller in English) and distillate its own pomace, lees and fruits. All the spirits produced are vintage.
Disclaimer: the samples of the spirits presented below were kindly offered by the producer. The prices indicated are those communicated by the producer to general customers. The same tulip glass was used throughout the tasting. All spirits are white.
- Marc de Riesling Kaefferkopf 2015, 40° (43€):
- Nose: very fresh with notes of eucalyptus, camphor, spices (caraway). A more floral tone can be felt in the background (hibiscus) along with some red pepper.
- Mouth: the attack is dry. Mouth is as fresh as the nose: caraway is back, bitter cocoa marks the mid-palate. The finish is rather short with dry flowers and peppery notes.
- Marc de Riesling Kaefferkopf Sélection Grains Nobles (hand-selected over-ripe grains to produce sweet wine), 40° (52€):
- Nose: expressive with notes of juniper, cedar, berries (redcurrant, blackcurrant, blackberries) followed by notes of marzipan and bee wax scents.
- Mouth: the attack is soft and almost juicy. Mouth is “gourmande” with notes of preserved lemon and heather honey. The finish is rather long, on spice (turmeric).
- Vieille eau-de-vie de lie de vin (old wine lees spirit) Sélection Grains Nobles 1998, 40° (54€):
- Nose: less expressive. Notes of cooked fruits, rhubarb and apricot tart along with a certain freshness (pine needles).
- Mouth: the attack is soft. First comes the pine, gentle notes of camphor and cocoa in the mid-palate. The finish is medium with white pepper and liquorice.
- Marc de Gewurztraminer (not AOC) 2009, 40° (47€):
- Nose: very expressive, first led by flowers (geranium, rose and even some violet), followed by notes of citrus (candied orange, bergamot). On the background: typical fruits of the gewurzt (lychee, fresh grape) and spices (ginger, nutmeg) and a touch of lemongrass.
- Mouth: the attack is soft and floral. Citrus and bergamot zest mark the mid-palate. The finish is rather long and spicy (allspice)
Comments: whereas Lehmann has developed a clean and appealing style, Christian Binner produces spirits that are rawer, less regular but also reflecting the terroir better. I liked the “gourmandise” of the Riesling Sélection Grains Nobles 2003 and the precision and refinement of the Marc de Gewurztraminer 2009. A higher ABV would be appreciated to let nature speak louder!
Distillerie J. P. Metté
Founded in the 1960’s by Jean-Paul Metté, this small craft distillery located in Ribeauvillé has built a strong reputation over the last decades. Today, Timothée Traber runs the business. With their 3 small pot stills, (load capacity of 100L, 140L and 150L) Distillery J. P. Metté produces 88 spirits and 32 liqueurs. The pomace comes from the village mainly (Sipp, Lorentz, Fuchs estates) whereas wild berries and flowers are hand-picked in the surroundings of the village. Fruits come from France as far as possible. The pot stills are cleaned between each product load to get the purest spirits. You can read our detailed focus on the distillery here.
The tasting took place onsite within a limited timeframe hence the lesser precision and details than in previous articles. The same tulip glass was used for all spirits.
White marcs (50cl)
- Marc de sylvaner, 45° – (48€)
- Nose: very fresh, herbaceous (eucalyptus, juniper) then more suave.
- Mouth: the attack is straightforward, with a certain “grain”. The mouth is vibrant and fruity. The finish is quite long with a touch of cold coffee.
- Marc de Riesling, 45° – (48€)
- Nose: resinous, reminding of a humid forest. There are some cocoa scents as well.
- Mouth: the attack is smooth; the mid-palate is herbaceous with camphor and white pepper. The finish is long.
- Marc de muscat, 45° – (48€)
- Nose: floral (rose, patchouli) and expressive.
- Mouth: the attack is mild; the mid-palate is very floral (geranium) and the finish is quite long.
- Marc de pinot gris, 45° – (48€)
- Nose: a little musky and fruity (red fruits, a touch of citrus).
- Mouth: the attack is smooth, the mid-palate is marked by fruits (blackberries), spices (cloves, nutmeg). The finish is long with light cocoa aromas.
- Marc de gewurztraminer, 45° – (48€)
- Nose: a little shy with spices (ginger), fruit (litchee) and fresh (eucalyptus).
- Mouth: the attack is mild; the mid-palate is spicy (ginger again) and floral. The finish is rather long.
- Marc de gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives (late harvest form the grand cru Altenberg of the Lorentz estate) 1990, 45° – (65€)
- Nose: fresh and floral. There is a certain delicacy and depth along with some bee wax accents.
- Mouth: the attack is sweet and suave on white chocolate and white pepper. The finish is fresh and very long.
- Marc de gewurztraminer Sélection Grains Nobles (hand-picked over-ripe grape grains form the grand cru Altenberg of the Lorentz estate) 2000, 45° – (78€)
- Nose: bee wax, pastries scents (marzipan, “pains aux raisins”, raisins).
- Mouth: the attack is soft and sweet and is balanced by a “grainy” texture that adds complexity and depth. There is white pepper and nutmeg. The finish is rather long.
- Marc de pinot noir, 45° – (48€)
- Nose: concentrated on fresh grape, forest scents (pine needles, humus), ripe plum.
- Mouth: the attack is straightforward. The mid-palate is very fruity and the finish is long.
Comments: all marcs are well made in my opinion. I particularly like the marc de pinot noir because of its concentration. The marcs de gewurztraminer VT and SGN also impress by their balance while the classic marc de gewurztraminer is more discrete than those of Lehmann or Binner.
Collection FASS (50cl)
Metté have named their spirit aged in oak casks “FASS” which means “cask” in Alsacian.
- Fine d’Alsace (pinot blanc), 8 years old, ex-cognac casks, 450 bottles produced, 42° – (58€)
- Nose: soft spices (vanilla, a hint of tonka), orchard fruits (pear, golden apple) then pastries (almond and pears tart).
- Mouth: the attack is mild. The mid-palate matches the nose: soft spices (vanilla, tonka beans, cinnamon), pastries (almond and pears tart as well). The mouth is textured and the finish is of medium length.
- Fine d’Alsace (pinot blanc), 6 years old, ex-cognac casks, 392 bottles produced, 55° – (73€)
- Nose: full, with cooked fruits (peaches, apples), almonds, vanilla and brown sugar.
- Mouth: the attack is mild regarding the high ABV. The mid-palate mixes concentration and density with plums and saffron aromas along with some light camphor. The finish is warm and of medium length.
- Marc de pinot noir, 6 years old, ex-pinot noir casks, 415 bottles produced, 44,28° – (58€)
- Nose: as fresh as the white version except it’s a bit shier. There are some light woody tones, grape, and candied fruits aromas.
- Mouth: the attack is mild with dry fruits and spices in the mid-palate. The finish is of medium length.
Comments: It’s a success for the J. P. Metté distillery! The “fines” are really charming and the Pinot Noir is good as well but I preferred the white version.
All Metté spirits can be purchased on their website.