Register Tuesday | July 25 | 2017

Drinking Blood and Light: The Wines of Kreydenweiss

When it’s so dang good you don’t know whether to laugh, weep or have sex with the person closest to you

Most nights, I’m content to live the wine-lover’s dream with the cheap and half-decent. That said, no self-respecting hedonist shies away from a chance to further her education by getting sloshed in style. Inevitable, then, that I would make my way in 007 fashion to the disguised entrance of Toronto’s Fine Wine Reserve for Wineonline’s interactive tasting event with world-renowned biodynamic wine-maker Antoine Kreydenweiss of Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss in Alsace, France.  The event, hosted by Wineonline—a distribution company launched in 2004 by Aaron Bick with the goal of making quality wines more accessible to wine lovers—promised to offer up the good stuff. Correction:  the uber good stuff.  The stuff that claims to go well beyond doing what the best wine must: offering not merely terroir in a glass, but a cosmos. In the private tasting lounge, amid my quaffed fellow Torontonians, the unassuming Antoine Kreydenweiss, dressed in a corduroy jacket and jeans, was easy to spot. Rare that one gets a chance to meet the wine-maker while getting smashed on his wines, especially these wines (currently only available in Canada via Wineonline). Rarer still to meet a wine-maker like Kreydenweiss, who embodies both the ultra-traditional and the innovative in viticulture. In addition to a 350 year old legacy of wine-making, the 26 year old Antoine has also inherited  his father Marc’s passionate commitment to biodynamics, a system of agriculture by which the Domaine has been operating since 1989 and, according to Antoine, the reason behind their succulent wines.  First pioneered by Rudolph Steiner in 1924, biodynamics—according to Marc Kreydenweiss-- ‘nurtures the understanding’ between the soil, the vine and cosmic influences. In addition to the grapes being organically cultivated without pesticides or commercial fertilizers, the soil is manually tilled, and the vines severely pruned to control yield. The idea is to enhance the soil’s health and the disease-resistance of the vines. Essentially, said Antoine’s translator, it’s like homeopathy, but for viticulture. Going beyond organic, bordering the realm of mysticism, vineyard work is timed to the cycles of the moon, stars and sun. Some practices even verge on superstitious: on the lunar knot, said a sober Antoine, no walking on the vineyard floor.  The end result of this mystical/manual labour? Converts and critics claim a cleaner taste, better aroma, longer finish and staying power, a wine that perfectly expresses the soil or terroir from which it comes.  Marc Kreydenweiss compares his cellar (constructed in reference to the golden ratio) to a temple, the winemaker’s art to the poets—for both are “the most sublime alchemy, dedicated to the discovery of the very essence of objects, their spirit."  The wine itself, compared to blood and light, takes it a step farther. Tasting his wine, he says, is a liturgical act, “somewhere between the Elevation of the Host and the Eucharist.”  A miracle  is what he calls how “wine not only reveals the most complex and subtle aromas of a terroir but also reveals and lets us sense the presence of a river.” Lovely and too-good-to-be-true as this sounded, I wondered if such painstaking and holy work would be lost on the average wine drinker.  To communicate all the nuances of the interchange between a far flung soil and sky (not to mention a river) seemed a tall order for a glass of wine. But desperate circumstances make quick converts of scoundrels. And as I took my seat in that basement along with a slew of dressy-shirted wine aficionados, and gazed at the six empty glasses soon to be filled with the blood and light of a microcosm far from this hell which had long frozen over, I couldn’t help but hope. Antoine began with the Barbarelle 2005, once more reinforcing that he was no traditional wine- maker.  We begin with red, he said, because normally we begin with white. He spoke first of the Rhone Valley region and its soil with a reverent passion. This wine, he said as we sipped, was their vin de terroir. Translation:  a wine that simply and beautifully expressed the soil in which it was grown. No thinking,  just drinking, he said. Which I was all too happy to do.  And which the Barbarelle, with its earthy freshness, its lovely dark fruit and dry lingering finish, encouraged.  Though I failed to reach the Rhone Valley,I did forget where I was briefly. Then the food pairing of beef tenderloin and mash arrived and I was forced to remember.  The flavors married well. Still. Jarring to have such a fresh, rugged wine of the soil paired with something served in a martini glass without proper cutlery. I took the wine-maker’s advice and just drank. Next was the Andlau Rielsing 2005, a tart little number grown in the pink sandstone soil of les Vosges near Wieselberg. The Riesling, Antoine’s translator told us, came from a single vineyard which resulted in its having a more focused taste. It expresses the soil, said Antoine (he said this about every wine). And this particular soil would impart a mineral flavor, “an untranslatable sharpness you just have to feel,” added the translator. We swallowed all of this with our mead-coloured wine. Austere, yet delicate, like drinking a distillation of lime-spiked stones. But lovely. According to Wineonline, the perfect compliment is a conical glassful of scallops, grapes and pineapple foam. I’ll have to take their word for it. Onto the Gewürztraminer 2006.  It’s said that one’s first glass of Gewürztraminer is often the arrow that sparks a life-long love of Alsace wine. I had my doubts. Gewürztraminer is, as the translator so succinctly put it, “a grape that loves to get fat and sugary”.  The ones I have known have all been bludgeoning both in  bouquet and sweetness, like the footfall of some perfume-drenched elephant. But this.  Though the  gorgeous bouquet cock-teases you into thinking she’s fleshier, Kreydenweiss, ever the man moving beyond the mold, keeps her fresh and light and just voluptuous enough. It was a clear favorite with the women. What is that perfume? one asked wistfully. “Roses,” answered Antoine. “And lychees.” There followed an undulation of dreamy sighs down the table.  I ignored the Asian-spiced sweet potato soup served in a shot glass sans spoon. I wanted nothing new fangled killing the pagan moment everyone who loves wine knows…..when it’s so dang good you don’t know whether to laugh, weep or have sex with the person closest to you.  I looked at the person closest to me (a bald wine aficionado who had earlier claimed he could taste the sandstone in the Riesling). Once more, I just kept drinking. Perhaps three is my magic number. Or perhaps I should have forced down more of the conceptual food.  Or maybe the gewürztraminer did indeed open my heart. In any case, I grew misty-eyed as Antoine described the granite and sand soil, made rich by glacial deposits, from which the Moenchburg Pinot Gris 2002, our next wine, hailed. I sipped, swooned. For I had never tasted a pinot gris like this…rich, smoky, sweet but not too sweet, with a long, long farewell. The translator explained this was because Alsatians like Kreydenweiss prefer to make their pinot gris heavier, long-lasting and complex. I didn’t want to mar that honeyed smoke on my tongue and so bypassed the single gnocchi dumpling served on a curved spoon, served on a square plate. Apparently its crown of mushroom fricassee (which my dumpling lacked) paired with it perfectly.  I’ll never know. Next was the Kastelberg Riesling Grand Cru 2005. Clearly Antoine’s darling, he waxed poetic about the schist soil (the oldest in Alsace) and the steep hill on which it grew and how the vineyard would stink of sweat after a day’s work. As we sipped, Antoine cautioned that the wine was still too young to fully appreciate its complexity.  Though it was quite the lovely little mind-fuck already, I saw what he meant. Dry, with beautiful hints of citrus and spice. But only hints. Like a pair of smiling, sealed lips, the wine was not yet ready to give up its secret. But what a secret. Sadly the sixth and final number, a late harvest Grand Cru Pinot Gris from Moenchberg arrived. Compared to the closed, Sphinx-like Riesling, this wine was a loud-mouthed whore. But what a whore. She bore all beautifully and unabashedly…soil, moon, stars, sun, even--or so I was smashed enough to imagine--a river. In short, my promised Alsatian cosmos in a torrent of sweet silk. Difficult to say what got me there in the end…Antoine’s infectious enthusiasm or the wines themselves. After all, when a wine-maker has gone to the near religious lengths that Kreydenweiss has, it follows that the wine would not only express the soil, but the wine-maker himself. I did wonder if the wines, left to speak for themselves, would leave as indelible an impression. But I didn’t dwell on the question long. Whether it was Kreydenweiss or his wines that managed to catapult me out of a Toronto basement in the bunghole of February, into another, better world seemed beside the point. The fact is I was.  And surely that was testament enough to both.