Domaine Weinbach
'Gentil' 2019

When I first started drinking wine—tucking bin-ends under my arm on the way to those first nervous dinner parties—although my friends and I, in our early twenties, throwing together whatever unholy mess remained in our fridges into a casserole with a healthy squirt of bag-in-box blanc and hoping for the best could rarely be called a dinner—party seeming to take precedence over nourishment—I never really knew what I was buying, what I was drinking, what I was bringing to the party.  And I was at an advantage, being Australian.  The Australian wine industry along with the American, and the New World at large, having long championed varietal labelling so as to give the consumer a leg up into what to expect behind the green and the brown and occasionally clear glass window.  And even with that leg up I was for many years and many a bottle merely gambling.

 

Sure I knew that the Riesling was made from Riesling but: would it be sweet?  would it be bracingly dry?  steely?  floral?  juicy?  oily?  would it go with my anxious disposition, my rolling tobacco, my awkward conversation?  Would this Shiraz be light and pretty?  Would this Pinot Noir leave my teeth and gums shadowed with plum?

 

As my horizons expanded I started reaching for those Italian bottles with charming names that could have been places, could have been people, could have been grapes; I had no idea.  I started reaching for those French bottles with 16 different font types on the one sticker.  I started gambling.  And I always got a bottle out of it and the shop always made a sale and I always had something to bring to the party so it was win win win all round round round.

 

And it is with the same joie de vivre that I often approach bottles now.  Almost.  I know now (mostly) what I’m buying.  More often than not I’ll even go so far as to buy for the cuisine, such is the arc of being a long-term lush.  And yet more often than you might think (of a wine semi-professional) I regularly come across something I’ve never come across before.  I regularly come across a wine whose provenance, whose producer I may know but whose exact juice I’ve never had dalliances with.  I regularly come across a wine that is at first mystery that then stretches to surprise that then evolves into delight; a wine like ‘Gentil’ 2019 from Domaine Weinbach.

 

Gentil is an Alsatian term (meaning ‘kind’) that officially refers to a blend in which the four (white) big-boys of the north-east must make up at least 50%; that is Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling.  As with Edelzwicker blends you often also see the other players Chasselas, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc making an appearance.  And, led by Pinot Gris, it is all seven that here contribute to the Domaine Weinbach ‘Gentil’ 2019.  It is truly an actual and absolute viscous mouth party: gassed by Riesling, sweetened by Gewurtztraminer and prettied by Muscat.  The eye is pale lime and flecks of straw.  The nose is a punch of peach, pear and table grape—like those large cut-plastic bowls you find with ladles drooping in and odd off-cuts of fruit soaking up the booze at crowded occasional get-togethers.  It gives valley-lilies and pine tree.  It gives the underfoot crunch of snow and steaming frog soup.  It gives a salad of asparagus and gooseberry and white raisin and a little bit of urinal cake although it would be kinder to say a badly made lemon meringue pie.  It smells a little bit like the chlorine soaked atmosphere of a public swimming pool change room and white rum cocktails, possibly even the Pinã Colada itself (either that or I really need a holiday).  The mouth is all musk and swamp with sweet white peach and the tack of icing sugar.  I can taste plastic and bubblegum and it washes oily and turns spritz at the back part of the palate.  It turns white pepper and marzipan.  It cries out for food, this soft-footed waltz between canned peaches and vine leaf grit.  It cries out for roast vegetables, for schnitzel, for opulent salads and charred shellfish, for France itself and all the quiche that you can get your hands on.

 

On gravel and sandy loam over pebble Domaine Weinbach (certified biodynamic since 2005, currently run by sons Eddy and Theo, the family having long had deep roots in Alsace—see what I did there?—and working an estate first plowed by Capucin monks in the early 1600’s) prune short to preserve low yields, they hand harvest and slow press whole bunch and deliver a stone fruit-suit, pine-perfume and grape pleasure-pant darling that is traditionally Alsatian and totally worth the risk of dropping a twenty on the table.  It is, as trad. blends often are, more than the sum of its parts.  Bitter green.  Subtly floral.  Tongue tickling.  Chewy.  Fleshy.  Cooking herb.  It wants menthol cigarettes and coarse political discourse.  It wants slow love songs and linen workwear and the to and fro fall of auburn coloured autumn leaves.  It wants to see you all dressed up and hitting the town and it wants to still be there (unlike so many of your friends) on the way down.  It’s a good whisper of luck.  It’s a long-necked charmer to tuck under your arm en route to the next (dinner) party.  It’s that rustic slipper and alpine pucker to the palate that’ll assuage the usual awkwardness of fresh meetings, of unknown meals, that’ll reward the curious gambler with a dry and delightful Alsatian brew.  

 

Sometimes, for better or worse, you gotta try new things.  You gotta lay your cards on the table.    Place your bets.  Throw your chips.  Drop the die.  The monks did when they planted vines around the brook.  The first farmers did when they left their grapes to rot.  The Alsatian elders did when they first dropped a little Riesling into a little Gewurztraminer into a little Pinot Gris, just to see what might happen.  Sometimes you gotta gamble, even just a little.   Because sometimes caution cries out for the wind.

 

tasted August 2021

Bradley Tomlinson

Domaine Weinbach 'Gentil' 2019