From the archives…The words and wines of André Ostertag

by André Ostertag

Alas, I barely have any memory of my previous lives, and although I am willing to bet that I was an innkeeper, a drunkard, or at least your common wine drinker, as much as I search my memory I cannot recall what wine tasted like back then.

Luckily, yet too rarely, I have at times had the opportunity to lower my nose into a glass of old Burgundy from the beginning of the century or a pre-war Alsatian wine, but each time a romantic dizziness swept me away from objective analysis.

One thing is certain, the wines of yesteryear have the power to set our spirits afire. Their rarity, their glorious age, and the weight of history, command our respect and impel us toward contemplation. Such tastings are always stamped by an almost religious emotion. And even if it should happen that such a wine shows a flaw or two, the emotion felt when drinking them renders the experience unique and unforgettable. Thus they will always seem superior to today’s wines.

Nevertheless, wine has never been so intelligent as it is today. Our engineers, oenologists, and technicians of all varieties have made possible a spectacular leap in quality. Actually, good wine will soon become an everyday beverage found in bars, bistros, and shopping carts. Quality has democratized itself so much that Saint Marketing, who never ignores our weaknesses and who anticipates our desires, has finally cut us short of any sense of surprise. It is horrible to say it, but quality has become banal!

Above all, this kind of quality is a reflection of technical advances and consumer fads. However, true quality is that which succeeds in surprising and moving us. It is not locked inside a formula. Its essence is subtle (subjective) and never rational. It resides in the unique, the singular, but it is ultimately connected to something more universal. A great wine is one in which quality is contained. Such a wine will necessarily be uncommon and decidedly unique because it cannot be like any other, and because of this fact it will be atypical, or only typical of itself.

Modern man, in his eagerness to understand everything in order to master it, spends his time classifying, filing, and organizing. It is obvious that the indefinable, the unclassifiable, and the unusual confuse our modern thought processes. So it should come as no surprise that the notion of terroir suffers while the grape variety gains importance, or the “commercially correct” spectrum of aromas is confined to the fresh, easy, and simple to the detriment of more unusual aromas (mineral notes, lees, and so on).

Today the definition of quality wine is one that should give equal pleasure at any moment, night or day, from one’s cradle to one’s deathbed. As if wine were nothing but a vulgar consumer object, sleek and docile, a little pet devoted to not disturbing our moods or classifications. However, it seems to me that in the old days wine was more capricious, more erratic, no doubt, yet its personality was more pronounced. There were no clonal selections. Each plot of vines represented a variety of different rootstocks. A wine bore more than now the imprint of its vintage, because the weather conditions and their direct consequences on a wine were less easy to remedy by treating the vines or correcting later in the cellar laboratory.

However, the real change took place above all in the relationship or exchange between man, his vines, and his wine. Before, a winemaker had to maintain an intimate, direct rapport with the elements. He had to link himself to things, allow them to become a living part of himself, to penetrate his soul, his gut, in order to feel and understand them.

Had he any other choice? There was no protection against disease or pests in the vineyard. No oenology lab, no research centers. Only the winemaker himself held the key to “Le Grand Vin.” When scientific knowledge and technology are limited, our senses of observation, intuition, and sensitivity, all of which make up our subjective thought process, are heightened.

In the old days the wine producer had few resources with which to defend himself against nature. He had to figure out how to come to terms with her.


If I were to read something like that, I would want to taste the man’s wine to see where such thoughtfulness led him. And I did. And now you can, too. “Wines that surprise and move us,” as he says. This shipment marks the beginning of our collaboration with André Ostertag. You won’t be bored. –Kermit Lynch

[From the March 1996 Newsletter]


Try the 2015 Pinot Noir “E” >> from Domaine Ostertag, featured in our September 2017 newsletter.

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