January 28, 2013
Break Up with Chardonnay and Drink Wines from Alsace
Chardonnay is so 80’s. This V-Day ditch the oaky stand-by for the more complex, subtle beauties of not TOO sweet Alsatian wines
- By Katie Kelly Bell for her Forbes "Adventures in Taste" blog, reprinted with permission from Forbes magazine
Reislings and their Alsatian cousins have a reputation for being treacly sweet but not so, says Katie Kelly Bell. Welcome to the new range of sophisticated whites.
Racing my bicycle down a steep vineyard hillside in northern France, I am struggling to keep up with the fifty-something Etienne Hugel, general director for Hugel wines, which has been producing wine since the 12th century. It is abundantly clear that the cool Alsatian climate and the refreshingly lovely wines have yielded a positively ebullient effect on producers such as Hugel. As he speeds ahead of me I make a mental note to drink more wines from Alsace. It shouldn’t be difficult, since my arrival five days ago I haven’t tasted a single bad wine.
Hugel is a man given to spicy and expressive outbursts on the joys of Alsatian wines. We have just finished touring some of the family’s Grand Cru holdings and as we wind down through the vineyards, Hugel shouts, “We’ve seen the worst and the worst is over,” referring to the region’s brief flirtation with sweeter styled wines few years ago. “Alsace is coming back to a drier style and that is good for us.” The message here is that wines from Alsace are not like their sweeter German cousins, and for the most part, that is true.
The main varietals include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir. Most people run from varietals such as Riesling because of its sweet reputation. In Alsace that is a terrible mistake.If you have a serious white wine habit (or want to age like Mr. Hugel), consider taking up Alsace white wines as your New Year’s Wine Resolution this year. I should also note that Alsace makes some of the most affordable sparkling wines in the world, look for anything that says Crémant d’Alsace.
Geographically speaking Alsace is located in the upper eastern edge of France along the German border. The climate is cooler, the names sound German, the architectural aesthetics call to mind the Mosel region rather than rural France, and the cuisine enjoys a distinct Germanic influence. Despite all of the German hybridization, the wines are uniquely Alsatian.
Indeed, what Alsace does best is craft mouth-watering, almost savory, complex white wines. The range and scope of what Alsace has to offer is marvelous, and worth exploring. Many are breathtakingly dry, crisp and intense.
Even the wines with residual sugar possess a balance and structure so fine and clean that the wine just sings. Better than that, they are food friendly (thanks to the racy acidity), fresh and intensely aromatic. Indeed, the region boasts 13 different types of soil, which may not sound all that impressive until you note that Burgundy has maybe two or three different soils. Winemaker for Albert Boxler wines, Jean Boxler, points out that “despite our wide range of soil, the wines are always fresh with acid, structure, aromatics and some of the most pure fruit expression in the world.” Oh, and one more thing, Alsatian wines, specifically the grand cru wines, taste better with age. A decade is perfect for developing even more complex layers. Can your white wine do all that?
To best decide on the Alsatian wine for your taste try this User’s Guide to get you started.
“Pinot Gris is such a crowd-pleaser; a new drinker to Alsace will be attracted to Pinot Gris.” –Olivier Humbrecht.
Albert Boxler Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris, 2008. Notes of white tea, juicy grapefruit, orange peel and kumquat. A loaded wine, ripe and rich with layers of fruit and mineral. Sip this all day long.
Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris, 2007. Rich and full bodied with tropical fruits, almond notes and a ripe, rich creaminess.
“Riesling is our heart and soul.”—Jean Trimbach
Domaine Gresser Duttenberg Riesling, 2011.Floral and rich with a lovely crispness. A nice mouth-watering juiciness, flinty mineral edges.
Domaine Weinbach, Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2011, Precise and delicate fruit with peach and mineral notes and a whiff of lime-basil perfume. Perfect with oysters.
Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2010. Fresh cut apple and notes of smoke mingle with mineral/floral notes…balanced with sensual elegance.
“The most under-appreciated varietal in Alsace, when people taste it they go nuts.”–Jean Trimbach
Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer Reserve, 2011. This gorgeous wine is seductive with aromas of passion fruit, pear, jasmine, and exotic spices. Complexity, perfume and balance in a glass.
White Alsace Blends
Hugel Gentil, 2011:This is an approachably bright, pleasing wine at a nice entry-level price ($12). A blend of various Alsatian grapes (Gewürtzraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Riesling, Sylvaner), it has lemon zest and a zippy finish.
FOLLOW KATIE KELLY BELL’S “ADVENTURES IN TASTE” BLOG ON WINE, FOOD AND LUXURY TRAVEL FOR FORBES MAGAZINE AT: blogs.forbes.com/katiebell/