Wines from Alsace and Cheeses for Pairing

When the French #Winophiles, an extraordinary group of wineloving writers who crave all things French, have a roundup of articles about a specific topic, I’m in. This month, our theme is French Wine and Cheese and honestly, I don’t know anyone who can’t wrap their palate around both! From Bordeaux to Provence and everywhere in between, beautiful wines can be complemented with a flavorful cheese. And just like le vin, les fromages have their own AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) or AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) designation to indicate the region or village from where the cheese is produced.

The Wines of Alsace

Having just attended Alsace Rocks, an incredibly organized and compelling master class and tasting of a wide variety of wines, I knew that pairing cheeses with so many varieties from the region would be a lesson in deliciousness (and information to have in our back pocket for the next gathering of friends and family)! Throughout the event, I was impressed with the plethora of wines and their unique expressions of terroir.

Located in the northeastern corner of France, Alsace boasts a geological diversity like no other region in the world as it follows the long and narrow Rhine River. The Vosges Mountains provide stunning scenery for anyone who desires to journey upon the Alsace Wine Route, a 106-mile path through more than 100 bucolic wine villages. (Click here and be inspired to plan your trip. Perhaps I’ll see you there!)

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Although many think of Riesling as the only white grape produced in Alsace, the region is actually responsible for six other varieties. Exuding styles ranging from light-bodied and fresh to full-bodied and bold, mouthwatering and flavorful Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Sylvaner, Muscat and Pinot Noir are cultivated. The wines I tasted at Alsace Rocks prove that this region offers exceptional food friendly wines to more than satisfy any palate.

In Alsace, 53 appellations have been designated. Wines from AOC Alsace are affordable and easy drinking, Cremant d’Alsaceare sparkling wines produced in the traditional method and the 51 unique Grand Cru appellations offer wines of rich complexity and structure. Soils are just as diverse as the wines. Clay, limestone, granite, calcareous-limestone, marl, dolomite, gypsum and Keuper are soils those upon which premium vineyards are located. (Please click here to learn more details about these fascinating wines.)

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Pairing Wine and Cheese

How about those wine and cheese pairings? The process may be an intimidating exercise for many of us. With so many choices, where do we begin?

I referred to a wonderful resource, Tasting Wine & Cheese by Adam Centamore, for guidance. He writes that “pairing is bringing two or more ingredients together in a way that creates an impression that is grander than the ingredients alone provide.” We must consider dominant flavors, dominant tastes, temperature, texture, spice, tannins in the wine, fat and salt. The trick is to identify your own preferences and decide whether to pair a wine that contrasts or complements the cheese… or vice versa. Of course, everyone’s palate is different, so experiment – anything goes if you love it!

I usually begin my pairing process by considering the style of cheese (creamy, soft and young; hard, aged, salty and sharp, blue and filled with aromas; or fresh, mild and easily spreadable) that I’d like to try with a specific wine. Like Centamore, I decide whether to complement or contrast the wines and cheeses… A light Sauvignon Blanc with a light Brie or a bold Cabernet with an aged Cheddar? The possibilities are endless.

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Armed with information from Centamore’s book and conversations with local cheese experts, I compiled a list of some of my favorite wines tasted at Alsace Rocks with delectable cheeses for a memorable pairing. Enjoy!

Wines from Alsace and Cheeses for Pairing

Famille Hugel Pinot Gris Classic 2016 ($17) was not only refreshing, but an affordable choice for anyone who craves this variety from Alsace. In this wine, the grapes were cultivated on soils of clay and limestone. Of a more heavy and complex style than its Italian counterpart, Pinot Grigio, I appreciated this wine’s floral aromas, notes of green apple and lush fruits and its crisp finish. Pair Roelli Haus Select Cheddar Pasteurized Cow milk from Annatto WI, Brebirousse d’Argental of sheep milk from France, or pressed-rind cheeses such as Comté, Beaufort, Appenzeller and Gruyère.

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The stunning Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine 2016 ($62) from vineyards planted on granite soil, was beautifully aromatic with lively acidity. Dry, complex and structured, rich aromas and flavors are guaranteed to be a luscious companion with cheeses that have body and weight. Pair this Grand Cru Riesling with Tomme de Savoie or Morbier, both of cow’s milk from France, von Trapp Oma of cow’s milk from the United States, your favorite creamy goat cheese or medium-bodied Gruyère and Cheddar.

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Willm Gewurztraminer Reserve 2015
 ($15), of grapes grown from vines on soil of gravel, clay, limestone and sandstone, burst with aromas of lychee, petrol and rose petals. On the palate, notes of spice with mangos, peaches, apricot and ginger were mesmerizing. And the cheeses for pairing? How about a few that have as much flavor and aromas as the Gewurtztraminer? Terre des Volcans Fourme d’Ambert Pasteurized Cow Blue from the Auvergne, Hooligan of cow’s milk from the United States, Ardrahan of cow’s milk from Ireland or a delectable Parmigiano-Reggiano will be memorable.

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Four wines of Pinot Blanc, each grown on clay soil, Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2017 ($30), Domaines Shlumberger Pinot Blanc les Princes Abbes 2017 ($17), Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc 2016 ($15) and Famille Hugel Pinot Blanc Cuvée les Amours 2016 ($15) were refreshing, dry and crisp with notes of citrus and snappy minerality. Pair a favorite Brie or one with washed rind such as Tallegio or Fontina for a lovely contrast.

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Paul Blanck Muscat d’Alsace 2016 ($13) was of 65% Muscat d’Alsace and 35% Muscat Ottonel grown in vineyards on gravel, sand and calcareous clay. On the nose and palate, I found a wine that was bright and vibrant with elements of citrus, white flowers and just the slightest hint of spice. For pairing, keep it simple and choose fresh ricotta, a mild and creamy bleu cheese, a smoked Provolone or Gorgonzola.

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Camille Braun Sylvaner Vin Nature 2018 ($25.99) was of grapes cultivated on sandstone soil. Vibrant acidity framed notes of honey, melon and chalk and this fresh, delightful wine will be a lovely pairing with generous slices of Manchego, Edam or Gouda.

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A 100% Pinot Noir grown on soils of granite with blue marne, the Rolly Gasssmann Pinot Noir 2015 ($29.99) was balanced and structured with fresh red fruit, earth and a hint of spice. Flavorful cheeses for pairing may be a light Cheddar, Comte, Gouda, Gruyère, Port Salut or French Chévre.

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I savored sips of Crémant d’Alsace before the tasting… and afterwards. What a delicious, refreshing way to prepare my palate for so much deliciousness and to end the day with more. The lovely Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Bio les Natures NV ($15) was of 100% Riesling and produced in the same manner as Champagne (the second fermentation takes place in the bottle). This delightful bubbly is from vines grown on granite and limestone soil. Due to its minerality, bright acidity and vibrant citrus flavors, choose Marieke Young Gouda with Foenegreek Farmstead Raw Cow Milk from Thorp, Wisconsin, a savory aged Comte Fort Saint-Antoine or a French Gruyère aged for ten months for a surprise taste sensation.

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Cheers! ~ Cindy


Wines You Should be Drinking This Summer, According to a Wine Expert.

Summer is prime time for enjoying wine, whether it's paired with food or sipped by itself on a sunny day. For a few new and exciting wine recommendations this season, we turned to Jennifer Wagoner, Wine Director at Sepia and Proxi in Chicago.

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Q: What is a favorite summertime wine, and what would you recommend trying in addition to it?

A: Rosé is always a popular summer sipper, and I would be lying if I said I don’t love a good rosé. Bubbles are also a solid choice. If you want to enjoy something with value and quality, I would look to Crémant from throughout France.

Q: Is there a wine that's particularly refreshing on a hot summer day?

A: Wines with lighter body and freshness are always welcome when the heat of the day kicks in. I suggest Txakolina from Basque Country in Spain. It’s fresh and lower in alcohol, so you can enjoy a few glasses without fear of feeling less-than-great post-picnic.

Q: Is there a white that you particularly like for summer?

A: I’m a bit of a Riesling gal. It is incredibly versatile, and there is a spectrum of styles in which it is made. There is something for everyone. For me, summertime is Riesling time.

Q: A lot of people associate summer with white wines. But is there a red that you particularly like for summer?

A: I’m currently into chilled Pais from Maule in Chile. It’s bright and earthy and can come from vines that are well over 100 years old. It’s delicious alone or with savory snacks.

Q: Summer is prime time for grilling. What is a versatile wine that pairs well with grilled meats and vegetables?

A: Cooler-climate Syrah or Cru Beaujolais. I like a bit of spice on my reds when it comes to pairing with grilled meats and veggies. Pinot Gris is also a versatile varietal that is delicious on its own, but plays well with many different flavor profiles.

Q: What's a wine that’s perfect for drinking on a patio outside?

A: Again, I have to say bubbles. I clearly have an affinity for effervescence, but for good reason.


Wines of Alsace brings its top-quality wines, diversity of soils and passionate producers to Chicago this June with the month-long Alsace Rocks campaign.

Renowned for its world-class white wines, which make up 90 percent of all production, Alsace grows seven main varieties, including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Muscat and Sylvaner. And, with 53 appellations, Alsace has a wine to impress anyone, whether you’re looking for an easy-going, well-priced wine, a Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine made in the traditional method or a more complex Grand Cru wine. Stay up to date at @DrinkAlsace or visit www.AlsaceRocks.com for more information.

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Love French wine? Alsace Rocks is headed to Chicago this year

Celebrate this underrated French wine region with some diverse, affordable and delicious vino

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Raise a glass, wine connoisseurs, because Alsace Rocks is back for another year—and this time it’s popping up in Chicago. This unique month-long celebration will be in town from June 1-June 30 2019, giving you the opportunity to enjoy free tastings, dinner parties, education sessions and more. Alsace is an affordable, versatile and reliable French wine region that everyone should know about… and here’s your chance.

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What’s happening during Alsace Rocks?

Lovers of the grape are well catered for at Alsace Rocks. So, if you’re ready to sip, spit and slosh, here are some events that’ll bring the European libation to your door.

Monday June 3
Grab a glass of Alsace
Interested in tasting Alsace by the glass? Visit Binny’s Lincoln Park Tasting Room for a special flight of three different Alsace wines, so you can find your favorite. The themes of the flights will change each week and range from the pinot family to Crémant d’Alsace bubbles.

Wednesday June 12
Cheese class with Alsace wines 
Feeling peckish? This tasting event is an ode to one of the most-loved edible couples. Your hosts for the day—Lydia Burns, senior manager of purchasing for Pastoral Artisan Cheese, and Lisa Futterman, wholesale cheese manager—will take you on a delectable journey from 6-8PM. Tickets will cost $20 and can be purchased at AlsaceRocks.com.

Saturday June 29
Chain-wide Binny’s Beverage Depot wine tasting
This one’s pretty simple and self-explanatory—but that doesn’t mean it’s something to overlook. Binny’s will have you trying a range of Alsace wines at all of their locations from 1-4PM. Find your local store here.

All month long
Follow @DrinkAlsace on Twitter and Instagram for updates on exclusive restaurant offers happening around Chicago, where you’ll get to enjoy special menu offerings paired with Alsace wine.

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What’s so special about Alsace?

An underrated wine region of north-eastern France, Alsace is home to one of the most geologically diverse wine regions in the world (13 distinct soil types). In fact, wines from Alsace have a heavy focus on terroir: a set of environmental characteristics which affect a wine’s taste, including the climate, soil and terrain.

While the region bounced from France to Germany for much of its history, the wines differ greatly from German styles. The process of fermenting the majority of the grape sugar into alcohol delivers full-bodied, potent, dry wines as opposed to German styles, which are often lighter and sweeter.

But what does that mean? Well, all kinds of wines are produced in Alsace, from the totally unusual to the timeless classics. We’re talking whites such as riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer and pinot blanc, which make up 90 percent of the regions production, sole red grape variety pinot noir and Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wines made in the traditional method. Not only that, but 15 percent of Alsace’s vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic, the largest of any French wine region. You’re feeling smarter already, aren’t you?

Alsace Rocks takes place in Chicago from June 1 to June 30, 2019.

For more information about events and tastings, visit www.AlsaceRocks.com and search for the hashtag #AlsaceRocks on social media.

Pinot Blanc, an Eggs-ellent Wine for Breakfast (Brunch, Lunch and Dinner)

Between Winter's silver chill and Summer's golden heat is the mellow yellow, shimmering warmth of Spring sunshine.

Between the mineral leanness of Alpine pinot grigio and lush California chardonnay is Pinot Blanc, a specialty of the Alsace region of northeast France.

Pinot Blanc (PEE-no BLAHNK) is the white-skinned member of the Pinot family, a cousin of the grey-skinned Grigio. With ripe apple and pear flavors and firm acidity, it was once confused with chardonnay, but eschews chardonnay's heft, power and complexity. Like a perfect house guest, Pinot Blanc is refreshing, never demanding.

When I want a break from the intricate preparations, three-alarm spice and/or intellectual challenge of Chicagoland's dynamic food scene, when I want a peaceful, easy feeling, I choose comfort food and Pinot Blanc.

Like Pinot Blanc and eggs. The wine's soft acidity refreshes eggy richness; it's not-too-dry, not-too-sweet flavor enhances the underlying sweetness of delicious fat and balances salt, pepper, cured meats and other egg seasonings.

No surprise that egg dishes are another Alsace specialty, famously quiche Lorraine made with eggs, cream and bacon and tarte à l'oignon, the regional onion and egg tart.

Fourteenth generation Alsace winegrower Christian Beyer of Domaine Emile Beyer, recommends Alsace Chef Olivier Nasti's "perfect" egg -- cooked at 64-degrees for one hour, served with almonds, hollandaise and shaved truffle. "You need to put a little money aside for the truffle," Beyer laughs.

Now that the newest dining trend is "topped with a fried egg" -- from sushi to prime rib hash -- you can say "Pinot Blanc all day!"

For a Kir Royale sparkling cocktail, French Mimosa or easy entrance into a morning after the night before, chill a bottle of bubbly Cremant d'Alsace:

Cremant d'Alsace "Clos St. Landelin", Mure NV: Delicate, jewel-bright bubbles, caressing texture and crystal-clean flavor, farmed from northern France's sun-drenched peaks by the twelfth-generation of Mure's. A blend of Pinot Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois with a dash of riesling for an easy, elegant cocktail and complement to all hors d'oeuvres and lighter fare. (At wine shops & chains, about $20.)

Pinot Blanc is often blended with other grapes, notably Auxerrois (OH-sair-WAH), native of the Lorraine district (see quiche above). In the same family tree as chardonnay, Auxerrois adds body and rich aromas to traditional Pinot Blanc-based blends including:

Pinot Blanc, Trimbach 2016: Is it my imagination or does this wine smell of fresh daffodils? No, that's the solid helping of Auxerrois in the blend. The plump, refreshing and dry-ish flavors played well with a range of dishes pulled from my fridge including turmeric-roasted cauliflower, black olives and cold roast chicken. The Trimbach estate, established in 1626 and still family-operated, now covers 40 hectares throughout six villages. (At wine shops & chains, under $20.)

On Saturday, June 29, visit your area Binny's Beverage Depot to taste a range of Alsace wines in the "Alsace Rocks" promotion. Complimentary, no registration required, call your local Binny's for details. Throughout June, Binny's/ Lincoln Park will also offer Alsace wine flights in their Tasting Room.



Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at food@daily herald.com.

You Need to Drink this Budget-Friendly Alternative to Champagne

If you’re looking for the right celebration-libation for your next big occasion, it’s worth noting there are lots of sparkling wines from France that aren’t in the right postal code to be called Champagne but are sincerely every bit as good. One region you need to know about if you want to be bubble-literate is Alsace, the magical wine-producing area near the French-German border. Alsace is not the only place where Crémant sparkling wines are produced (you’ll also see Crémant from Bordeaux, Limoux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley for example), but it is where you’ll find some of the best ones.

Crémant is a sparkling wine made by the same method as Champagne, but with slightly lower effervescence (it’s closer to Champagne-level bubbly than it is to pétillant, which is a just-barely-effervescent style). This slightly lower atmospheric pressure contributes to a silky, rounded mouthfeel that’s a little different from the sometimes bracing “pop” of Champagne. Crémants won’t cellar as long as Champagnes, generally, but the beauty of their user-friendly pricing is that you will never feel pressured to save this stuff for when you win the National Book Award. It’s entirely weeknight-friendly. But it’s more than special enough to be your special occasion sidekick.

Crémant d’Alsace is often Pinot-based but can also include Chardonnay, Riesling and Auxerrois. It is most often white; occasionally pink.

Six Bottles to Try

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Albert Mann Extra Brut ($22)

Delicately balanced, with more richness than many of the wines on this list. It has complexity and a full-throated quality, with a lot of buttery pastry notes and a strong apple-peel character. Lemon and mandarin on the finish, which has pronounced salinity. Expressive bubbles. I’d be tempted to pair this with seafood, or with goat cheese or brie. And if I happened to be eating something else I’d be fine pairing it with whatever that happened to be.

Camille Braun Brut ($20)

Apple, butter cookies, lemon curd. Ultrafine mousse, lots of bready or yeasty notes on the palate, excellent balance. A high-finesse wine, balanced, elegant and fresh.

Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé ($18)

One of my favorite sparkling wines in the world and generally available for under $20. Bright, soft coral tone, echoed in bright, tart red fruit notes (rhubarb, sour cherry, redcurrant, strawberry) with some pastry notes to give it gravity. Exuberant mousse, very pleasant texture. This wine is a great friend for salmon, but as with most great bubblies you have a ton of options. Elegant, approachable, and completely delicious.

Meyer-Fonne Brut Extra ($20)

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Lemony and refreshing, with brisk acidity and bubbles to match. Some apple notes and a decent ration of wet stone. This is a straightforward wine, and not the most layered, but honestly, “layered” isn’t everything. Sometimes you just want an upfront, what-you-see-is-what-you-get team player type, and that’s what you get when you pop the cork on this stuff. It’s refreshing and playful and amiable. It will hold up well on its own or be a good foil for rich foods.

Valentin Zusslin Brut Zero ($30)

Like many Alsatian wines, this one scores high on the sustainability scale (biodynamically farmed grapes, unsulfured). Bone-dry with prominent orchard fruit notes (I get apricot and apple). There’s a quartz-y kind of minerality to it and a tangy finish (tangerine?) Incredibly food friendly, brisk, clean, and very tasty.

Vignoble des 2 Lunes “Poussiere d’etoiles” ($30)

Bottled strawberry shortcake, but no dosage so the finish is dry and lean. There’s a slightly feisty thread of redcurrant and peppercorn behind the strawberry/pastry/cream notes. Good stoniness, creamy perlage, excellent aperitif wine.

Introduction to Pinot Blanc Wine

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Pinot blanc (or pinot bianco) is a semi-dry white wine that is often compared to chardonnay. It is typically crisp and refreshing and, depending on where it's made, it can be sweet or have nutty flavors. It's very common for winemakers to use the pinot blanc grape when making sparkling and sweet dessert wines as well. You will find that pinot blanc is a fascinating little wine. It doesn't get a lot of attention but is in more wines than you may think.

What Is Pinot Blanc?

The pinot blanc grape originated from the Alsace region of France. It was modified from the pinot grigio grape, which is a variation of the pinot noir grape. This relationship between the two white wines and the famous red explains the shared name.

In France, it is known as pinot blanc (PEE-no blahnk), and in Italy, it is pinot bianco. No matter which name you use, this varietal of white wine grape produces a medium-dry to dry white wine that is familiar throughout the world.

Compared to pinot grigio and pinot gris, pinot blanc is rounder and is typically less acidic. The fruit flavors of pinot grigio also tend to be brighter. Generally, oak is not used in the maturation process of pinot blanc. It is typically a still wine, though it is often a base for sparkling wines (particularly in Italy and California) or as a sweet dessert wine such as the Canadian ice wines.

Regional Characteristics

Pinot blanc wine is made throughout the world and different regions have certain characteristics:

  • Alsace France: Often oaked, the pinot blanc from Alsace tends to be creamy, with almond and a hint of apple and spice. It can also be used for the sparkling Cremant d'Alsace wines of the region.

  • Burgundy France: Burgundy also claims to be the home of pinot blanc, though it is rarely grown there. You might find it in a sparkling wine blend.

  • Italy: Pinot Bianco from Italy is known to be very crisp and light. At times, it is used in blended wines, and it forms the background for the sparkling wine, Franciacorta.

  • Germany and Austria: Known in this region as Weissburgunder ( White Burgundy), the German wines are refreshingly light. In Austria, it is used to make trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short), which is very a sweet wine because the grapes are not harvested until they shrivel up and the sugars have concentrated (similar to ice wines without the freeze).

Pinot blanc is also commonly found in Argentina, Canada, the United States, and Uruguay.

Flavor Profile

Pinot blanc is very similar to a chardonnay in that it has a medium to full body and light flavor. It is characteristically high in acidity, which lends it a sour to tart profile. It's quite a lively wine. Pinot blanc's lighter flavors often include citrus, melon, pear, apricot, and perhaps smokey or mineral undertones.

Food Pairings

This white wine's softer characteristics make it a good match for foods of a similar profile. The wine will be lost in a meal made of flavorful or spicy foods, so keep the food flavors light and airy.

Some good options for a pinot blanc pairing include seafood, light-flavored meats, light to medium sauces (particularly white and butter sauces), and mild-flavored cheese choices.

Gewurztraminer - Don't Say It, Just Drink it

Of all the world's great wine grapes, Gewurztraminer may be the least understood. Perhaps it's the fact that it's not the easiest word to pronounce (geh-voortz-tra-meen-er). Or maybe it's the fact that there are various styles, some quite dry, many others lightly or even moderately sweet. Regardless, it's one of the most unique varieties planted anywhere, and the wines produced from it are highly appealing.

The grapes themselves are easy to recognize as they ripen, as they are a deep pink. So too, the aromas of Gewurztraminer are highly distinctive, with aromas ranging from lychee and grapefruit to yellow roses and even lanolin. You don't find perfumes such as these in other varieties, and indeed, along with the Muscat (Moscato) grape, Gewurztraminer is quite easy to recognize by just smelling the wine in a glass.

There are two primary regions where Gewurztraminer excels: Alsace, in far northeastern France, and Alto Adige (also known as Südtirol) in northeastern Italy; here the wine is spelled Gewürztraminer. What these two territories have in common is a cool climate, which helps emphasize the grape's charming perfumes in the finished wines. Generally speaking however, the versions from Alsace tend to be more intense on the palate with perhaps one-half or one percent higher alcohol (13.5% or 14%) than those from Alto Adige; the examples from Alsace are also slightly sweeter, although that varies from producer to producer. (The name of the grape comes from the German word gewurz, meaning "spicy" and the town of Tramin in Alto Adige, hence Gewurztraminer is the "spicy one from Tramin.")

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One of the great exponents of Gewurztraminer is Domaine Weinbach in the town of Kayersberg in Alsace. The Faller family, led by Catherine Faller, manages this estate, producing as many as four different offerings of this variety per year. Her son Eddy Leiber-Faller discusses what makes Geuwrztraminer so important in Alsace. "Gewurztraminer is certainly one of the most beautiful expressions of Alsace, and Alsace is in turn the place in the world where this variety gives its best results." He does note that it is a challenging variety to work with; "it needs to be farmed with controlled yields on strong terroirs in order to weather the varietal features with depth and minerality."

Faller also notes that most versions of this wine in Alsace have a bit of residual sugar. "Winemaking is tricky as well, as one can be tempted to produce a bone dry Gewurztraminer, but high alcohol enhances the natural bitterness of the variety and makes it very unpleasant. So the best Gewurztraminer often carry a bit of residual sugar, which needs to be balanced with high acid. Hence again the importance of adequate soils, ideally limestone ones." The Domaine Weinbach "Cuvée Laurence" Gewurztraminer from the 2017 vintage is typical not only for its light sweetness (about 4% residual sugar that is balanced with very good acidity), but also for its heavenly perfumes and ideal ripeness; this is a textbook example of this wine.

One final thing to note about Geuwrztraminer is its adaptability at the dinner table. Given its exotic perfumes and flavors on the palate, it is not a wine many consumers think of for dinner, and admittedly, you would not combine a Gewurztraminer with filet mignon or pasta with a marinara sauce. Yet there are some particular cuisines that are perfect with the wine, especially Indian and Thai - think spice in both the food and the wine - as well as Asian/fusion cuisine. I love taking a bottle to a Thai BYOB restaurant near my home to enjoy the wine with chicken or pork with ginger - it's a great wine/food pairing! Duck breast with an apricot sauce works beautifully, and at Thanksgiving when many of us in America are enjoying turkey, Gewurztraminer is the preferred choice. So while the common belief is that Gewurztraminer may not be an ideal pairing for certain cuisines, there are actually a lot of comfort foods that pair beautifully with the wine; give them a try for an inspired - and delicious - gastronomic treat.

Here are notes on recommended examples of Gewurztraminer I have tasted lately:

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Domaine Weinbach “Cuvée Laurence” 2017 - Exquisite aromas of pink roses, lychee and orange blossom. Medium-full with very good concentration. Superb varietal character, off-dry, excellent persistence. Absolutely delicious! Great texture and mouthfeel – rich mid-palate. Ultra clean and ultra fresh. Good acidity, and ideal harmony. So well done! Enjoy over the next 5 years – if you can wait! Outstanding

Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru Hengst 2016  - Textbook aromas of lychee, orange rose and honey. Full-bodied, this has tremendous weight on the palate and a lengthy finish with distinct spice notes (ginger), good acidity, and a light note of sweetness. This is so appealing now, but greater complexities will emerge with time, with peak drinking in 7-10 years. Superb

Gustave Lorentz Reserve 2015 - Aromas of lanolin, Anjou pear and grapefruit. Medium-bodied, this has excellent varietla character, distinct yellow spice notes (tumeric, ginger) on the palate and in the finish and is dry with good acidity. As is typical for this producer, this is a more subdued and lighter style of Gewurztraminer; this 2015 is one of the best I have tasted from Lorentz in several years. Pair with Indian or Asian cuisine. Enjoy over the next 2 years. Excellent

Emile Beyer "Tradition" 2017 - Delicate aromas of lychee, yellow rose and orange blossom. Medium-bodied, this has good varietal character and a dry, lightly bitter finish. This needs food - pair with Thai cuisine. 2-3 years. Very Good

Chateau D’Orschwihr "Rollenberg" 2015 - Deep yellow with golden hues. Rich aromas of yellow roses, guava and marzipan. Medium-full, this is ripe and oily with impressive richness on the palate. This has notable varietal character, but the finish is short and overall the wine does not live up to the aromatics. Still, a nice wine with good complexity and balance. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. Very Good

Schlumberger Grand Cru Keller 2014  - Ripe apricot, honey, lychee and yellow rose aromas. Rich and quite ripe, this is a bit sweet in the finish without proper balancing acidity. Lush and full-throttle, pair this with blue cheese or foie gras. 3-5 years for peak. Very Good

Trimbach "Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre" 2012 - Intense aromas of yellow rose, lychee, apricot and honey. Medium-full, this has excellent depth of fruit and is ripe and lush; the lengthy finish has good balancing acidity and pleasant spicy, nutty notes. Excellent freshness and tremendous complexity. Enjoy over the next 7-10 years, perhaps longer. Superb

Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2014 - Bright, light yellow with a golden hue. Exotic aromas of beeswax, honey, apricot and lychee. Medium-full, this is moderately sweet and has excellent persistence and complexity, along with great varietal character and a lengthy finish. This should drink well for another 10-12 years, perhaps longer. Superb

(Read full article via Forbes)


9 Rieslings for People Who Think They Hate Riesling

Whether you think of Riesling as overly sweet or aggressively acidic, the German-born white wine has a lot of misconceptions to overcome. Yes, there are plenty of unbalanced Rieslings out there, but there are also terroir-driven bottles being thoughtfully made worldwide, from France and Germany to Australia and the U.S.

Ready to rethink Riesling? We gathered a panel of loyalists and detractors to find bottles with widespread appeal. Here are nine Rieslings for people who have sworn off the stuff.

2016 JOSMEYER RIESLING LE KOTTABE, ALSACE, FRANCE

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Can something smell sweet? The nose on this Riesling from France’s Alsace region makes a strong argument for it, inviting comparisons to everything from Funfetti Betty Crocker cakes to Italian meringue. The medium-bodied palate combines acid up front with a balanced finish. It’s an approachable wine with considerable value for money. Average price: $25.

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Our hands-down favorite, this rich, nuanced wine has “a lot of dimensions to it.” A well-priced Grand Cru from France’s Alsace region, it encapsulates what is great about Riesling with none of the pratfalls. Its honeyed nose is followed by green, flinty flavors and impressive structure. (“It tastes… majestic,” one taster commented.) It would be a fantastic aperitif wine, but could also stand up to heartier fare, like shellfish or summer soups. Average price: $29.

(Read full article via VinePair)

9 Alsace red wines worth a tasty try

Delicious, reasonably priced red wines typically do not spring to mind when considering France’s lovely wine growing region of Alsace. Yet with over 10% of production now coming from red-skinned Pinot Noir grapes, opportunities to snag terrific Alsace red wines arise readily especially with online sales and shipping.

The renewed focus on red wines represents a return to traditions says 14th-generation winegrower Christian Beyer of Domaine Emile Beyer in the Alsace village of Eguisheim.

“In Medieval times, Alsace made as much red as white wine, so we’ve had a tradition with Pinot Noir for over 400 years,” he notes. “We have everything Pinot Noir needs — a relatively cool climate, plenty of limestone soils and more and more older vines.”

Many contemporary Alsace wine growers develop their appreciation and savoir-faire for red wine production from working and sharing information with growers from other regions.

“My generation has many experiences outside Alsace in Burgundy, Bordeaux and elsewhere, and this makes a big difference,” says Beyer who studied winegrowing in Burgundy, Pinot Noir’s spiritual home. “Today more winegrowers have big ambitions to produce great Alsace red wines.”

Winegrower André Ostertag also studied in Burgundy before returning home to manage Domaine Ostertag which his father, Adolph, created in 1966. André adds another perspective.

“The temptation is to try to copy the style of red Burgundies, but this is a beginner’s temptation. After a while you learn that you have to discover your own wine by understanding the essence of what’s going on in your own soils and terroir,” Ostertag notes. “Making Pinot Noir is more than a question of just style and what you want to do. The question of who you are is just as important. Because you make the wine you are.”

Enjoy the following served slightly chilled for thirst-quenching refreshment:

The 2017 Emile Beyer, Pinot Noir “Tradition,” Alsace, France (Available from The House of Glunz Chicago Wine Merchants; on sale: $18.99) comes from grapes fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to capture fresh red raspberry and black cherry fruitiness. Bright acidity and supple, soft tannins add just enough backbone for fine balance. Serve with cured meats and cheese plates over the summer. Highly Recommended. 

The 2016 Domaine Mittnacht Frères, “Le Rouge Est Mis” Pinot Noir, Alsace (Available in Pennsylvania under Luxury Code 74296; $24.99) comes from a small family-owned domaine practicing organic and biodynamic viticulture without synthetic chemicals. Fermentation and bottling occur with minimal interventions. The resulting wine delivers a dark ruby color with ripe black cherry and cassis fruit aromas. Delicious, pure red fruit flavors balance with startlingly fresh acidity and a soft, fruity finish. Pair the wine with grilled steaks. Highly Recommended. 

The 2015 Domaine Marcel Deiss, Alsace Rouge, Alsace (Available from Central Wine Merchants, Flemington, N.J.; $17.98) comes from father Jean-Michel Deiss and son Mathieu using estate Pinot Noir grapes grown biodynamically in limestone and volcanic soils. Fermentation occurred naturally followed by bottling with little intervention. The resulting wine’s distinct, enthralling personality offers pure, ripe red fruit and earthy notes. Delicious, juicy red fruit unfolds in the glass with velvety concentration and superb freshness. This wine has confidence in its identity and, more importantly, it’s a sheer pleasure to drink. Highly Recommended. 

The 2016 Laurent Barth, Pinot Noir “S05 P164,” Alsace (Available from Chambers Street Wines; $31.99). According to the informative website Back in Alsace, the pinot grapes for this red wine come primarily from favorable locations in the Marckrain Grand Cru vineyard. The winemaker follows organic grape growing and practices minimal intervention in the cellar to produce a “natural” red wine of tremendous purity, personality and pleasure. In the glass, the wine offers ripe dark red fruit aromas and peppery notes opening to easy drinking “raw” fruitiness, fresh minerality and fine tannins. Recommended. 

The 2016 F.E. Trimbach, Pinot Noir Réserve, Alsace (Available in Pennsylvania under Luxury Code 77684; $22.99) comes from both estate grown grapes and fruit purchased from 120 growers in and around the Trimbach family’s home village of Ribeauvillé. To capture fruitiness and freshness, winemaker Pierre Trimbach used stainless steel tanks to ferment the grapes and to age the wine briefly before bottling. The wine offers straightforward red fruit with a touch of earthiness, modest concentration and precise acidity. A tasty glass of wine. Recommended.

The following limited production Alsace Pinot Noirs currently have only sporadic U.S. distribution, but all are Highly Recommended for tasting when the opportunity may arise:

• 2016 Catherine Riss, “Empreinte” Pinot Noir, Alsace

• 2016 Florian et Mathlide Beck-Hartweg, Pinot Noir “F,” Alsace

• 2017 Pierre Frick, Strangenberg Pinot Noir “Pur Vin,” Alsace

• 2016 Domaine Rietsch, “Stierkopf” Pinot Noir, Alsace



The Ultimate Alternative to Champagne Is Versatile, Affordable, and Increasingly Available

If you live in France and like sparkling wine, you can stop reading here because you’re already drinking all the Crémant d’Alsace. Seventy-five percent of annual production, to be precise, never leaves the country.

If you’re anyone else, this is a story about the ultimate alternative to Champagne. Read, find, consume, you’re welcome.

The first thing you need to know about Crémant d’Alsace is that the Champagne comparison is not merely about the existence of bubbles. Crémant d’Alsace is made the same way as Champagne. There are eight designated crémant appellations in France.

Like Champagne, Alsatian Crémants are made in the traditional, or classic, method. Secondary fermentation occurs inside the bottle in which its sold, plus aging on the lees, riddling, disgorging. In other words, if you like the creamy yeastiness that characterizes quality Champagne, crémants are for you.

Crémants are made like Champagne in method but not necessarily materials, meaning ingredients, meaning grapes. Crémant d’Alsace can be single-varietal or blends, and can be made from Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. Crémant d’Alsace Rosé is 100 percent Pinot Noir.

These wines also require manual harvesting and gentle pressing. “Pressurage doux” extracts the best juice, Thierry Fritsch of the Alsace Wine Counsel, says. (And you thought the traditional method was laborious.)

Another ingredient that differentiates Crémant d’Alsace from Champagne is terroir. Alsace and Champagne are in the same region, the Grand Est. It was created in 2016 when Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine merged as part of a country-wide initiative.

Fritsch notes Colmar, one of the region’s major cities, is among the driest in France. And, he says, the northern climate is particularly suitable for the production of the primary grape varieties used in making Crémant: Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.

“To the west of the region is the protective border formed by the Vosges Mountains and to the east is the Rhine River, Germany, and the Black Forest,” Jennifer Wagoner, sommelier and wine director at Sepia, an American restaurant in Chicago, says. The region “has been shaped by war and a blending of cultures, but also by a mosaic of soil types that produce expressive whites and structured, elegant Pinot Noirs, many of which are used in the production of Crémant.”

Wagoner, who has been tasting, buying, and selling wine for 13 years, traveled to Alsace last June and fell in love with the local wines all over again. “Alsace itself is a gorgeous region with plenty of sunshine and producers who are making some stellar sparkling,” she says. “It’s a small region, 75 miles long and 3 miles wide, where you have the perfect blend of ripeness along with the mineral freshness that you want in bubbles.”

She adds: “The care that is put into the farming and the passion and history of the wineries is special. It comes through in the wines. They are very conscious of the environment and many producers embrace organic and/or biodynamics. The vineyards are truly alive.”

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These factors are important to Philippe Sauriat too. He’s head sommelier and wine director at Gabriel Kreuther, a French-American-Alsatian restaurant in New York City with a casual lounge (tarte flambee!), and formal dining room.

“Crémant d’Alsace is often an interesting blend of grapes you wouldn’t find in other sparkling wines. This makes the flavor more special,” Sauriat says. “I also enjoy the direction of the farming practices of the region which allows for more experimentation from its producers.”

To this native Burgundian, the Alsatian soil variety (he called it a “mosaic,” too, for the record) is reflected in the varying styles of sparkling emerging from the region. “The style of this region is not singular due to so many producers with varying individual practices and styles,” Sauriat says. “A lot of exciting, unusual blends are much more common than you would think!”

Currently there are three Crémants d’Alsace on Gabriel Kreuther’s 1,865-SKU bottle list. Plus, says Sauriat, “We always have a Crémant d’Alsace by the glass that we change every season because we feel it’s important to offer different producers and styles of Crémant.”

At Sepia, where there are 475 wines to choose from, there are currently three Crémants d’Alsace by the bottle and one by the glass. “We currently have an Alsace feature that showcases the region’s wines and they have been very well received by our guests,” says Wagoner. She also manages the 30-bottle list at sister restaurant Proxi where Crémant d’Alsace is offered by the glass and is the featured fizz for Saturday and Sunday brunch.

“Many wine lists may have a Crémant or two by the bottle and possibly by the glass, but not necessarily from Alsace. I find a unique value in this region and a connection with the people and the land,” says Wagoner, adding, “These wines are highly versatile and are becoming more available in both restaurants and in retail.”

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Wagoner likes Crémant d’Alsace in a simple white wine glass (more U-shaped than red) and Sauriat takes it a step further by specifying a Riesling glass as the ideal. Though only about a quarter of bottles produced leave France, both sommeliers note the growing availability of Crémants d’Alsace in the U.S., and recommend checking in with your local wine shop to source and order.

“Crémant d’Alsace is delicious and something that you can afford to enjoy on a regular basis,” says Wagoner. “It’s also nice to know that you are supporting a group of producers that are genuinely good people from a part of the world that is, in my humble opinion, quite magical.”

6 BOTTLES OF CRÉMANT D’ALSACE TO TRY

Wagoner and Sauriat share some of their favorite bottles available in the U.S. The first three are Wagoner’s picks, the last three are from Sauriat.

Camille Braun Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois)

Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rose (Pinot Noir)

Albert Boxler Crémant d’Alsace Brut (Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois/Pinot Noir)

Domaine Zusslin Crémant d’Alsace

Domaine Mittnacht Crémant d’Alsace

Domaine Rieffel Crémant d’Alsace

10 BEST ALSACE WINES FROM A GREAT BIG TASTING IN COLMAR

If you don’t know the wines of Alsace, I suggest that you check them out, especially now that it is the height of summer.

Alsace specializes in Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, its lone red wine. There is also a wide-open range of sparkling wines made in the same traditional method as Champagne known as Cremant d’Alsace. They are exciting, full, delicate, complex, and one-third the price of Champagne.

Truthfully, these wines work at the table any time of year, but the heat of summer is a great time to rediscover them. It is usually now I find myself in a wine rut: nothing seems exciting because its hot and most of the rosé I’ve been sampling sucks.

So if you are hatching a midsummer night’s scheme to revitalize your wine rack, buy some wines from Alsace: they will liven up your summer. (And I have suggestions below).

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I was invited to Alsace this month to attend their semi-annual trade event called Millésimes d’Alsace. The four-day event gives sommeliers, importers and journalists the chance to sample wines from 100 of the area’s producers and then tour Grand Cru vineyards and visit wineries for the duration. It’s a sly ploy to make us fall in love with Alsace and its wine.

And you know what? It worked.

The headline event of Millésimes d’Alsace is the trade tasting, located in the Colmar Expo Center. It’s speed-dating for wine professionals, except each winemaker faces numerous suitors at once and you have to squeeze your questions in over the din. It’s not the best way to conduct an interview, but it affords tasters the chance to really see the dramatic differences within the region.

Right now, there is an on-going battle over sweetness in Alsace. The wines used to be dry, then 20 years ago they gradually became more sweet. Now, a new generation of winemakers seems determined to restore order and revert back to dryness. The clash of styles is fascinating to experience.

To me, these were the 10 standout wines (with two pairs of wines lumped together because they were part of vertical tastings):

  • 2015 Barmès-Buecher Grand Cru Steingrübler Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2015 Barmès-Buecher Grand Cru Hengst Gewürztraminer (★★★★★)
  • 2013 & 1988 Léon Beyer Comtes d’Eguisheim Pferzigberg Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2016 Zind-Humbrecht “Clos Ste Urbain” Grand Cru Rangen de Thain Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2016 Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru Brand Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2014 & 2008 Josmeyer Grand Cru Hengst “Samain” Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2014 Josmeyer Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris (★★★★★)
  • 2015 Marcel Deiss Burlenberg (★★★★ 3/4)
  • 2011 Muré Clos Saint-Landelin Pinot Noir (★★★★ 3/4)
  • 2011 Gustav Lorentz Altenberg de Bergheim Gewürztraminer (★★★★ 3/4)

And here’s why you should care about them.

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If you don’t know the wines of Alsace, I suggest that you check them out, especially now that it is the height of summer.

Alsace specializes in Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, its lone red wine. There is also a wide-open range of sparkling wines made in the same traditional method as Champagne known as Cremant d’Alsace. They are exciting, full, delicate, complex, and one-third the price of Champagne.

Truthfully, these wines work at the table any time of year, but the heat of summer is a great time to rediscover them. It is usually now I find myself in a wine rut: nothing seems exciting because its hot and most of the rosé I’ve been sampling sucks.

So if you are hatching a midsummer night’s scheme to revitalize your wine rack, buy some wines from Alsace: they will liven up your summer. (And I have suggestions below).

 

The vineyards near Wintzenheim, one of many idyllic Alsace towns. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

I was invited to Alsace this month to attend their semi-annual trade event called Millésimes d’Alsace. The four-day event gives sommeliers, importers and journalists the chance to sample wines from 100 of the area’s producers and then tour Grand Cru vineyards and visit wineries for the duration. It’s a sly ploy to make us fall in love with Alsace and its wine.

And you know what? It worked.

The headline event of Millésimes d’Alsace is the trade tasting, located in the Colmar Expo Center. It’s speed-dating for wine professionals, except each winemaker faces numerous suitors at once and you have to squeeze your questions in over the din. It’s not the best way to conduct an interview, but it affords tasters the chance to really see the dramatic differences within the region.

Right now, there is an on-going battle over sweetness in Alsace. The wines used to be dry, then 20 years ago they gradually became more sweet. Now, a new generation of winemakers seems determined to restore order and revert back to dryness. The clash of styles is fascinating to experience.

To me, these were the 10 standout wines (with two pairs of wines lumped together because they were part of vertical tastings):

  • 2015 Barmès-Buecher Grand Cru Steingrübler Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2015 Barmès-Buecher Grand Cru Hengst Gewürztraminer (★★★★★)
  • 2013 & 1988 Léon Beyer Comtes d’Eguisheim Pferzigberg Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2016 Zind-Humbrecht “Clos Ste Urbain” Grand Cru Rangen de Thain Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2016 Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru Brand Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2014 & 2008 Josmeyer Grand Cru Hengst “Samain” Riesling (★★★★★)
  • 2014 Josmeyer Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris (★★★★★)
  • 2015 Marcel Deiss Burlenberg (★★★★ 3/4)
  • 2011 Muré Clos Saint-Landelin Pinot Noir (★★★★ 3/4)
  • 2011 Gustav Lorentz Altenberg de Bergheim Gewürztraminer (★★★★ 3/4)

And here’s why you should care about them.

The Standout Winemaker: Barmès-Buecher

Sophie and Maxime Barmés of Barmés-Buecher. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

The 2015 Barmés-Buecher Grand Cru Steingrübler Riesling. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

The wines I sampled from Barmès-Buecher were each like a Cracker Jack box: there was a little prize hidden within. It began with a stunner, the 2015 Lieu-Dit Clos Sand Riesling (★★★★ 3/4) , which was decked in earthy aromas as well as apricot and flint. Things got even more interesting. The 2015 Grand Cru Steingrübler Riesling(★★★★★) was subtle and meaty on the palate, and triggered an out-of-nowhere aroma memory of willows along a river bank back home in Colorado. Their two offerings from the Grand Cru Hengst — a 2015 Riesling (★★★★★) and a 2015 Gewürztraminer (★★★★★) — were sensationally strange and mysterious. I have had paté maybe twice in my life, yet the Riesling made me suddenly crave it. The Gewürztraminer smelled like roses mixed with seashells and slightly sour (yet appealing) tropical fruit.

During the entire tasting, the brother-and-sister team of Maxime and Sophie Barmès stood behind their table pouring for a swirling storm of curious tasters, but smiling confidently. They know how good their wines are.

Why Should You Care? Riesling can be one of the most surprising wines in the world, but it rarely is. Every one of the Riesling I sampled from Barmès-Buecher’s was flat-out astonishing.

If Barmés-Buecher represents the New School of Alsace Wines — fresh, crisp, full of terroir-driven surprises, biodynamic — than Léon Beyerrepresents the Old School. But not one-generation-removed in terms of style: two.

During my time with Marc Beyer, he grumbled about how Alsace’s winemakers had gotten carried away with sweetness levels in their wines over the last decade. In that sense, the next generation is restoring order by following their grandparent’s generation, which these wines nicely represent in style. (Léon Beyer has also long resisted the practice of designating Grand Cru sites — something the new generation embraces).

How Léon Beyer does this is by aging the domaine’s wines for ridiculously long periods before release. Their Riesling typically doesn’t see the marketplace for seven years. Their Gewürztraminer may be held back for up to 10 years.

The wines are an invigorating mix of fruity, minty and earthy tones. Each sip of the 2013 Comtes d’Eguisheim Pferzigberg Riesling (★★★★★) comes in waves, recalling pear, marigold, candy and oranges, with a noticeably rounder texture because of extended aging on the lees. The 2011 vintage seemed more concentrated and longer on the finish, and then Marc’s eyes twinkled a bit and he reached under the table. “I can tell you like it, so here, try some of this.” It was a bottle of the same wine from 1988. It was like seeing a landscape in springtime glory, then immediately fast-forwarding to its autumn colors. The vivid fruit and flowers were now like black truffles and blue flowers on the nose, the roundness shifting into something oddly buttery and smooth.

Every now and then, you come upon a crazy producer like this. It takes fearlessness and quite a bit of stubbornness to embrace such a risky approach to selling your wine. But when you see the story arch so clearly — as I did at Léon Beyer’s table — you can’t help but tip your cap to what they’re doing.

Why Should You Care? Because white wine can improve with age as long as the right elements — acidity, structure, and yes, tannin and some residual sugar — are all in balance. 

Trimbach and Hugel are the two biggest names in Alsace, but nipping on their heels — and probably surpassing them in the eyes of many — is Domaine Zind Humbrecht. Overseen by France’s first Master of Wine, Olivier Humbrecht, the domaine has long been a regional leader in biodynamic viticulture, as well as informing consumers about sweetness in their wines by creating a 1-to-5 scale and publishing it on the label (whether anyone knows about this is another matter). Earlier this year, I was introduced to Domaine Zind Humbrecht via their bottle of Grand Cru Brand Riesling, and that bottle alone convinced me to stop by and see Olivier first before the crowds showed up.

He is a highly engaging man to talk to, especially about his process. On chilling the must: “It is like the vikings dipping a new baby in the cold water. You want to see which ones (yeast cells) are strong enough to survive because they will contribute the most.” And on Alsace’s climate and soil: “Alsace can produce anything, and that can be a problem.”

His flight of Riesling was impeccable. I may prefer the adventurous spirit of Barmès-Buecher a little more, but Zind Humbrecht’s precision is impressive, particularly on two wines: the 2016″Clos Ste Urbain” Grand Cru Rangen de Thain Riesling (★★★★★) and the 2016 Grand Cru Brand Riesling (★★★★★). Part of what makes them so impressive — beyond the vineyard sites and careful, meticulous work done to nurture the vines — is the small amount of malolactic fermentation that the wines undergo, which is uncommon among Riesling (from my experience). The process encourages bacteria in the grape must to convert tart-tasting malic acid into creamy-tasting lactic acid. The result is a white wine with a sublime texture.

Why Should You Care? Zind-Humbrecht is one of Alsace’s best distributed winemakers in the United States, but they are also among the region’s most expensive producers. However, the demand for their wines is justified. If you love Riesling, you need to have a Zind Humbrecht sometime.

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Invariably in such a setting, a few winemakers would slip through my grasp. I tasted the wines of Albert Boxler and Ostertag — two of the most highly regarded domaines in Alsace — and while I could appreciate their delicacy and craft, I missed the fireworks. I’m sure a second tasting would produce wholly different impressions.

But if there was a winemaker I’d like to return to and better grasp, it was Josmeyer, which is run by sisters Céline and Isabelle Meyer. Something was going on with each sip of their wine, but I wasn’t able to fully interpret it. That’s because their wines are simultaneously friendly yet complex, which makes them a bit elusive. I found myself torn between analyzing them and just saying “to hell with it” and savoring them. But you know what? That’s the sign of a wine you can keep coming back to.

Both the 2014 and 2008 Grand Cru Hengst “Samain” Riesling (★★★★★) shifted from one sensation to the next. I wrote down “moves in mysterious ways” (and then promptly had that song in my head for the rest of the day). The aromas did not want to be pinned down. They were limey and waxy one moment, creamy and apply the next. The 2008 even brought to mind a faint bit of butterscotch. But on the palate, their lusciousness was so amiable and kind, I gave up on the aroma wheel in my head.

The lights-out winner of the tasting was the 2014 Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris (★★★★★). (Can I just say: “holy smokes, this vineyard! It keeps doing this.”) For a grape that is so often maligned in public these days for its predictability, this Pinot Gris was complex and a welcome surprise. Instead of the usual lemons and lunchbox apples, it presented sumptuous and concentrated aromas reminiscent of fresh apricots, orange blossom and honeycomb. In my notes, I failed to find words for the texture, so I wrote “texture, texture, texture.” It was a wine that rendered me into a complete doofus.

Why Should You Care? I’ve long maintained that the best Riesling wines play sleight-of-hand magical tricks with the palate. They conjure sweet things without sticking to the sides of your mouth with excess sugar. Winemaker Isabelle Josmeyer underscores this notion nicely with her Riesling, then she seems to say “watch me do the same thing with Pinot Gris."

 

Three Other Standouts to Know

2015 DOMAINE MARCEL DEISS BURLENBERG

This winemaker resides on their own street in Alsace. That’s because the winery focuses on field blends as their way to express each individual vineyard. Think of it this way: whatever grows within a designated plot ends up in the wine. They are picked together, fermented together, bottled together. If you have red and white grapes in that plot, so be it. Throw them in there. It’s the hunter’s stew of wines.

Marcel Deiss does a superb job handling these grapes: the acidity and sugar levels and the textures are all pretty spot on. And while a field blend is an intriguing notion, it does produce some oddball aromas and flavors that I struggled to embrace (e.g. “why am I getting honey, sap, button mushrooms and hickory smoke on this?”).

However, the Burlenberg (★★★★ 3/4) — a Pinot Noir-focused wine with its white cousins Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc blended in — popped with its incredible spiciness and smokiness, as well as a cherry-watermelon fruit tone that felt very appropriate for a summer picnic.

Why Should You Care? If anything, the 2015 Burlenberg reminded me of the wines from Etna in Sicily, which perhaps isn’t a surprise since both the Burlenberg vineyard and Etna share the same kind of volcanic soils. So there’s that headscratcher …

2011 MURÉ CLOS SAINT-LANDELIN PINOT NOIR

Pinot Noir will claim more and more of Alsace’s wine future. Many winemakers have noted that the warming climate in the area has allowed them to do things with Pinot Noir that — a generation ago — would have been inconceivable. The 2011 Muré Clos Saint-Landelin Pinot Noir (★★★★★) embodies this future well. The comparisons to Burgundy are unavoidable. It’s a lean, elegant, precise Pinot Noir with all the scales balanced between fruitiness, acidity and tannin. Shades of black tea and black pepper came through over a beautiful layer of red stone fruit.

Why Should You Care? Have you seen how much the latest vintage of Burgundy costs?

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2011 GUSTAV LORENTZ ALTENBERG DE BERGHEIM GEWÜRZTRAMINER

Last but not least, we have one of my least favorite grapes. Oh, Gewürztraminer. You are the pop song on Spotify that makes me scramble for the “next” button.

Unless, perhaps, you have some residual sugar. And here is where Alsace had me twisted in knots, both at the trade show, and later winery visits. I just don’t know what to think about Gewürztraminer anymore, but I certainly can’t hate it anymore. Not when it is as delicious as this Grand Cru wine from Gustav Lorentz (★★★★ 3/4), which was akin to sinking your teeth into a juicy peach while standing in a rose garden. The grapes in the Altenberg de Bergheim vineyard regularly develop botrytis late in the season, which intensifies the sweetness of the fruit and lends a unique character of beeswax to the flavor profile.

Other samples of Gewürztraminer from the trip seemed to align with the notion that I prefer this grape sweet, which runs counter to my personal tastes in Riesling and Pinot Gris (and other things such as chocolate, coffee and barbecue sauce … you know: important things).

Georges Lorentz has a theory on why Gewürztraminer works better when its sweet: “The nose of Gewürztraminer is naturally sweet. You can’t change that. So when it is dry, something is confusing.”

Sounds like a delicious debate.

Why Should You Care? Don’t fear the sweetness (at least not in Gewürz).

 

 

Note: This article was made possible because of a media trip organized by CIVA and Wines of Alsace USA which brought me to Colmar with all expenses paid. The editorial direction and opinions expressed in this piece are solely at my own discretion.

4 Reasons Why Alsace Rocks

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Alsace (say it with us: ah-ZAHS) is a predominantly white wine region in the Rhine River Valley in northeastern France, with Germany and Switzerland for neighbors. Throughout this 10-mile-wide, 80-mile-long strip you’ll find aromatic whites at the ready, including the fab five: your dry Riesling, spicy Gewurztraminer, the always easy-to-drink Pinot Blanc, earthy Pinot Gris, and elegant, sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.

What makes this cool-continental region of France so special is the terroir. It’s home to some of the most diverse soil in the country and the world — and it’s the second driest, thanks to protection from the Vosges Mountains to the west. Alsace also has the highest percentage of certified organic and biodynamic producers in France, so you know you’re only getting the good stuff, and the region has a long history of small, family-owned wineries, many of which date to the 1600 and 1700s.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a high-quality bottle, even if prestigious Grands Crus are calling your name. With plenty of sunshine and stunning views, plus 26 Michelin-starred restaurants in the area, and utterly inclusive hospitality, Alsace is the place to go.

REIGN OF TERROIR

The diversity of Alsace’s wines is a result of the area’s 13 distinct soil typescomprised of a blend of mineral-rich granite, limestone, schist, and sandstone. With each and every bottle, producers say that you can truly “taste the essence of Alsace.”

The combination of a dry climate with plenty of sunshine means the grapes take their time maturing, which gives these wines unmatched freshness and minerality, as well as complex aromas and flavors.

VILLAGE PEOPLE

Behind every great bottle of wine coming out of Alsace is a passionate team of winemakers who respect the land. Many houses have been at it for centuries.

You won’t find any two bottles that are exactly the same here: Each vineyard has its own style, its own specialty, and its own personality. But what you will find all across the valley are wines that are not only high-quality, but also a great value.

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PLANET OF THE GRAPES

White grape varieties are the name of the game in Alsace, cornering 90 percent of the market. Aromatic and balanced, these world-class wines are known for their acidity and structure, and tend to go hand-in-hand with France’s other favorite indulgence: food. Whether the evening calls for something light or full-bodied, there’s a bottle for every meal and every dish on the menu, from foie gras to tarte flambee.

Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer is not for the faint of heart. This wine evokes everything from exotic fruits such as pineapple and mango, to flowers to spices such as gingerbread, peppermint, and pepper. If that’s not enough for you, honey aromas give it an incomparable richness that make this full-bodied and well-structured wine perfect for pairing with cheeses from throughout the region.

Riesling

Everything from lemon, grapefruit, peach, and pear aromas to stewed fruits, flowers, and spices sets Alsatian Rieslings apart from the pack. Unparalleled in freshness and opulence and exceptionally well-balanced, this wine is elegant and dry and pairs well with everything from charcuterie to seafood, making it the perfect bottle to bring to a dinner party.

Pinot Blanc

Fruit-packed and easy to drink, Pinot Blanc is dry and supple. Pale yellow in color, with a touch of green, this medium-bodied, medium-acidity wine carries aromas of peaches, pears, and apples. It’s the bottle you want to open to kick off the night, perfect for consuming with everything from poultry to flat-bread pizzas.

Crémant d’Alsace

What would any great wine region be without a few bubbles? From extra bruts to juicy rosés, you don’t need to be celebrating something special to crack open a bottle of this elegant and mineral-driven wine. Often pale gold or salmon colored, brut Crémants can have notes of citrus, while rosés offer red berries.

GREAT ADAPTATIONS

If there’s one thing to take away from the region of Alsace — other than a case or two of wine — it’s nuance. Winemakers here embrace the diversity of their region’s legendary terroir, and encourage you to do the same. As individual as each winery may be, all share a common goal: to create unique, enjoyable wines that showcase the true nature of the region’s grapes.

That means that no matter your palate or your price range, there’s a bottle for you. Whether you’re new to Alsace or back for more of what you love, the region promises a one-of-a-kind experience packed with good people, great food, and some of the best wines around.

Wines of Alsace Rocks New York City with Month-Long Campaign in June

NEW YORK, May 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- In June, the northeastern French region of Alsace is bringing its diverse wines and soils to an equally diverse city: New York. Titled "Alsace Rocks," this month-long campaign will showcase Alsace's wine styles, terroirs and passionate winemakers through complimentary tastings, restaurant offerings, pop-ups, digital partnerships, social media programs and media relations. The newly-launched Alsace Rocks website details all events and activations, and the campaign will culminate in a trade tasting featuring over 150 wines and two masterclasses on June 25th. 

Situated between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, Alsace's signature is its aromatic white wines: dry Riesling, earthy Pinot Gris, refreshing Pinot Blanc, spicy Gewurztraminer are the main varieties, though elegant Pinot Noir serves as the region's sole red grape. The wines run the gamut in style, from easy-drinking and affordable AOC Alsace wines and complex Grand Cru bottlings, to traditional method Cremant d'Alsace bubblies and luscious late harvest wines.

On top of this, Alsace is home to one of the most diverse terroirs in the world with 13 distinct soil types. This gives winemakers the ability to match grape variety with soil, creating combinations that are truly unique and specific to an individual vineyard plot.

"No other wine producing region on earth offers the spectrum of flavor and breadth of terroir that Alsace does," remarks Master Sommelier and Alsace Ambassador Joshua Nadel, who is currently the Beverage Director at NoHo Hospitality Group in New York. "Numerous, unique noble varieties are grown, yielding wines which are accessible in youth and which age for decades in bottle. Wine styles are correspondingly diverse; sparkling vs. still, dry vs. off-dry vs. sweet." 

"Moreover, the wines continue to be incredibly affordable, buoyed by the current generation of growers committed to natural and sustainable farming," Nadel continues. "The ability to pair food with the wines of Alsace is unequaled by any region around the world."

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Wines of Alsace created a fresh look—featuring different soil types in the shape of the quintessential flute d'Alsace bottle—specifically for the program. In coming years, Alsace Rocks will travel to other key markets for Alsace wines and produce a similarly compelling campaign. 

From June 1st to 30th, the Alsace Rocks campaign will feature: 

  • Complimentary Wine TastingsStarting Friday, June 1st, free tastings—led by wine educator and Alsace Ambassador Beth von Benz—will be held at dozens of New York City's top wine shops. A full list of the tastings can be found here
  • Restaurant Offerings: Select restaurants around the city will be offering a taste of Alsace at incredible prices. Special menus include regional specialities such as tarte flambee with a glass of Cremant d'Alsace and by-the-glass regional flights. A full list of offerings can be found here, and new specials will be added regularly. 
  • Pop-Ups: Rub shoulders with Alsace winemakers and representatives at two pop-ups, open to the public: 
    • Alsatian Invasion: Cremant d'Alsace Take-Over at Air's on Monday, June 25th from 5-7 pm: Get bubbly with 8 different Cremant d'Alsace sparkling wines representing a range of styles for $35, including snacks and an Alsace Rocks tote. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite
    • Alsace: Outta This Earth at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels on Tuesday, June 26th from 6-9 pm: Get your hands dirty with a range of terroir-focused wines, paired with a variety of snacks, for the price of $30. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite and include an Alsace Rocks tote. 
  • Walk-Around Tasting and Masterclasses: Trade and media will be invited to a walk-around tasting featuring over 150 Alsace wines from all varieties and styles, and Alsace producers will man a soil station to showcase terroir's impact on the bottlings. Two masterclasses—one on the ageability of Alsace wines and a second on terroir's affect on Riesling specifically—will be co-hosted by Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d'Alsace Head Oenologist and Chief Educator Thierry Fritsch and Master Sommelier Joshua Nadel. 
  • Digital partnerships, social media programs and media relations to support all events and activations 

For more information, please visit www.AlsaceRocks.com and follow Wines of Alsace on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.