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