Alsace Wines Are Bottled Summer

Posted on: 23 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Our resident wine expert, Theo Waugh, gives the lowdown on wines from the region of Alsace.


In wine, as in life, looks can be deceiving. 

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to a blind tasting, judged wines by their appearance only to have my observations laid low as I’ve tasted them. 

As any serious taster will tell you, don’t believe your eyes!  Your eyes will all too often tell you what you want to see and not what’s actually there.  Never is this maxim more appropriate than for this month’s regional feature, Alsace. 

Alsatian Wines

Alsatian wines, with their German-looking fluted bottles, German-sounding looking varieties and Germanic sounding producers such as Trimbach, Hugel and Schlumberger, lead you to believe they’re German in both origin and style, but nothing though could be further from the truth. 

Alsace is stunningly beautiful region that lies on extreme eastern border of France in the shadow of the Vosges Mountains. 

The mountains, through a phenomenon known as the ‘rain shadow effect’, make Alsace the driest region in France and perfect for growing late ripening grapes such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. 

The wines from Alsace come in all colours, though whites predominate with grapes such as the two previously mentioned joined by Muscat, Pinot Blanc and the wonderfully exotically named and flavoured, Tokay Pinot Gris making up the bulk of the wines. 

Here, unlike their near neighbours in Germany, dry wines dominate. 

There are some wonderful sweet wines made here which come under the title of either ‘vendage tardive’ which means late harvest because they sometimes pick grapes in December!  Or ‘selection de grains noble’ which means wines that have been affected by noble rot. 

These wines can be extraordinary, but don’t expect a bargain!  Bargains are however, like half-timbered houses and cuisine based on onions and eggs - something of an Alsatian specialty. 

The confusion over what they are and the assumption that they are sweet and non-food friendly means they have had to battle hard to win converts, and subsequently prices are, relatively low. 

Once you’ve tasted some of the following though, I’m sure you’ll agree that Alsace wines are just perfect for summer.

Taste Of Summer

Riesling is by far and away Alsace’s greatest variety and, to many, one of the finest varieties there is. 

In its home in Germany it’s usually vinified off-dry to sweet, but in Alsace the wines are made dry, and when I say dry I mean think Muscadet after it’s been dehydrated! 

The best of these wines combine masses of green apple, citrus and pear fruit with a distinct hint of minerals and an underlying richness that make them amazing with everything from cold white meats to peppery salads and even barbecued poultry. 

Try the Tesso Finest Alsace Riesling (£5.99) or the Cave de Beblenheim, Graffenreben Riesling 2006 (£7.59 Waitrose) - either way you’ll end up the winner!

If you’re looking for something that’s as exotic as Bali and as easy to drink as a cup of tea on a winter’s morning, then may I suggest the spicy, rose tinted delights of either a Gewurztraminer or a Tokay Pinot Gris. 

These two are amongst the vibrantly scented and wildly flavoured grapes around, and both exude luscious notes of lychee, banana, rose petals and white pepper. 

If that sounds like quite a glassful that’s because it is! 

Often made with a suggestion of sweetness, they go brilliantly with Oriental and spicy food such as barbecued tiger prawns with chili dipping sauce and are brilliant as solo sippers. 

Good ones at the moment include the Gewurztraminer 2006 Cave de Turckheim (Majestic £6.99) and the Martin Zahn Tokay Pinot Gris 2004 (Laithwaites, £9.99).

Of course, in even the hottest of summers, red wines have a place.  If you’re looking for a refreshing red that’s not too heavy but which is bursting with fruit and charm, then check out an Alsatian’ Pinot Noir. 

Whilst at home, further south in Burgundy, here it gives a very good account of itself, giving us delicate red and black berry fruit with touches of currants and lots of juicy acidity.  Ideal with grilled lamb and soft, creamy cheeses it’s also superb with grilled asparagus and fish mousses. 

Two that have always impressed me are the Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Noir 2005 (Waitrose £9.77) and the gorgeously soft, Pinot Noir d´Alsace 2005: Charles Schléret (Yapp Brothers £11.95).

I really hope you’ll get to know the wines of Alsace.  Whether you’re looking for quality, value or just something that little bit different, Alsace has it all.

More soon!

Theo

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