Alsace is an unusual French wine region, for a number of different reasons:
Geographically it’s further north than Chablis, yet the style of wine could not be more different to its Burgundian neighbour.
For a start, Alsace wines taste far riper than wines from Chablis. This is because the local hills, the Vosges create a sheltered microclimate, resulting in low rainfall and high sunshine hours during the vine growing season. Which believe it or not, makes Alsace the second driest region in France, after Roussillon in the far south west.
The many fortifications through-out Alsace also bear witness to its strategic importance. Plus in towns and villages one comes across unusual timber framed houses pointing to multiple influences and an unusual architectural legacy.
So as you will have gathered by now, Alsace is historically a much disputed region. For much of its existence part of Germany, returning to French rule after the First World War. Even the flute shaped bottles, testify to historical rivalries – as indeed do the grape varieties, atypical French, typical German ones, which might put some consumers off.
But I would plead with wine lovers to put any doubts to one side and sample some of the range of wines available here in the UK. We do not have enough of these wines in our supermarkets and wine stores in my opinion.
Alsace is 90 per cent white wine. The wines often take their name from the grapes they are made from, making labels easier to understand. Wine making is generally about retaining primary fruit aromas and flavours of the individual grapes. Hence most white wine is cool fermented using inert stainless steel containers and new oak is rarely used.
Although Alsace wines are fermented dry, a significant number of winemakers do leave more residual sugar in their wines, so dry wine drinkers are sometimes surprised and taken aback by sweetness levels. One area of improvement for Alsace would be to introduce an obligatory dry-wine category, to help consumers make more informed choices.
I maintain however that the wide range of wine styles produced, lead to endless potential for wonderful food and wine combinations. The lighter style wines or sparkling (Cremant) try with light fish and salads. Richer, fuller bodied Alsace wines are wonderful with Alsatian cuisine – pâté, onion or savoury bacon and egg tarts, quiches or fish in white wine or chicken.
Alsace wines also lend themselves to Chinese, Thai and fusion food. In Harrogate, the Orchid restaurant, specialises in fusion (Pacific rim) cuisine. I was pleased to see on a recent visit under their Premium Wine category, the Orchid list four superb wines from F E Trimbach, including Cuvée Frédéric Émile Riesling 2005.
Just to add, I would very much like to see the Orchid list one or two house whites from Alsace – to give customers the opportunity to try these by the glass, with fusion food.
I have selected four Alsace wines, well worth seeking out:
l Pinot Blanc 2010 Cave de Turckheim (£7.49, 12.5% abv, Booths)
Ripe apple, pear and leafy nose. Crisp and refreshing and apply on the palate. Quite a delicate profile, so don’t overwhelm with strongly flavoured food. Great as an aperitif or enjoy with simply cooked white fish. A good alternative to Chablis.
l Alsace Riesling 2011 (£7.99, 12.5 % abv, Marks & Spencer)
Wet stones, citrus and peach aromas. Crisp acidity is balanced by delicious tangy lemon lime and stone fruit flavours. The palate has plenty of fruit and an intriguing mineral element too. Electrifying acidity means it is a great seafood wine. Excellent with Thai food, but go easy on the chilli. A lovely wine and a great introduction to what Riesling can offer.
l Pinot Gris Reserve 2011, (£9.49, 13% abv, Waitrose)
Full of ripe pears and stone fruit on the palate, with a hint of spice. Perfumed, musky and honeyed on the nose. Soft, full and ripe with a peachy lingering finish. A very food friendly wine. I found pork and herb sausages really accentuated the spice element in the wine!
l Hugel, Gewurztraminer “Hugel” 2009 (£15.95, 13% abv, Weetons, Harrogate)
For a Gewurztraminer, this wine has a relatively restrained nose of grapefruit, with notes of spice and rose petals. This classy wine has good acidity (sometimes a failing with this grape) with plenty of lychees and spice on the palate. It is probably off-dry rather than dry. A really great partner for Chinese. Will accompany mild curries and smoked fish.