Alsace makes some terrific wines.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers July 22, 2004
Hot weather calls for cool wines. And some of the best wines to serve this time of the year are the white wines produced in the Alsace region of France. Located on France’s eastern border, the Alsace region has, at various times, been a part of Germany, which explains the “un-French” sounding names of some of the Alsace wine producers. Since the end of World War I, Alsace has remained a part of France and its wines are some of the best made in the country.
Sheltered by the Vosges Mountains, Alsace is blessed with consistent growing seasons that also result in some of the finest food in France. Wine has been produced there for centuries despite wars, floods and other disasters. In 1925, the Alsace grape growers collectively limited the types of grapes that could be planted in the region in order to improve the quality of the wines. Although the region was devastated again during World War II, since 1945, a continued focus on quality has resulted in extraordinary white wines. The goal is to produce wines that reflect the characteristics of the grape as well as the site of the vineyard. While some excellent sweet, late-harvest wines are produced, the majority of Alsace wines are dry and briskly acidic with bold fruit flavors. Despite their high quality, they remain affordable.
The best Alsace wines are made from one of five grapes: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat or Pinot Blanc. Rieslings are dry, with crisp acidity and often have apple and lemon flavors with a nice long finish, while Pinot Gris is fuller and somewhat softer with a similar finish and flavors of almonds, peach and vanilla. Gewurztraminer has a spicy scent and taste, usually with flavors of apricots, ginger, lychee nut and pineapple. The Alsace Muscat is very floral, but surprisingly dry with flavors such as apricots and citrus. The Pinot Blanc is creamy and also soft with baked-apple flavors. The bottles are tall and thin and the labels reflect the producer’s name and the type of grape used to make the wine.
In an attempt to identify the best vineyards, 50 sites within Alsace have been designated “Grand Crus.” Some producers feel this is too many, and that the restrictions imposed upon Grand Crus vineyards are not stringent enough. While that designation generally means that the wines are of better quality, some of the best producers with Grand Crus quality vineyards do not use that term on their labels as a form of protest.
The Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2001 is a great way to begin an exploration of Alsace wines. It is medium-bodied, with good balance and apple, citrus and slight mineral flavors. Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2001 is delicious and well-balanced with peach and vanilla flavors as well as a light spiciness. Hugel Reisling 2001 has a slight tea scent and flavors of apples, minerals and lemons, while the Hugel Muscat Reserve 2001 has bright, refreshing lemon and tangerine tastes. Weinbach Muscat Reserve 2001 has a very fragrant aroma and beautiful flavors of berries, tangerines and spice. Pierre Sparr Riesling 2002 has apple and floral flavors and its Gewurztraminer Reserve 2001 has lychee nut, grapefruit and pear tastes with a mild spiciness. Zind-Humbrecht makes outstanding wines and its Gewurztraminer 2000 is smooth and medium bodied with characteristic spiciness and bold fruit and lychee nut flavors. For a special treat, try Zind-Humbrecht Muscat Goldert 2001, which has intense flavors of oranges, cherries and currants.