Alsatian wines offer range of classic tastes
In his landmark "Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France" (Alfred A Knopf; $14.75, paperback), the late Alexis Lichine aptly observed that Alsatian wines and cuisine arise from "a sublime combination of German raw materials and French know-how." The style offers terrific opportunities for wintertime enjoyment and pleasure.
Alsatian Pork With Sauerkraut, for example, transforms humble German sauerkraut into a tremendously flavorful dish. The trick comes in using white wine, diced apples and brown sugar as a marinade to balance the fermented cabbage's naturally high acidity. Subsequent slow braising with smoked sausages, pork loin, diced onions, bay leaves, juniper berries and spices completes the delectable dish.
Similarly, Alsace wines use aromatic grapes such as riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc and pinot gris grown widely just across the Rhine River from France in Germany. Alsace winemakers, however, typically produce fuller-bodied and drier versions that pair beautifully with hearty, yet elegant, Alsatian cuisine.
For a great range of possibilities try the following tasty bottles:
2008 Domaine Schoffit "Vielles Vignes" Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France (Luxury 39214; $18.99): By all measures, winegrower Bernard Schoffit, based in Colmar at the heart of Alsace wine country, embodies the best in regional traditions - hard working, meticulous, shrewd and passionate. He carefully tends old vines growing on steep slopes and favors a balanced approach to create food-friendly, yet enthralling, wines.
Vigorously controlled yields produce concentration and pronounced varietal character. In this case, Schoffit blends pinot blanc with Auxerrois blanc, a grape sharing close genetic traits with chardonnay.
Apple, peach and honey aromas give way to ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors. A rich vein of fresh acidity balances and enlivens the soft, fruity finish. Recommended.
2011 Famille Sparr Pinot Gris "Cuvée Tradition," Alsace, France (Luxury 45979; $18.99): Various branches of the famous Sparr family trace their winemaking roots in Alsace back successive generations to 1680. Over time, the family experienced all the ups and downs of Alsace winemaking, including seemingly endless, destructive wars.
Today, Pierre and Charles Sparr in Riquewihr - not to be confused with Pierre Sparr in Siogolsheim - crafted this lovely wine from grapes grown on clay, marl and limestone soils. The resulting fruit renders classic grapefruit, pear, peach and quince aromas and flavors. Spicy nuances and refreshing mineral notes balance the fruity, crisp finish. Highly recommended.
2009 Michel Fonné Muscat "Tradition," Alsace, France (Luxury 36857; $19.99): Burgundy-trained winemaker Michel Fonné applies modern, international techniques within Alsace's time-tested traditions. He manually harvests and carefully sorts only fully ripened muscat for fermentation. But he then directly presses whole grape bunches with a gentle, high-tech pneumatic process to maximize delicate aromas and purity.
Enticing rose-petal and honeysuckle aromas lead to lively grapefruit flavors in the glass. Fine, uplifting acidity balances the soft, fruity finish with just a touch of sweetness. Highly recommended.
2010 Hugel et Fils, Gewürztraminer "Hugel," Alsace, France (Luxury 31066; available at Waterworks, Penn Circle South and Monroeville stores; $25.99): No grape embodies Alsace's distinct winegrowing traditions more than the intensely aromatic and unabashedly flavorful gewürztraminer. And no wine family has been more closely linked with modern Alsatian winemaking than the Hugel family.
In 1639, Hans Ulrich Hugel settled in Riquewihr, a town devastated during the Thirty Years War. He took charge of the Corporation of Winegrowers and, with his son, established the Hugel reputation and "brand" as embodied in the logo still used today.
Flashing forward to 1902, the famed Frédéric Emile Hugel established the premises still used by the family in Riquewihr's center. More importantly, Frédéric led a growers group to emphasize producing quality wines from traditional Alsace varieties such as gewürztraminer grown in limestone and clay soils.
With this wine, hand-harvested grapes are fed by gravity into presses without mechanical crushing. The gentle treatment allows the fruit's delicate, beguiling aromas and personality to shine.
Classic floral and citrus aromas lead to pure, fresh and delicate grapefruit and peach flavors. Vibrant acidity balances the fruity, yet dry finish that lingers beautifully. Recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.