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Alsace's whites have power to pair with hearty dishes

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

France's northeastern wine region of Alsace stands second to none for vivid autumnal displays of red, orange and yellow on sunny, dry afternoons. Grapes linger on the vines and slowly ripen. Yet danger lurks just to the west, where menacing rain clouds gather regularly to threaten the idyllic scenes.

Not to worry.

The majestic Vosges Mountains running the length of Alsace's western border provide a protective rain shadow to block the brunt of ruinous rains. Just enough moisture filters into the vineyards to help maturing grapes retain refreshing acidity. Meanwhile, autumn dallies as wine tourists from all over Europe — and the world — flock to Alsace for holiday wine weekends.

In the soils, generous pockets of limestone mixed with clay and sandstone contribute to the fruit's freshness and bewitching, complex aromas. And with the distinctly chilly, northerly climate, white-wine grapes fare much better in Alsace than red-skinned varieties.

Aromatic white-skinned varieties also grown just across the Rhine River in Germany predominate in Alsace's beautiful vineyards. But unlike mostly more delicate German rieslings and gewurztraminers, Alsace whites have power and depth that pair perfectly with hearty regional dishes featuring pork, beef and aromatic cheeses.

The following wines provide a terrific introduction:

The 2012 Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Gris IM Berg, Alsace, France (Luxury 32738; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $12.99) comes from a small, family-owned domaine o perating in the quaint village of Wettolsheim, just west of Alsace's wine capital of Colmar. Winegrower Philippe Ehrhart follows organic farming practices and preserves the grapes' freshness and finesse with hand harvesting, gentle pressing and fermentation in stainless steel.

Despite using the same grape used in ever-popular pinot grigios, this wine bears little resemblance to those frequently insipid Italian cousins. This wine's golden color unfolds fruity pineapple, pear and honeysuckle aromas. Lush, ripe peach and pear flavors mix with hints of quince and guava. Firm acidity balances the fruity, slightly off-dry finish. Highly recommended.

No grape variety evokes Alsace more so than gewurztraminer, and the 2011 Paul Buecher Gewurztraminer Résevre Personnelle, Alsace (Luxury 33136; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $15.99) offers a classic rendition. The wine comes from a family rooted in Alsace for centuries.

Also located in Wettolsheim, current Beucher family members combine traditional vineyard methods with state-of-the-art wine production. They hand-pick slowly ripened gewurztraminer grapes and use fermentation in stainless steel to capture the fruit's heady aromas and expansive, ripe flavors. The golden color unfolds assertive pineapple, floral and honey aromas. Rich, ripe tropical fruit flavors with a kiss of sweetness balance with fine acidity through a delicious, lingering finish. Highly recommended.

Most wine consumers typically associate riesling wines with Germany, but the Trimbach family has been cultivating the variety in Alsace since 1626. Today, Hubert Trimbach leads the firm assisted by his nephews John and Peter, and his daughter Anne, the eldest of the 13th generation of Trimbach winegrowers.

The family's vineyards group around Ribeauvillé, a charming village of half-timbered houses traditional in Alsace. In 2010, the area's vineyard enjoyed extremely favorable conditions similar to other regions in France. Peter Trimbach calls it the most “vibrant, precise and pure vintage” in the last years.

The terrific 2010 Trimbach Riesling, Alsace, France ( 6625; $17.99) corroborates his observations. Delicate lime, pear and apple aromas unfold in the glass. Delicious, chiseled lime and apple flavors follow. Pronounced mineral notes and bright acidity deliver refreshing balance and backbone. The wine finishes fruity, yet dry. It makes a great choice with sushi and fresh shellfish. Or pair it with classic Alsace tarte flambée, a thin crust pizza topped with creme fraiche, caramelized onions and pork belly. Highly recommended.

The 2010 Domaine Antoine Moltès Riesling Réserve, Alsace, France (Luxury 36309; $19.99) uses grapes grown on gentle slopes just outside the village of Pfaffenheim. Gotta love that village name, another indicator of Alsace's pronounced mix of French and Germanic cultures.

After hand-picking, thorough sorting assures only fully ripened, undamaged grapes for slow fermentation. The process captures the riesling grapes' enticing apple, grapefruit and lime aromas. Ripe, fruity flavors balance with bright acidity through a well-balanced finish. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media.

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