First published in the Irish Times Saturday August 13th, 2016
A recent trip to Alsace reignited my love for the wines of this region. And for the food too, although I suspect after a few weeks spent consuming all of that hearty fare, I might require a gastric bypass.
At one time, Alsace was unique among appellation contrôlée wines of France as the only one permitted to display the grape variety on the label. This was a nod towards its Germanic traditions. The grapes, too, sometimes have a German parentage. This is the only part of France permitted to grow Riesling. In addition, you will find Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer, both popular over the border, alongside Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois.I enjoy a glass of summery Sylvaner, and tasted one on my trip, courtesy of our host, Lidl, which will offer it at a very competitive price (around €8-€9) in their forthcoming French Wine Sale, starting on September 12th. Alsace produces a variety of white wines from these six grapes and some improving reds, and the occasional rosé, from Pinot Noir. Crémant, the sparkling wine of Alsace, is big business these days. Made by the same process as Champagne, they can be very good.
However, Riesling is the king of Alsace. The best wines have an amazing combination of freshness and power, a steely austerity combined with a richness of fruit. They can be drunk young, or aged for a decade or more. They partner brilliantly with food, and not just fish. In this part of the world, all of those pork and chicken dishes are routinely served with Riesling. Alsace Riesling tends to be more substantial and drier than the German versions. I was surprised how difficult it was to find a decent bottle of Alsace Riesling in shops here. There is certainly no shortage of good wines being imported, but possibly they are not an easy sell. You won’t find much under €15, but there are some great wines in the €15-€25 category.
I have always been a huge fan of the Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Émile Riesling (around €50 a bottle) and should you come across a bottle of the Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune, you could treat yourself to one of France’s greatest wines. You will require a healthy wallet though; it sells for more than €100 a bottle. But the basic Trimbach Riesling, (€19.50, widely available), is one of the best-value white wines on the market.
Other names to seek out include Hugel, Sipp Mack, Schlumberger, Zinck, Zind-Humbrecht, Weinbach, René Muré, Meyer-Fonné, all from independents. Look out for anything from the two leading co-operatives, the Cave de Turckheim and the Cave de Hunawihr.
Riesling Réserve 2014, Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr, Alsace
Lovely lively fresh Riesling with crisp green apple and pear fruits. Nice wine.
Stockists: Clontarf Wines; World Wide Wines, Waterford.
Kreydenweiss Riesling Andlau 2013, Alsace, Biodynamic
Delightful fresh youthful floral aromas and generous green fruits, finishing bone dry.
Trimbach Riesling Réserve 2010, Alsace
A glorious maturing Riesling boasting honeyed toasted fruits with a steely backbone and dry finish.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine.
Hugel Gentil 2014, Alsace
A blend of all five Alsace white varieties; attractive soft easy peaches and pears with a welcome cut of lime zest.
Martin’s; McHugh’s; Jus De Vine; Sweeneys; Green Man, & independents.
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