First published in The Irish Times, 26th May, 2018
A tasting of Alsace wines last week was a timely reminder of just how good the wines of this part of France can be, and how I probably don’t drink them often enough. I don’t think I am alone. Alsace wines seem to have fallen off our radar a little, despite being made in a style that is universally popular.
Riesling tends to get most of the publicity and praise, rightly so, as it produces some the world’s greatest wines both here in Alsace and elsewhere. After that our knowledge of Alsace tends to get a little sketchy. Leaving aside Gewürztraminer – which I generally try to do – there are two other important grape varieties, responsible for some very enjoyable wines.
Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, better known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, both produce fruit-filled, unoaked white wines, generally lowish in alcohol, that can offer great value for money. While they can certainly be drunk as an aperitif, they really show best when matched with food. It may not be a coincidence that Alsace is home to some of the great foods and restaurants of France.
In addition to the varietal wines, Alsace also produces a number of blended wines. Known as Edelzwicker (noble blend) in the past, these were often seen as inferior, a means for the producer to tidy up the leftovers, although a few were very good. Some were involuntary blends, made from various varieties planted together in the same vineyard. The term Gentil is used more often nowadays, to signify a blend made up of at least 50 per cent Riesling, Muscat and/or Gewürztraminer, and the remainder is the rest made up of Pinot Blanc Sylvaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc. Before blending, each grape variety must be vinified separately. Sounds complicated, but I am very fond of these.
Combining the floral aromas and rich fruit of Muscat or Gewürztraminer with the crisp acidity of Pinot Blanc or Riesling can yield a delicious summer wine, perfect with al fresco lunches or with many of the lovely pork dishes of Alsace. With their ripeness of fruit, they can go very well with lightly spiced Asian dishes too.
I have chosen four relatively expensive wines, with a posh summer lunch in mind. Alsace does offer cheaper versions although some of these are a little too sweet for my tastes. Trimbach, Hugel, Sipp Mack, Schlumberger and the Caves de Turckheim are all reliable, widely available producers in independent wine shops. O’Briens has the excellent Kreydenweiss. Most supermarkets have less expensive Alsace wines – Lidl will have a rounded fruity Pinot Gris for €10.99 from June 11th. But if you are having an upmarket al fresco meal featuring salmon, pork, chicken and salads, all of the wines below are worth investing in.
Alsace wines: four to choose from
Gentil d’Alsace 2016, Meyer-Fonné
This wonderful wine is a blend of four grape varieties. Seductive aromas followed by plump melons and passionfruit laced with ginger and a touch of honey. As an aperitif, or with lightly spicy prawn dishes. Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Streetwines.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, Bradleysofflicence.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Fallonandbyrne.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Greenmanwines.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, Lecaveau.ie.
Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2015, Alsace
From one of the great producers of Alsace, a light refreshing wine with quince and yellow fruits, finishing bone dry. With nibbles before dinner or with shellfish, cold meats and salads. Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, Whelehanswines.ie; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack Road and Malahide Road., McHughs.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Higgin’s, Clonskeagh, higginsofflicnece.ie; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny, Thewinecentre.ie; Martin’s, Clontarf, Martinsofflicence.ie.
As de B 2016, Agathe Bursin, Biodynamic
A field blend of six varieties from the Bollenberg vineyard, this is a delightful wine with floral aromas and delicate soft ripe pineapple and melon fruits. Perfect summer drinking on its own or with light white fish dishes. Limited quantities available. Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook, terriors.ie
Pinot Gris Tradition 2016, Domaine Pfister
Ripe exotic fruits on the nose, leading to a crisp taut palate that finishes long and dry. One to try with tartes flambées, quiches and other pies. Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; The Wine Library, Dún Laoghaire, thewinelibrary.ie