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Burgundy and me
[ Burgundy and me ]

·Burgundy saved from mildew threat
·Tasting through Burgundy
·Burgundy 2005 sales as healthy as Bordeaux
·Burgundy vintage 2006
·New Zealand Vignerons go to Burgundy
·Two great Burgundy vintages
·The magic of old burgundy
·French winemakers understand balance
·Pinot noir: The noble grape of Burgundy

Colmar. Nice city.

Colmar. Nice city.

Colmar. Capital of alsacian vineyards.

Colmar. Capital of alsacian vineyards.

Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and Grand Cru d'Alsace.Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and Grand Cru d'Alsace.
French Recipies and Alsacian GastronomyFrench Recipies and Alsacian Gastronomy
Growing grapes in Alsace.Growing grapes in Alsace.
History of Alsace and alsacian wine.History of Alsace and alsacian wine.
Market Export InformationsMarket Export Informations
Soils and grounds.Soils and grounds.
Travellers memories around AlsaceTravellers memories around Alsace
Wine and healthWine and health
Wine booksWine books
Wine route in Alsace.Wine route in Alsace.
Wine Tittle-TattleWine Tittle-Tattle

Burgundy and me Burgundy and me
Discover France through Alsace. Discover France through Alsace.
Events in Alsace. Events in Alsace.
Follow the Froggies: Alsace gastronomy. Follow the Froggies: Alsace gastronomy.
Inside Bordeaux Inside Bordeaux
Wine classifications AOC - Grand Crus... Wine classifications AOC - Grand Crus...

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Is Alsace in dilemma?

Is Alsace in dilemma?
Discover France through Alsace.Alsace wines seem to be suffering from an identity crisis, and it has to be said that they can easily confuse the average punter. Problem one -those tall and rather elegant green flutes - more than a bit reminiscent of a German Mosel.

Problem two -the label -a jagged scrawl of convulsed gothic script suggestive of German origin backed up by, yes you guessed it, mainly Germanic grape varieties. Problem three -uncork the bottle and you will find a wine which is indisputably French in style.

We need to go back a century or so to the Franco-Prussian War to understand this contradiction. Alsace in the North-East of France is in a dangerously strategic position, overlooking Germany on the other side of the Rhine. After falling into enemy hands, Alsace was condemned to produce inferior wines so as not to compete with Germany. For a brief spell between the wars, a start was made on replanting the noble varieties, only to be dashed again as Hitler's forces reclaimed the region. When it returned to French rule after the Second World War, only the so-called noble grapes were authorised to be planted, but inevitably some traditions lived on.

Soil and micro-climate

It's no wonder the Germans were afraid of the competition, for Alsace, with its long warm autumns has near-perfect conditions for wine making. You would expect it to have a northern continental climate similar to that of Champagne but for the Vosges mountains which shelter the vines from both wind and rain. It's not just the micro-climate but the variety of soil which enables Alsace to produce some of the best white wines in France. (There really isn't enough sun for good red, in spite of what some Alsatians will tell you).

The noble varieties

Riesling, the King of Alsace with its steely clarity, fares best on the granitic east facing slopes of the Haut-Rhin. Gewurztraminer likes alluvial clay, while Sylvaner will put up with the loam soil of the valley or Bas Rhin. If reliably familiar Riesling is the top toff among the four noble grape varieties grown in Alsace (the others are Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat) then the Gewurztraminer has to be the notorious celebrity of the region.

Not only is the name pretty unwieldy, but until recently the wine itself was often avoided as an unknown quantity...too foreign and aromatic to match with food, so let's pay safe and buy Chardonnay. The Turckheim co-op has done much to make it more accessible in the high street at reasonable prices (Threshers, Wine Rack and The Wine Business).

Co-operatives are an important phenomenon in Alsace and came about because most vignerons own handkerchief size vineyards, planted with several varieties producing insufficient quantities of grapes to make wine independently. Gewurztramminer is a love me or hate me grape. Its pinkish skin gives it a rich yellow colour even when young, but it's the pungently spicy nose which can engender great affection or cause equal offence. For a good co-op wine try Gewurztramminer d'Alsace Cuvee 1993 Beblenheim, stg3.49 for a half bottle from Waitrose. Its orange nutmeg nose is backed up with juicy flavours packed with cloves and cinnamon and a smooth honeyed finish. For something a little less overt, how about a Waitrose Gewurztraminer AC d'Alsace 1993 at stg5.75 from the Beblenheim co-op again. Its lighter more perfumed nose and muted spice and creamily vanilla palate would be a good introduction to the peculiar character of the grape.
Hot cross bun wine

The vanilla flavours do not come from oak. Alsatians dance to the tune of 'the less done the better.' If you're a Gewurztraminer convert already, you will appreciate René Muré 1993 Cote de Rouffach (available from Berkmann Wine Cellars at stg66.48 per case ex-Vat, duty paid). This is a no nonsense Gewurz attack - powerfully spicy on the nose. With a bit more bottle age the aroma should develop into a more honeyed bouquet - and the palate... imagine warm hot cross buns dripping with melted butter and spiked with a saving edge of bitter orange. It's broad and mouth-filling with a finish that's long and powerful - not one for a delicate stir fry but perhaps a rich Quiche Lorraine.

In Alsace, real men eat quiche, drink Gewurztraminer... so don't be put off by sceptics who say Gewurztraminer is difficult to match with food. Unlike the Germans who traditionally drank beer with food and saved the wine till afterwards, Alsatian food and wine have developed together in partnership. The pronounced spicy aroma and palate make Gewurztraminer an ideal partner for strong foods - smoked fish and mature cheeses. If you think about it, Alsatian cusine is not so different from our own traditional dishes, plenty of game, casseroles, pastry encased dishes, and sausages a perennial favourite of both nations. You could even experiment with a curry. Thai and other oriental food finds a common link with the fragrance and spice of lighter Gewurztraminer.

Lack of acidity is the achilles heel of Gewurztraminer. When low acidity is pitched against gutsy high alcohol, some wines seem sluggish and flabby. Tokay Pinot Gris (no relation to the Hungarian grape) is similar to Gewurztraminer, but differing in its high acidity. It's also less spicy and has a distinct oiliness. Schoffit Tokay Pinot Gris 1993, Cuvee Caroline, is a typically robust Alsace wine probably best drunk with gutsy food. Its fruity aroma, which has just a whif of spice, would go well with spicy sausages or a rustic cheesy dish. The delicate spice is carried through on the palate. It's medium bodied, creamy with hints of apricots and slightly raisiny. (Oddbins stg8.99)

Alsace, pioneers of varietal wine marketing One of the things I like about Alsatian wine makers is that unlike many of their French compatriots they are nice and upfront about what's in the bottle, with none of this cliquish, 'in the know' nonsense. If it's Riesling, then it's written large, and, what's more, it means 100% Riesling without a dash of vigneron's seasoning. (The term Edelzwicher, which is seen occasionally on labels, signifies a blend and which includes the baser Sylvaner, Chasselas and Pinot Blanc grapes).

Classic Riesling at its best

Riesling lovers can follow their favourite grape from the slopes of the Rhinegau to Alsace, to find some of its driest incarnations. Zind Humbrecht is a Domaine with a good reputation. Their 1992 Riesling is an elegant wine with a delicate fruity aroma. It tastes of ripe fruit balanced with a mouth-watering acidity like freshly squeezed lime juice and slight pettilance. For a wine with good structure and some finesse, it's excellent value at stg7.29 from Wine Rack. See also Clifford Mould's tasting notes on Zind Humbrecht

A good Riesling from one of the fifty Grand Cru vineyards should show signs of terroir, resulting from the particular combination of a cool climate and granite soil planted with Riesling - similar conditions to those found in the Rhine. The 1990 Riesling Grand Cru Ollwiller is a good buy at stg7.99 from Wine Rack. It's a Grand Cru vineyard but the wine is produced by a co-op, so hasn't the cache or price attached to it, as say a Rolly-Gassmann. The Ollwiller is bone dry on the nose and palate and a bit green. The kerosine, fruit, and the minerally qualities are all there. It has potential but needs more bottle age. Buy it and put it down. For a reasonable Riesling which is drinking try the René Muré, 1993 Cote de Rouffach. Its racy, herbaceous nose gives way to a suprisingly friuty palate of apples and pears with a steeliness about it. In comparison with Gewurztraminer, Riesling will always have that mouth-watering acidity, and being dry it is a perfect accompaniment to food. Give it a whirl with seafood instead of the too predictable Sancerre or try it with white meat. The René Muré Clos Saint Landelin 1993 is wonderful. The palate is rounder, well balanced and more floral than the Cote de Rouffach with a smoothness reminiscent of brazil nuts. (Both are available from Berkmann Wine Cellars. The Cote de Rouffach at stg63.84 a case. The Clos Saint Landelin is only available ex-cellar.) Muscle in on Muscat

For a pre-dinner drink you could plump for a dry Muscat. I feel Muscat ought to get a look in, as one of the big four noble varieties. Arguably it's best as a late harvest or botrytised wine but try Schlumberger 1991 at stg7.99 from Wine Rack. It is absolutely classic with a pronounced grapey nose and palate, and a slight pettliance like a Muscadet. An alternative aperitif could be Cremant d'Alsace, a delicate sparkling wine from the Pinot Blanc grape known locally as Clevner. This rather shadowy grape, which makes an appropriately neutral base for sparkling wine, is on the increase in Alsace. It can also be made into a light fruity still wine.
Waitrose Pinot Blanc at stg4.49 is a pale, crisp dry wine with a faintly citrus-like nose. It's easy picnic drinking with or without food but make sure it's well chilled. In principle all wines from Alsace are dry, but in a long warm autumn the vigeron, growing one of the four noble varieties, might let the grapes continue ripening and make a Vendange Tardive (late picked).
This would be dry or medium sweet. In an exceptional vintage he might produce a Selection des Grains Nobles, a luscious dessert wine from the concentrated must of selected botrytised grapes. Due to the nature of the wine it is made in very small quantities and the price reflects this at around stg60 a bottle! It is a rich and mellow wine which gives the sensation of eating dried friuts. Selection des Grains Nobles Frederick Emile Cuvee from Trimbach is available from Oddbins Fine Wine Shop for stg56.99.

Alsace wines generally are not at the cutting edge of the price scale, although the last example should be treated as an exception. As in the Rhine and Mosel, slopes mean more labour intensive and costly production. The customer could justly argue that Alsace produces wines which are unfamiliar, at prices that don't seem competitive, in bottles which give the wrong impression and with labels they can't decipher.

The Alsatians need to help themselves. There seems to be some move to modify labels. The Alsace range from Waitrose is a good example and they have added descriptive back labels - a great idea to get you started. For the initiated of course, no such persuasion is needed. They already appreciate what fine wine Alsace has to offer, although I'm sure they'd agree that a good grasp of Gothic script is undoubtedly useful.

Sarah Marsh; august 11 2006
Posted on Tuesday, November 07 @ 17:35:30 MST by pierre
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Colmar. Capital of alsacian vineyards.
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Colmar. Nice city.
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