Monday, September 16, 2013

Alsace - Where purity of expression reigns.

If there is a French wine region that Americans can feel comfortable exploring - it's Alsace! You'll find this narrow stretch of vineyards in the far eastern part of the country, snug up against Germany. The proximity to Germany has influenced the wines quite a bit. The Germanic names of the vintners and the tall slender shaped bottles, resembling Mosel wines, both work to make the wine consumer think that these wines are more like German wines with a slight sweetness.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most Alsace wine is fermented dry. The natural sugars are reduced through fermentation to a level where the average palate will not be able to detect any sweetness. But - the real beauty of these wines is that there is a very pronounced fruit component. In fact, vintners here seem to put almost all the emphasis on this aspect of wine production: fruit identity of their grape varieties.

Of all the French wine regions only in Alsace will you see the grape variety clearly displayed on the label. There is very little blending going on here. Typically wines are 100% of the grape variety stated on the label. And this is exactly why it is so easy for Americans to understand these wines. Americans are trained to buy wines by grape variety and have been slow to learn the European system of buying by region.

Each grape variety has it's own set of fruit aromas and flavors and in Alsace this is nurtured, amplified and emphasized. It seems like every aspect of winemaking is done to protect this precious part of the wine. Fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks where the temperatures can be kept cool; a technique that preserves the freshness of the fruit flavors. You won't see oak barrels stacked to the ceilings here. Oak barrels whether used for fermentation or aging diminish and/or distract from the pure fruit expression of the grape variety.

I recently tasted my way through the wines of Trimbach and Gustave Lorentz, both great wine producers with a long history of making some of Alsace's best wines. Their wines would be a great place to start exploring the beauty and purity of the wines from this region
Wines to seek out:

Trimbach Pinot Blanc
Gustave Lorentz Pinot Blanc

Trimbach Riesling

Trimbach Pinot Gris
Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris

Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer

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