Alsace is among the most beautiful wine regions in the world. Dramatic scenery and ridiculously pretty mediaeval villages lie in the shadow of the Vosges Mountains whose influence on the weather make this one of the driest regions in France. Alsace wine also benefits from an unexpectedly warm climate for a northerly vineyard and attaining full ripeness for the grapes is seldom a problem.
Although growers' styles vary considerably from one producer to the next, what is shared between them is a natural cleanness and the desire to express the character of each, individual grape type in its purest form. With five main varieties to choose from and, despite being from one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world, Alsace wine presents us with invaluable modern originality, at a time when our brand-saturated high street multiples offer us nothing more than formulaic, "international" varietals. It is a vital point of difference: Alsace wine is unique in France, let alone the rest of the globe, while it is nearly impossible to tell whether some chardonnays are made in the northern or southern hemispheres, never mind name a country.
For Alsace wine, we focus on two producers: Cave de Turkheim based in ….er…..Turkheim, whose “reserve” level wines we stock are a great way to introduce yourself to this fascinating region and its grape varieties from steely, zingy Riesling, through riper and rounder Pinot Blanc to the rich Pinot Gris and the ripe spicy Gewurztraminer. There is also a Sylvaner which is aged, albeit briefly, in Acacia wood for an extra dimension. The wines from Mittnacht Freres take Alsace to a whole new level. They cost a bit more sure, but what you get for your money shines through in the quality and concentration of the flavours. Unlike the rest of France, the wines of Alsace must be labelled with their grape variety. Here is a brief guide:
Sylvaner produces light, fresh Alsace wines with a discreet, fruity taste which tend to go well with fish, seafood and cold meat.
Pinot Blanc makes well-balanced and often fruity wines with gentle acidity combined with aromas of violet or iris. These versatile wines accompanies most dishes well.
Muscat produces wines with powerful aromas of fresh grapes and fruit which can be served as an aperitif and are perfect with asparagus, too.
Riesling produces dry, steely wines and offers aromas of citrus fruit, sometimes accompanied by mineral or floral notes. It is perfect with sauerkraut, poultry and fish. Great aperitif too.
Pinot Gris makes full-bodied, round and well-balanced wines with good balancing acidity and offers aromas of undergrowth and yellow fruit. It goes perfectly with foie gras, poultry and wild game.
Gewurztraminer makes intense and full-bodied Alsace wines. It develops aromas of honey or exotic fruit, and goes very well with dessert, cheese and eastern cooking.
Respect to the ancient Houses of the region, sure, but in the hands of growers like those above, the future of these wines is more assured than ever.