Wine Guy: France's Alsace is underappreciated source of excellent white wine

By Rich Mauro Special to The Gazette - Updated: June 15, 2018 at 12:32 pm • Published: June 13, 2018 0
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What do you look for in a white wine? Richness? Fruitiness? Or maybe freshness, aromatics, expressiveness and precision? If your preference is more to the latter, I suggest looking to Alsace, where white wine - mainly Riesling, pinot gris, Gewurztraminer and pinot blanc - is 90 percent of wine production.

In Alsace, wine also is a family affair, with the vast majority of domaines family-owned and operated and tracing their heritage in the region back for centuries. Just think of the history some of these families encapsulate since their establishment: Lucien Albrecht (1425), Emile Beyer (1580), Paul Blanck (1610), Weinbach (1612), Jean-Baptiste Adam (1614), Trimbach (1626), Pierre Sparr (1630), Hugel (1639), Charles Frey (1709), Saint-Rémy (1725) and Keuntz-Bas (1795).

The sense of family and coming together for mutual support extends to a history of growers' cooperatives, beginning with Cave de Ribeauvillé in 1895. Cave de Cleebourg in this report, founded in 1946, is one of more than a dozen cooperatives that (according to one source) account for about 2 in 5 bottles of Alsatian wine.

Alsace also has joined other French regions in pursuing sustainable viticulture, with at least 15 percent of the vineyards reportedly certified organic or biodynamic and increasing by double digits annually. In this report, Barmes-Buecher, Saint-Rémy, Emile Beyer, Weinbach, Jean-Baptiste Adam, Kuentz-Bas, Albert Boxler and Charles Frey all produce significant amounts of their wine organically or biodynamically.

One other distinguishing factor is that Alsatian wine labels feature the varietal prominently rather than the appellation, as with other French regions. (The wines below are listed noting distinctive qualities in my order of preference, but all are recommended.)

Alsatian Gewürztraminer has long been my favorite white wine after German Riesling. I love the grapefruit and lychee fruit and especially the light spiciness, presented with an unctuous texture. Good examples: 2014 Weinbach Réserve Personnelle (luscious, slightly sweet, $32), 2014 Saint-Rémy Rosenberg (slightly sweet, green fruits, $28), 2012 Hugel Hugel (anise, cinnamon, $22), 2015 Pierre Sparr (anise, melon, $20), 2012 Barmes-Buecher Tradition (plump melon, $26) and 2015 Gustave Lorentz Réserve (semisweet, anise, $25).

Dry Alsatian Rieslings also are distinctive. They tend to be distinguished with pure aromas, plentiful, focused green apple and citrus fruit, and a firm grip on the palate. Typically the wines carry more weight than their German cousins, but the aromatics and acidity are just as bracing. Good introductions: 2015 Jean-Baptiste Adam les Naturs (vivid, $18), 2016 Lucien Albrecht Reserve (steely, $20), 2015 Kuentz-Bas Tradition (taut, $17), 2016 Allimant-Laugner (stony, $18) and 2016 Charles Frey Granit (herbal, soft, $16).

Alsace excels with pinot gris and pinot blanc, known (along with pinot noir) as the pinot family, as they are mutations of the same variety. My tasting generated a new appreciation for these varieties.

Pinot gris' lively pear, peach, citrus and melon show nicely in these: 2013 Trimbach Réserve (creamy, $26), 2016 Emile Beyer Tradition (flowery, $20) and 2015 Cave de Cleebourg Prestige Pinot Gris (licorice, $15).

Pinot blanc is weightier and dry with pear, lime, melon and apple: 2014 Albert Boxler Reserve cinnamon ($31), 2014 Hugel Cuvée Les Amours (crisp, $17), 2015 Trimbach (zesty stone, $19) and 2016 Paul Blanck mineral ($16).

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