Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alsatian Whites, The Perfect Summer Wines?

It's hot. Frankly, it's damn hot here in Oregon. Daytime highs are in the high 80's to low 90's. The weather is exhausting, and to rejuvenate my spirits, I turn to white wines. Not just any white wines either, in heat like this you need to drink white wines with high acidity and immense food friendliness.

Enter the white wines of Alsace. In this brief, I will explore examples of gewürztraminer and riesling that were sent as samples over the past few months.

(img src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alsace_topo.png)
First though, let's discuss Alsace the place. We travel to France's far eastern border, tucked up against Germany. Historically this region has been part of a millennium-long tug-of-war between the two dominant powers on the Continent. Also historically, Alsace has made stunningly good wines, especially whites.

Focusing on those whites for our purposes, Alsace is known for riesling, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris. Also grown are sylvaner, chasselas, muscat, auxerrois, pinot blanc, chardonnay, and even savagnin. Unlike places such as Oregon or California, the Alsatian vignerons often blend their wines together, in the hopes of making a better finished wine.

Wine geeks might have noticed something by now, these whites are all grapes that do well in cooler climates. They thrive during warm days and cool nights, which allow naturally high levels of acidity. Most vineyards run along a narrow north-south strip of land that forms the lower part of the Vosges mountain range, at between 175-420 meters in height. There isn't a whole lot of rainfall either, and the soils are well drained, allowing good concentration of flavor and moderate amounts of vine stress.

With that brief primer on Alsace complete, let's taste the wines!

2011 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Vignoble d'E: Pretty aromas of citrus, oranges and tangerines. Stone fruit too, pear, perfumed floral tones. Very pretty. Very dry and crisp on the palate with ripe pear and citrus notes. The acidity was very nicely integrated, which helped showcase some delightful mineral/sandy loam component. Overall I liked this wine a lot, and highly recommend it. $25.

2011 Meyer-Fonne Riesling Reserve: A little muted on the nose, but shows nice sea air and fresh lemon. Subtle green apple but it seems to come and go with each sniff. On the palate I love this wine, it's textural because of the acid but packs a lot of flavor into a lean, mean frame. Absolutely outstanding wine, highly recommended. $20.

2010 Trimbach Riesling: Softer than the previous two wines, especially on the nose. Almost nothing going on. Shows a riper side of Alsace, with notes of petrol also manifesting after a vigorous swirl. The quality is evident on the palate though, with racy acidity framing apple and pear, stone fruit, and white flowers. $18.

2011 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvee Theo: This threw me for a curve, it was showing something akin to oak at first. On the other hand, it showed lots of green apple, tropical fruit, and notes of pear. It's very complex and textural on the palate, with lots of acidity but a richness from either malo-lactic or oak. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and would love to pair it with food. Recommended. $28.

2010 Domaine Bechtold Gewurztraminer Silberberg: Crazy aromas of lychee fruit and spices, just WOW. Explodes out of the glass. A great mix of sweet fruit flavors and minerality. A great note of ginger comes through on the finish. One of the most food friendly wines I have tasted in 2013. Highly recommended. $23.

2010 Domaine Bott Geyl Gewurztraminer Les Elements: Like smelling lychees soaking in a ginger infusion. Throw in some river rock and golden apple too, the bouquet is very nice. On the palate it's a bit softer than the Bechtold, and I do wish it had more acidity. The sweetness can get a bit cloying especially on the mid palate. Luckily it cleans up on the finish, with a burst of baking spices. Absolutely lovely. $20.

I think it's fair to say that I really enjoyed each of these wines. The original question was whether these are the perfect summer wines. We paired each wine with various sushi rolls, some crab, others krab, shrimp, and spicy tuna. The wines, all of them, paired exceptionally well with each different roll. I can only conclude that these are just about the perfect wines for hot summer evenings and fresh sushi rolls.

The pricing on these wines had me surprised (in a good way) too, because the wines drink like they are more expensive. At around $28, the Weinbach was the priciest, yet I found it available in the mid-20's around the country.

Alsace is a region we should pay more attention to, especially when looking for QPR winners. Please also excuse the horrid quality of the pictures, my iPhone 4 isn't doing the job anymore.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

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