I am horrified by myself. How is it possible that in 4 years of wine writing, I haven’t reviewed much wine from a beloved region that I recommend to everyone? I should fire myself for this gross oversight!
When I first discovered Alsace many years ago with my wine mentor Christine that started my love of wine, it opened the world of white wine to me. Drinking wines from Alsace for the first time was like discovering a beautiful waterfall in the middle of a desert. It was like seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. I swear if I close my eyes when I drink this stuff I’m transported to a sensory harem paradise. For me, the wine of Alsace is a pinnacle of whites.
Ah, Alsace, if there was a contest to find a wine region of horrendous bloodshed and conflict in Europe, this smallest of all French wine regions would be a top contender. It’s a good thing so many people love it because the region has been through hell and back and it deserves recognition! Germany and France have been fighting over this wine crown for centuries. I’d love to tell you that it was because of the vineyards, but that would kind of violate my overly honest nature so I can’t. It’s just old-fashioned imperialism and land grab.
Why? Location, location, location. You see, humble Alsace is nestled between the Vosges Mountains on the French side and the Rhine River, Germany’s pride and joy. The locals there have been part of a ping-pong game for centuries and most speak 3 languages — German, French, and their own dialect Alsacien. You never know who may be ruling you next, so you better cover all possibilities, I presume.
Occupied by the Germans in both world wars, vineyard sites were destroyed and the best vines uprooted so that the luscious Riesling of the area wouldn’t compete with Germany’s wine crown jewel. It wasn’t until Nazi Germany fell that Alsace was able to replant its best grapes on the premium, steep hillsides. And for the last 65 years things have been getting better and better. Alsace is peacefully part of France now, and Strasbourg is the seat of the EU Parliament and a very strategic, important center for European political life. It’s a calmer, gentler place.
There are a bunch of different grapes grown in Alsace, but only 8 are considered high class. Riesling (the most widely planted), Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas and Pinot Noir are the main grapes of the region.
The real gems of Alsace are dry yet fantastic Riesling and Gewurztraminer (if you think of this wine as sweet, you need to look out a dry one from Alsace. It has all of the teashop flavors with none of cloying sweetness), and unbelievable Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape, but are worlds apart in style. Where Pinot Grigio is acidic and tart with a zippy, acidic finish, Pinot Gris is round and ample with exotic flavors of dry fruits, toasted bread and beeswax.
I recently had the chance to attend an Alsatian wine salon held recently in Montreal. With more than 19 Quebec importers on attendance, I had the chance to taste the best in Alsace in whites and sparkling wines. Here are my favorite picks:
Crémant Brut Réserve NV, AOC Crémant d’Alsace, Pierre Sparr Successeurs. SAQ # 12724065. $19.60
On the nose, ripe peach and anjou pear with nuances of vanilla bean. Fresh. Medium body, round and elegant. 92\100
Crémant d’Alsace 2013, AOC Crémant d’Alsace, Domaine Barmès-Buecher. SAQ #10985851. $26.35
On the nose, intriguing mineral notes such as iodine and chalk. Lots of depth in the bouquet. With time in the glass, white pit fruit and vanilla bean. Medium body, refreshing bubble and ultra smooth. 93\100
Trilogie 2015. AOC Alsace, Domaine Barmés-Buecher. SAQ # 12254420. $21.45
Very smoky with dry spices and lime cream. On the mouth, medium body, elegant and perfumed. 93\100
Riesling Heissenberg 2014, AOC Alsace, Domaine Ostertag. SAQ #739813. $44.25
On the nose, lemon peel with confit grapefruit. Lime and mineral aromas such as naphthalene as well. On the mouth, quite structured with a chiseled minerality. Elegant and very subdued. 95\100
Pinot Gris Fronholz 2014, AOC Alsace, Domaine Ostertag. SAQ #12392777
On the nose, lovely aromatics of yellow prunes, ripe yellow cherry pit fruit and a hint of toasty oak. On the mouth, lucious notes of oak, nougat and apricots. Fresh and chunky. 93\100
Pinot Blanc-Mise du Printemps-2015, AOC Alsace, Domaine Josmeyer. SAQ # 12604063. $22.90
On the nose citrusy fruit with japanese pear and very spicy. Full body, ample and voluminous. Long and very elegant. 93\100.
Pinot Gris-Réserve Personnelle-2015. AOC Alsace, Maison Preiss-Zimmer. SAQ Depot # 967414. $24.25
On the nose, very floral with lots of peach character. Round and elegant with a slight sweet note on the finale. 91\100
Wine of the week:
Geschickt is a wine family near Ammerschwihr, in the heart of Alsace. Their winemaking tradition goes back to the early 1900’s. Today the wine business is managed by the third and fourth generation.
In 1998, the domaine converts their whole 12 ha of vineyards into biological agriculture and right after biodynamics. From 2014 and on, they embrace natural winemaking. Their wines are not filtered and with no sulfites.
Geschikt is represented by Le Vin dans les Voiles, the personal project of Julie Audette and Valériane Paré. Both ladies are fine specialists of fine natural and biological wines from France and Italy. Their agency represents truly artisanal wines respecting the wine origins.
Six Pieds Sur Terre-2013, AOC Alsace, Domaine Geschickt. ( $31.75. Private Import, Le Vin dans Les Voiles, 514-295-9307, www.levindanslesvoiles.com)
Very perfumed with floral, lime, honey and ginger. In addition, a nice chalky signature. Round with a lot of tonus and elegance. One of the best Alsatian wines that I have tasted in a long time. 95\100
By Marco Giovanetti – totimes.ca