June 14th, 2019/ BY Gurvinder Bhatia

Alsace: The “Miami Beach” of Northern Europe

Located in northeastern France, bordering Germany, the region of Alsace is often misunderstood and under-appreciated. Perhaps it is because the region has, throughout history, been tugged back and forth between the two countries, exhibiting influences from both.

According to many producers, in the 16th century, when Alsace was part of Germany, it was the “Miami Beach” for northern Europe and the ripe, fresh, rich wines were very popular. Thereafter, when Louis XIV of France acquired Alsace, it — again, according to many producers — “killed” the wine industry because being from the northern part of the Roman Empire, the wines were thought of as too acidic relative to the fruitier, fatter wines of southern Europe.



In more recent history, the Germans occupied Alsace during WWII, before the region was liberated (some in the region may disagree with this characterization) in 1945. When traveling in the region today, it is easy to forget that you are in France versus Germany.

Alsace is hilly with warm summers, cool winters and one of the driest regions in France (although this year has been excessively rainy). During the growing season, hot days and cooler nights result in grapes with high acidity and wines that are naturally fresh and vibrant. The diversity of soils — sandstone, limestone, granite, clay, volcanic — influences the character of the wine, in particular the aroma, texture and structure.

Ninety per cent of the wines produced in Alsace are white and traditionally the wines tended to be fermented dry, but some producers have adopted a lighter, sweeter style akin to some German wines, which can cause confusion for consumers. When the residual sweetness is balanced with bright acidity, the wines are rich but still fresh. In the absence of ample acidity, the wines become sweet and flabby. Producers, in my opinion, need to be true to the region as opposed to dumbing down the wines. Creating unnecessarily simplistic wines in an attempt to appeal to a mass market results in homogenization and the eradication of any sense of the place and ability to differentiate the wines from the sea of generic juice inundating retail shelves and restaurant wine lists.

For me, the top wines in the region are the flinty, bone-dry, sometimes austere Rieslings; rich, textural and structured Pinot Gris; and perfumed, round and excellent-value Pinot Blanc. There are also outstanding wines produced with Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Sylvaner. The region also produces youthful and refreshing sparkling wines, Cremant d’Alsace, using the methode traditionelle.

Perhaps the greatest asset of the wines of Alsace is their versatility with food. The bright acidity, minerality, texture, freshness and richness of the wines makes them extremely food-friendly and allow the richly textured and structured whites to pair well even with red meat. Many in the industry tout Alsatian Gewürztraminer as an ideal match with Indian and Thai curries. I do not share this view as I find the intensity and spiciness of the wine to be in conflict with the flavours of most curries. I would suggest that a Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris (or a Riesling with a touch of residual sweetness) from the region would be a better match in this situation.

But much of the beauty and appeal of wine and food is the discovery. Here are several suggestions to aid in rediscovering the wines of Alsace.

Severine and Thomas Schlumberger with Alain Beydon-Schlumberger

Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Vieilles Vignes ($30)

Just ripe apple and citrus aromas and flavours with pleasant creamy texture, good complexity and length, soft acidity and lingering finish. A blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois and Riesling.

Zind‒Humbrecht Riesling Volcanique 2014 ($44)

Smoky, oily, peach and citrus, mineral and stony, textural and rich.

Zind‒Humbrecht Riesling Calcaire 2014 ($60)

Intense, deliberate and penetrating, with ripe peach, citrus and apple; rich and fresh with mineral, herbs and spice.

Zind‒Humbrecht Riesling Grand Cru Clos Saint Urbain 2014 ($85)

Powerful, flinty, mouth-watering acidity and minerally, dense, focused and intriguingly austere.

Zind‒Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2014 ($65)

Rich fruit and honey on the nose and mineral, bracing acidity, richness and amazing structure on the palate. Reminds you of how amazing and complex Pinot Gris can be.

Zind‒Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Calcaire 2014 ($56)

Intense, focused, rich texture with spice, lychee and smoke and firm acidity.

Zind‒Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Grand Cru ‘Hengst’ Vendange Tardive 2011 ($150)

Intense, decadent and rubenesque late harvest with spice, mineral, lychee and tropical fruit, bright focused acidity to balance the residual sweetness, long, lingering finish.

Ostertag Sylvaner Les Vieilles Vignes 2014 ($35)

Pretty floral and slightly fruity nose with good concentration, citrus, stone fruit, mineral; penetrating, flinty with good acidity on the fresh finish. A great example of quality Sylvaner from the region.

Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2003 ($300)

Intense, penetrating, viscous, mouth-filling, nectarine and apricot with 83 g/l of residual sugar, but enough acidity to keep the wine fresh, bright and drinkable without being overwhelming.

Rolly Gassmann Riesling de Rorschwihr SGN 2010 ($400)

Concentrated, rich and penetrating; honey, citrus, apricot, nectarine and plum, smoky and minerally, with an amazing texture, bracing acidity and incredibly long, mouth-watering finish.

Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Prince Abbés 2014 ($25)

Vibrant with pear, peach, mineral, rich texture, great balance and focus, finishing with ample acidity and great length.

Paul Zinck Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2014 ($50)

Broad and flinty with yellow orchard fruit, focused and minerally; spice with great balance and juicy acidity.

Léon Beyer Pinot Blanc 2014 ($30)

Spice, pear, citrus, smooth texture, crunchy acidity and good length.

Léon Beyer Riesling R de BeyeR 2009 ($58)

Earthy, mineral and pure with stone-fruit aromas and flavours, nervous acidity; elegant and rich with great length and salinity.

Léon Beyer Pinot Gris Comtes d’Eguisheim 2008 ($58)

Golden yellow with pear, peach, apricot and a touch nutty, rich and powerful; almost tannic, with spice, mineral and vibrant acidity and a long, dry, savoury finish. Would love this with a veal chop.



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