ALSACE WINES are not top of the average wine drinker’s list. There are a few reasons for this. Situated in the northeast of France, the River Rhine forms the border between the region and Germany, and many people think Alsace wines are German. The bottle resembles a hock bottle. They see the grape name, for example, Riesling (Reezling), Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Tokay Pinot Gris and Muscat, all very Germanico.
With Champagne, Strasbourg is the most northerly wine producing region in France, benefiting from the country’s lowest rainfall. Alsace vineyards are situated at the foot of the Vosges Mountains, which protects them from the cold, northeasterly winds.
By Alsace law, the wines are fermented dry. There is no residual sugar and can be safely drunk by diabetics. Check with your doctor first, because you may not be allowed alcohol with certain medication. However, it is the alcohol that will be the problem, not the wine.
Over 30 years ago, the keeper of the Guildhall in London was diagnosed as diabetic, and told to stop drinking wine. He gave up all wines, ports, sherries and so on, but was not happy with life. After telling me his sad story, I told him to ask his doctor about Alsace wines. Sadly, his doctor did not know anything about these wonderful wines. At my suggestion, he decided to try drinking Alsace wines and, when I met him in London three years ago, he was still drinking them, and enjoying life to the full.
The wines are not varietal wines, which have to contain over 50 per cent of the named grape. Alsace wines are 100 per cent of the named grape, although French law does not allow AOC wines to name the grape on the label. Who are they kidding? But (there is always a but), if the word Zwicker is on the label (front or back), then the wine is a blend of Alsace grapes.
Since 1972, Alsace wines have had to be bottled in the producing region, which is another guarantee of origin and quality. Reading Alsace labels could not be easier. The Appellation is Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru, or Crémant d’Alsace, the latter being a sparkling wine made using the traditional method. You will also find the producer’s name and, of course, the grape variety. The difference between Alsace and German wines is that the latter tend to have a balance of acidity, fruitiness and sweetness. They also have a low alcohol content. Alsace wines are dry, yet fruity, and have a much higher alcohol content.
So, do not be afraid to try them, especially if you are a white wine drinker. They are ideal as apéritifs and, if you are invited to a dinner by an Alsace négociant (wine merchant), he will serve them throughout the meal. He will tell you they accompany all foods, and he is right, with the exception, maybe, of curry. If you go by the publication Masters of Wine, it recommends to drink Orvieto (It. W), Barolo (It. Rd), St. Emilion (Fr. Rd), Californian Chenin Blanc (W), Shiraz, Cab. (New World Red), Indian Sparkling or a Recioto Amarone della Valpolicella with curry.
It certainly plays safe, and these guidelines would require a very large cellar. However, anyone who would open an Amarone to accompany a curry should be in a home for the bewildered. It is not that long ago the same Masters were saying drink only beer with curries.
Sorry, I digress! Alsace has a dessert wine produced from grapes harvested late. Normally, the harvest is September/October but, when harvesting grapes for their dessert wines, it could be well into November. They are easily identified, as the words Vendange Tardive (late harvest) will be on the label, and they are excellent pudding wines.
Like all wine, it is best to find a producer you like, and stick with them until you feel more adventurous. There are many producers in Alsace, all producing wines from the same grapes, but the end product differs. This can be the result of different climatic conditions and soils. The vineyards extend for around 100 kilometres southwards and, while the climate in general might be warm, sunny and dry, the soils can be granite, limestone, shale or sandstone. These factors will affect wine production, as will the different methods of vinification. Seriously, do not concern yourself too much about that. Just drink and enjoy these beautiful, golden, Alsace wines.
Apparently, Heston Blumenthal uses Tio Pepe in his culinary confections. However, any ordinary dry cooking sherry would suffice, because once it goes into the confection, nobody could tell the difference. Using known brand names on a menu might look good, but it is pure affectation and the customer pays for it.
The same Tio Pepe sponsors Gordon Ramsey’s infamous TV programme, The F Word. If the sherry is as good as we are led to believe, why is Blumenthal belittling it by putting it in confection, and why are the producers stooping so low, by sponsoring this rubbish? Do they honestly think that this foul- mouthed TV programme will improve sales? If that is what they think, then I’ll stick to drinking a nice, chilled, dry white Port from the Douro Region.
Next article: Burgundy
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