Alsace France wine – Under the radar
Alsace France wine – What is the basic criteria that makes a wine “food friendly”? The essential response is: when you take a sip, your mouth begins to salivate, and begin making a picture of a dish that would go well with the bottle. It is a very personal experience yet most sommeliers would be in a consensus that high acidity, minerality, and easiness to drink are the essential ingredients of a good food wine.
One region that is very much under the radar, but which offers an amazing array of wines to pair with all sorts of gastronomy, is Alsace, in the northeast of France. At various times in recent history, Alsace belonged to Germany, and it still shares many of those culinary and cultural traditions. But as a wine region, Alsatian identity is unique because it has a special geography. With the Vosges mountains forming a natural border to the west, and the Black Forest to the east, Alsace is a series of valleys and peaks running north to south, with beautiful, steep hills that comprise the 55 Grand Cru sites, the very best vineyards.
Alsace is famous mostly for its white wines, primarily top quality , mostly dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, but also some fresh Muscat, Sylvaner, and Pinot Blanc. There is some good Alsatian Pinot Noir, as well, and it can be very good, but it is not very mainstream and found a lot in the organic and natural side of winemaking.
Focus on Wilhm estate Alsace
Located 36 kilometres south of Strasbourg in the wine-growing village of Barr, on the Route du Vin d’Alsace, Domaine Willm has seen much of the region’s history happens through time; having been founded as an estate property in 1896 by the Willm family.
Slowly Willm built their reputation as it flourished following the Great War of 1914-1918. The Willm family was the first to export, sending its first shipment to the U.S. in 1936. Legend has it that Al Capone drank Willm’s Grand Cru Gewürztraminer while serving time after the Prohibition. Their vineyards sit on clay and granite soil which gives freshness to their wines.
Their Pinot Noir Rose 2016 (12521401, $18.15) has a lovely fragrance bringing to mind cherry and perfumed flowers. It i round and smooth with a gracious finale. Their Riesling reserve 2015 ( 00011452, $16.95) displays citrusy aromas with nuances of white jasmine and petrol. It is elegant and harmonious, perfect with poultry based asian meals.
On the other hand, their Pinot Gris ( 00370676, $16.05) a more structured profile with notes of peach and apricots notes and yellow fruits crushed aromas.This is my go wine with pork fillets BBQ dishes accompanied by a cream sauce. Their Kirchberg de Barr 2015 display notes of confit grapefruit peel, apricot jam and marzipan. Beautiful finesse, round, spicy with a luscious finale. A perfect wine for dishes such as ris de veau.
Good Value St-Chinian for summer every day drinking
Not long ago, I had a chance to meet Alain Rogier, winemaker and director from Caves de Roquebrun in the sunny St Chinian appellation to taste some of his rocking wines. Alain striked me as a melange of your hippie meet your hipster kind of guy. He is a very down to earth guy, making excellent wines with a friendly price.
The Languedoc is still a wonderful source of unique, good-value wines and none more so than Saint-Chinian at the western end of this Mediterranean part. Nestled in the foothills of the Cévennes, northwest of the town of Béziers, Saint-Chinian offers generous, dark fruit, spice and garrigue-scented red wines characterized by a refreshing mineral edge.
The appellation has 450 passionate producers who cultivate 3,300 hectares of vineyard. This represents around 10% of the Languedoc vineyards and the annual production range from 115,000 to 120,000 hectolitres.
The terroir of the AOC Saint-Chinian could be divided two distinct sections. In the northern portion of the appellation, the soil is composed of shale, close to Faugères. Wines produced on the shale are deep in colour, very expressive in the mouth, fruity and have low acidity. In the southern portion of the appellation, beyond the village of Saint-Chinian, the soils are clay-limestone. The wines produced on this type of soil are less full-bodied, just as concentrated but more round and elegant. In terms of production, 89% are red wines, 10% are rosés and 1% are white.
The Col L’Orb 2016 ( SAQ # 00642504, $12.70) is a groovy rose with ripe red fruits and crisp notes of pink grapefruit. A blend of 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah. Refreshing and generous, with an elegant poise. At almost thirteen bucks, you are sure to get pleasure for every $$ spent. Have it with salads, or as an aperitivo in the park, before the BBQ.
The Terrases de Mayline 2015 ( SAQ # 00552505, $13.55) blends the traditional grapes of the appellation such as Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. This is a lovely red displaying smoky black fruit scented with licorice. It is silky and polished in the mid palate with a nice tannic bite. Perfect for every day BBQ fare such as grilled sausages or flank steak.
We continued the tasting with the powerhouse Chemin des Olivettes, Côteaux du Languedoc ( SAQ # 11193194, $16.55). An assembly of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A big boy with incredible depth of black fruit and salted meat. Polished and very fluid, structured with elegant tannins. Pass the wine with the short braised beef ribs. Almost indecent at this price.
The Granges des Combes 2015 ( SAQ # 11661023, $19.75) was also equally stunning. The appellation of St-Chinian Roquebrun is a village appellation of Saint-Chinian. Between sea and mountain, at the foot of the regional park of High Languedoc, Roquebrun is a village dominated by sunlight. High altitude vineyards rub backs with orange, lemon and tangerine trees.
Floral nose with whole black peppercorns and tamari sauce. Elegant with fine grained tannins and very racy on the palate. I will have this wine any time with a filet mignon stir fry with chinese broccoli and dried shiitakes.
Almost to the end of the tasting we had our last red, Les Fiefs d’Aupenac 2015. ( SAQ # 10559166, $20.50). Striking nose of potpourri, tobacco and red currants. On the mouth, quite perfumed with a long mouth feeling and a mineral finale. Have it with grilled lamb chops and homemade fries.
At last but not least was the Les Fiefs d’Aupenac 2016 in white. ( SAQ # 10559174, $18.55). A predominant blend of Roussanne with a lovely nose displaying white flowers, jasmine. Quite spicy with a round flattering texture. It was a perfect match with a braised rabbit with cream and tarragon with homemade pasta.
Wine of the week
Vignoble du Rêveur Pierres Sauvages 2013
SAQ # 13211843. $19.40
Vignoble du Rêveur, is a new Alsatian brand from Mathieu Deiss, son of acclaimed vigneron Jean-Michel Deiss of Domaine Marcel Deiss. In addition to working in the vines and cellar of his family domaine, Mathieu manages this spectacular 17.3 acre property, making exclusively estate grown wines. Parcels are located mostly in the commune of Bennwihr, just outside of the valley of Kaysersberg. The estate is certified organic by Ecocert, and biodynamic by Demeter.
A blend of different pinot varieties, this Alsatian white is very fresh with a subtle and gourmand mouth. Flavours bring to mind citronella, stone orchard fruits with a very precise minerality. A very long and sensual finale. Match it with seafood asian dishes.