Alsace - Vin or Wein?
This article was originally published in Issue 9 of Root + Bone Magazine, www.rootandbone.co.uk
Illustration by Ellis Van Der Does, www.ellisvanderdoes.com
Of all the major wine regions, the winemakers of Alsace would be most within their rights to have a whinge about war and conflict getting in the way of making vin (or wein, depending on the generation in question).
Before I get started, I should probably declare a potential conflict of interest; I love Riesling. OK, I said it, its out there. Something else you should probably know is Alsatian Rieslings are some of my favourites. So what I’m saying is some of the views in this article may appear a bit biased. That’s because they are.
It was with Australian Riesling that my love affair began about 10 years ago. Specifically Riesling from the Clare Valley in South Australia. I was living in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney at the time. A trip to the movies at the Randwick Ritz typically began with a meal at one of the many Thai restaurants on the Spot. The plethora of BYO restaurants in Australia allows for the affordable experimentation of food and wine pairings. With help from the chirpy local bottle shop dude I quickly worked out that Clare Valley Riesling was the best bet for a jungle curry. The intense, tart, lime flavours working well with the sour spice.
As I explored more Rieslings I became addicted and branched out to other regions including Germany, Austria and my favourite; Alsace. With Alsace I was also able to branch out beyond Riesling. The region produces great wines from a wide range of grape varieties, including; Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir.
So what’s this got to do with War & Peace?
Well, Alsace does have some pretty solid war credentials. The French national anthem, La Marseillaise was written in Strasbourg, Alsace’s main city. The song was written in 1792 after the declaration of war by France against Austria and was originally titled “War Song for the Rhine Army”.
Alsace has been involved in more royal rumbles over the years than just about anywhere else in Europe. The region changed hands four times between France and Germany during a 75 year period between the start of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the end of WWII in 1945.
The years of German rule had a big influence on the winemaking in Alsace. German grape varieties such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer are the two most notable grapes. Perhaps more unique is the German style of referencing the grape varieties on the label, rather than the region or village, as is the practice in the rest of France.
The River Rhine was used as a method of transport to ship the wines by both the Alsatian and German merchants. This meant that they were commonly shipped together and were viewed in export markets as the largely the same product. This led to the wines being made in a similar sweet or off-dry style as well as the use of the long, thin bottle shapes, both typical of German wines.
After the end of WWII Alsace was returned to French rule. The French influence meant that the Alsatian wines became much dryer in style. This was a result of the French preference for making wines to be consumed with food. This dry style generally remains most popular today but late harvest dessert wines and off-dry wines are still common.
Anyway, must be about time to taste some wine. Any of these would be a good start to your Alsace invasion…
Gerard Schueller, Pinot Noir LN.O12, 2014
A complete knock out. Cloudy with intense raspberry aromas and then a slight fizz on the tongue. Smooth but edgy, sweet but tart, all at the same time. Back of the net.
Gerard Neumeyer, La Tulipe Pinot Blanc, 2014
Sweet, aromatic peachy nose. Nice body. Dry and fruity. Very moreish. I could drink a lot of this on a long boozy lunch somewhere in the sun.
Rieffel, Brandluft Riesling, 2013
This is all about grapefruit and even a bit of lemon sherbet. Quite full, oily texture. Almost a hint of oak. Long, refreshing finish. I love Riesling.
Julien Meyer, Nature, 2014
I normally find Sylvaner a bit weedy and lightweight, but when blended with Pinot Blanc like this it works. A bit damp on the nose but nice medium body with really minerally lemon & lime refreshment.
Jean-Luc & Bruno Meyer, Gewurztraminer, 2013
Fills the room with lychees and apricots. Smells like a dessert wine. Full bodied sweetness but dries on the finish, balancing it out nicely. This was amazing with a smoked salmon terrine.