I am once again in France leading a couple of bike trips, and this week I am in Brittany (Bretagne) along the northern coast. When I am in a wine-producing region, I generally only consume the wines from the area when I am there. Bretagne, though, is one of the few regions in France that does not produce any wine, so when I am here, I feel like I am free to chose from all other areas when sitting down for a meal.
Whenever I find myself in such a conundrum, I almost always reach for wines from “home.”
Strasbourg, in the eastern most region of Alsace, was my “home” however many years ago when I studied in France. There, I lived with a French family who helped lay the groundwork for my later blossoming wine appreciation. Thus, I “return” there as often as I can, one bottle at a time.
Before I left for France a couple of weeks ago, I sampled these still wines from my second home.
There are, essentially, eight different varieties grown in Alsace and it seems as though Pinot Blanc is a bit of the red-headed stepchild of the bunch as only 7% of the vineyards are planted to the grape (only Muscat has less plantings, but at least it [still] has Grand Cru status)
2016 Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc: Retail $15. Under screw cap. A golden-yellow in the glass with yellow delicious apple, crushed flint, and a touch of lemon rind. The palate is rich and full with a decided minerality through the mid palate and a citrus component that starts mid-way through and lasts through the average finish. Pinot Blanc does not qualify for Grand Cru status in Alsace as it is seen as a somewhat inferior grape variety. Its popularity continues to grow, though, as it is capable of producing flavorful wines with depth and some complexity often at reasonable prices. This is a case in point. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Alsace: Retail $28. Oh Alsace, how I miss thee. I studied in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace when I was a junior in college and that was where my love for wine was born. The family with whom I stayed loved wine and gave me many a lesson around the dinner table (they also were fascists and racists, but luckily only their views on wine took hold). I have been back several times since, leading bike trips through the vineyards and every trip makes it feel more like home. This winery is located in Niedermorschwihr, which is home to several of my favorite producers and I might have to add Boxler to the list. Pale gold with honeysuckle, guava, and pear, this wine is a delight. Ample acidity, plenty of fruit (even half a decade out), this is a winner. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Pinot Noir, the only red produced in Alsace, is not afforded Grand Cru status either, basically due to the fact that it is often difficult to get the grapes to ripen sufficiently (or at least that used to be the case before climate change).
2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés, Alsace, France: Retail $20. There is not a ton of Pinot Noir from Alsace that makes it into the United States. Like its paler cousin, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir has been treated, at best, as an afterthought. And for good reason: most of the Pinot Noir I have tried from my adopted second home has been at best a bit thin, and at worst close to insipid. Not here. Not by a long shot. While this would never be confused with a Grand Cru Burgundy or a Russian River Valley Cult Pinot, this is simply delicious: a bit of a funky cherry on the nose, but delightful on the palate with luscious, yes luscious fruit (cherry and raspberry), fantastic tartness, and an earthy, juicy finish. Lovely. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2016 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir Les Jardins, Alsace, France: Retail $32. When I opened this, it was funky. In fact, it put the first four letters “f-u-n-k” into “funky.” That is not rare in my experiences with Pinot from Alsace. I might even characterize it as “normal.” After about 24 hours, I decided to try it again. Glad I did. Not only was the funk essentially gone, but it’s absence revealed perhaps the fruitiest Pinot Noir from the region that I have tried. The fruit? Bright, intense cherry, reminiscent of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops. While normally, that would be a detriment, here it is an asset. The cherry persists onto the palate, along with a bit of earthiness and plenty of brilliant tartness. This is not going to change anyone’s conceptions vis-à-vis Pinot Noir from the extreme east of France, but it is a heck of a lot of fun to drink (after the funk left the room, of course). Very Good. 87-89 Points.
There are, essentially, three varieties in Alsace that can be granted Grand Cru status: Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer (there is technically a fourth, Muscat, but sadly there is so little produced that it is essentially becoming a footnote–or a parenthetical). While I have strong disdain for most Pinot Grigio wines, I have an even stronger admiration for Pinot Gris from Alsace.
2016 Emile Beyer Pinot Gris Tradition Alsace: Retail $$$$. The yellow to slightly golden color leads to some reductive notes and eventually a bit of pear. The palate is rich and full with tree fruit and (pear and peach), a bit of spice, and discernible residual sugar. Like with most French-style Pinot Gris, the wine can handle a bit of sweetness as it balances out the fruit flavors, the acidity, and the flinty finish. The versatility of this variety justifies my belief that this is the Alsatian variety, mores than Riesling (and yes, I understand the debate around the word “Alsatian”). Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Alsace: Retail $26. One of the great distinguishing features of the appellation is that current wines, which are mostly white, often have a few years of age on them. Why? Well, the producers know that their wines could use a bit more time than the standard 6-9 months of “aging.” The wine, a brilliant yellow-gold, with aromas of pear, peach, and touches of smoke. Full-bodied on the palate, with rich yet tart fruit, plenty of depth through the midpalate, and a lengthy, tasty finish. This is why I really don’t understand the Italian style of this grape–the French way, and this wine in particular, shows how incredible this variety can be. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
Last, I had a couple of Grand Cru Rieslings and while I said that I consider Pinot Gris the Alsatian variety, Riesling is such for the majority of folks out there.
2014 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Muenchberg, Epfig, France: Retail $60. I studied in Strasbourg, France for a year way back when, and I have led a few trips in Alsace as a cycling tour guide. I also spent a week in Riquewihr with my family a couple of years ago. In other words, I have been there a lot. But I have never been to Epfig or seen the Muenchberg (“Monk’s Mountain”). After tasting this Kermit Lynch imported wine (a sure sign of quality), though, a trip there to visit Domaine Ostertag might be a necessity. Rich and unctuous in the glass with an incredible nose: candied pear, floral, with even some cedar, this is one of the more impressive Rieslings I have sampled this year even before tasting it. Whoa. Rich and lovely on the palate, the pear is certainly there, but it is surrounded by a hefty weight, rich flavors, and just a tinge of petrol yumminess. Whoa. This is outrageously good. 94.
2014 Meyer Fonné Riesling Alsace Grand Cru, Wineck-Schlossberg, Katzenthal, France: Retail $25. I tasted this and the Ostertag on the same night, but not side-by-side but rather one after the other. This was the second and luckily I randomly made the correct choice. While the Ostertag was off-the-charts goodness, this Meyer Fonné was absolutely mind-blowing. Lemon and pear, enveloped with petrol and acacia, I uttered a “Whoa” within seconds of opening this wine. While many wines struggle to keep up with their “noses,” this wine’s palate exceeds by more than just a smidge. Holy cow. Rich, unctuous, deep, lengthy, this is a Riesling to end most Rieslings. Whoa. Can I be more effusive? I could try, but it would just become ridiculous. This is the best Riesling from Alsace I have tried and perhaps the best Riesling period. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 96-98 Points.