FRANCE’S ALSACE IS AN UNDERAPPRECIATED SOURCE OF EXCELLENT WHITE WINE
What do you look for in a white wine? Richness? Fruitiness? Or maybe freshness, aromatics, expressiveness, and character? If your preference is more to the latter, I suggest looking to Alsace, where white wine – Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc – is 90 percent of wine production.
In Alsace, wine also is a family affair, with the vast majority of domaines family-owned and operated, and most tracing their heritage in the region back for centuries. Just think of the history some of these families encapsulate since their establishment: Lucien Albrecht (1425), Emile Beyer (1580), Paul Blanck (1610), Weinbach (1612), Jean-Baptiste Adam (1614), Trimbach (1626), Pierre Sparr (1630), Hugel (1639), Charles Frey (1709), Saint-Rémy (1725), and Keuntz-Bas (1795).
The sense of family and coming together for mutual support extends to a history of growers cooperatives, beginning with Cave de Ribeauvillé in 1895. Cave de Cleebourg in this report, founded in 1946, is one of more than a dozen cooperatives that (according to one source) account for about two out of every five bottles of Alsatian wine.
Alsace also has joined other French regions in pursuing sustainable viticulture, with (according to one source) at least 15 percent of the vineyards certified organic or biodynamic, and increasing by double digits annually. In this report Barmès-Buecher, Saint-Rémy, Emile Beyer, Weinbach, Jean-Baptiste Adam, Kuentz-Bas, Albert Boxler, and Charles Frey all produce significant amounts of their wine organically or biodynamically.
One other distinguishing factor is Alsatian wine labels feature the variety prominently rather than the appellation, as with other French regions. (NOTE: the wines below are listed highlighting distinctive qualities in my order of preference but all are recommended.)
Alsatian Gewürztraminer has long been my favorite white wine after German Riesling. I love the grapefruit and lychee fruit and especially the light spiciness, presented with an unctuous texture along with more body than the typical white. These are good introductions:
• 2014 Weinbach Réserve Personnelle ($32) luscious, slightly sweet
• 2014 Saint-Rémy “Rosenberg” ($28) slightly sweet, green fruits
• 2012 Hugel “Hugel” ($22) delightful anise, cinnamon
• 2015 Pierre Sparr ($20) anise, melon
2012 Barmès-Buecher Tradition ($26) plump melon
• 2015 Gustave Lorentz Réserve ($25) semisweet, anise
Dry Alsace Rieslings also are distinctive. They tend to be distinguished with attractive, pure aromas, plentiful, focused and fresh green apple and citrus fruit, and a firm grip on the palate. Typically the wines carry more weight than their German cousins but the aromatics and acidity are just as bracing.
• 2015 Jean-Baptiste Adam “les Naturs” ($18) vivid, pure fruit, organic
• 2016 Lucien Albrecht Reserve ($20) crisp, steely
• 2015 Kuentz-Bas “Tradition” ($17) taut, energetic
• 2016 Allimant-Laugner ($18) stony, fresh
• 2016 Charles Frey “Granit” ($16) herbal, soft
Alsace also excels with pinot gris and pinot blanc, known (along with pinot noir) as the Pinot Family, since they are mutations of the same variety. My tasting generated a new appreciation for these varieties.
Pinot Gris’ lively, pear, peach, citrus and melon qualities show nicely in these:
• 2013 Trimbach Réserve ($26) flowery, creamy, apricots, touch of bitter almond
• 2016 Emile Beyer “Tradition” ($20 flowery,) balanced apricot and pear, harmonious
• 2015 Cave de Cleebourg “Prestige” Pinot Gris ($15) licorice, estate bottled, juicy apple, rich texture
Pinot Blanc is weightier and shows more pear, lime, melon and apple:
• 2014 Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve ($31) cinnamon, brisk
• 2014 Hugel Pinot Blanc Cuvée “Les Amours” ($17) crisp green fruits
• 2015 Trimbach Pinot Blanc ($19) zesty stone, weighty, firm
• 2016 Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc ($16) mineral, chalky, tangy
Check out any of these white wines; they are delicious anytime of the year but especially ideal during these hot days of summer.