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Cooling Down in Alsace

August 4, 2015

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Vineyards in Alsace wine country, and villages such as Ribeauville, Kientzheim, and Kayserberg

The beauty of Alsace is impressive. Strasbourg city includes soaring medieval architecture, and countryside villages are worth exploring by foot. The best wines here are also worth seeking out.

Alsace is the smallest of 22 regions that comprise continental France. Because of its location (bordering Switzerland and Germany), and history (sometimes part of France, sometimes belonging to Germany) the architecture and food appear more Tyrolean or Teutonic than French.

Before 50 BC, the Romans invaded this region and established it as a wine production center. Wise choice. They recognized the value of the sunshine and soil – the terroir – and the economy still thrives on wine production and export.

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This region never lacks color…

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…or readily available wine

I recently spent three days in Alace with my sister and her husband where we tasted about fifty wines. Red wines are often tasted before whites here in order to end on a sweet, strong note. The seven principal grapes include six whites: Riesling, Muscat, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner; and one red: Pinot Noir. Only the first four are used to make Grand Cru wines – although there are exceptions to that rule. Pinot Gris is usually sweeter than Riesling, while Sylvaner – which is apparently somewhat ‘in fashion’ now – is an acidic, somewhat indistinct grape.

There’s a huge difference between low quality and high quality wines here. We generally found Riesling and Pinot Noir to provide the best wines, though some late harvest Muscat and Pinot Gris wines are also excellent.

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image1 (1)The AOC designation of Alsace wines is similar to that of Burgundy – where slope, aspect, and location of soils are considered critical (from a historical perspective) to ensuring quality of grapes produced. Generally, ‘tradition’ wines are from grapes grown on the plains, ‘terroir’ wines from grapes grown on lower slopes, and ‘grand cru’ wines from grapes grown on the steeper, higher, choicest slopes.

Which are dry wines, and which sweet? Some producers, including Edmond Rentz, include a graphic on the back label of bottles that indicate sweetness or dryness. But it’s not always easy to tell in advance.

“The problem with Alsace,” said Anne-Caroline from Domaine Albert Mann, “is that you rarely know which are sweet, and which are dry wines.”

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Alsace vineyards at the base of the Vosges Mountains

Alsace is visually impressive – with rolling hills, thick woods, hilltop fortresses, and small towns of medieval origin in neighboring valleys (such as Ribeauville, Kientzheim, Kayserberg, and Wettolsheim).

Below is a scoring of selected wines we tasted from three producers (scoring was made using the proprietary Vino Value algorithm * ). Some of the ‘superlative’ valued wines are higher priced because their quality is exceptional for this region.

Vino Value Scoring of Selected Wines – Alsace
Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Edmond Rentz (Zellenberg)
Muscat – 2013 € 7.20 $7.85 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – 2013 € 6.70 $7.30 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – ‘Les Alouettes’ 2012 – 2013 € 9.20 $10.03 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – ‘Les Comtes’ 2012 € 8.30 $9.05 Good Value ♫
Riesling – Schoenenbourg Grand Cru 2013 € 10.90 $11.88 Good Value ♫
Pinot Gris – 2014 € 7.50 $8.18 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Gris – Froehn Grand Crus 2012 € 11.90 $12.97 Good Value ♫
Gewürtztraminer- Burg, Le Bourg 2013 € 10.10 $11.01 Good Value ♫
Pinot Gris – Sélection Grainse Nobles 1998 € 49.35 $53.79 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Domaine Albert Mann (Wettolsheim)
Pinot Noir – Clos de la Faille ® 2012 € 32.00 $34.88 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Pinot Noir – Grand P ® 2012 € 43.00 $46.87 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Noir – Les Saintes Claires ® 2013 € 50.00 $54.50 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – Cuvée Albert 2014 € 19.00 $20.71 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Riesling – Schlossberg 2013 € 39.00 $42.51 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Gris – 2014 € 13.00 $14.17 Excellent Value ♫♫
Pinot Gris – Furstentum 2011 € 24.00 $26.16 Good Value ♫
Riesling – Schlossberg Grand Cru L’Epicentre 2013 € 90.00 $98.10 Good Value ♫
Gustave Lorentz (Bergheim)
Cremant – D’Alsace Brut (méthode traditionelle) € 10.25 $11.17 Good Value ♫
Muscat – Cuvée Particulière 2013/2014 € 10.85 $11.83 Excellent Value ♫♫
Riesling – Grand Cru Altenberg ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2009 € 22.75 $24.80 Good Value ♫
Pinot Noir – Elevé en Fût de Chêne 2010 € 15.60 $17.00 Good Value ♫
Gewürtztraminer – Cuvée Particulière 2011/2012 € 13.50 $14.72 Good Value ♫
Gewürtztraminer – Vendanges Tardives 2008 € 33.20 $36.19 Excellent Value ♫♫

* For more information on this proprietary value scoring algorithm, click here.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Colin Day permalink
    August 5, 2015 10:01 PM

    Hi Tom,
    It seems an age since we were at L’Institut de Francais in January and enjoying a glass or three at Chez Betty.
    I’m glad I signed up to your website and enjoy your musings on wine you are tasting all over the place.
    I expect you are speaking French on a regular basis and getting pretty fluent. I’m afraid I am the opposite…
    Your friend guesthouse in Blaye sounds great. I might check it out and try to get back into the French language. I have no problem getting into the wine!
    Keep up the good work. Your posts are very informative.
    Bon journée!
    Colin

    Like

    • August 11, 2015 7:52 PM

      Colin –

      We did have our fair share of low-budget Provence rose at Betty’s in Villefranche. Ah, good times! The French is coming along slower than I expected, so I am supplementing speaking with locals with online lessons. You should come visit sometime – Niel from our class, and his girlfriend Julie, will be here to visit about ten days from now. And the winemakers here in the town of Blaye all speak English….

      Glad you are enjoying the posts! See you down here in Bordeaux sometime… 🙂

      Like

  2. August 5, 2015 1:53 PM

    My friend Les and I met David Rabie during VinExpo 2015 here in Bordeaux. After reading this post, he suggested I visit down south. Sounds like a good idea:

    Hi Tom

    How are you doing that side?

    I think it is time to come visit Wellington SA, the warm Heart of the SA Wine lands.
    http://Www.wellingtonwines.com

    Have a great day.
    Regards
    David

    Like

  3. August 4, 2015 8:57 PM

    Love it! Great photos, those wide shots are beautiful. Very cool – that 1998 Pinot Gris sounds like it would be worth hunting down.

    Like

    • August 5, 2015 1:51 PM

      Yes, good spending time together in the Alsace…Beautiful region. I bought one bottle of that Pinot Gris, so if you’re back in town while I’m here we can have a sip…

      Like

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