Alsace Region & Wine: What You Need To Know

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Nothing cures a ‘case of the Monday’s’ quite like wine class.  This month, my Mondays are made far more interesting and most certainly more delicious as I have the pleasure of letting the stresses of the day wear off while sipping wine from various regions of France and soaking up the limitless knowledge of Master Sommelier, Scott Harper.  Considering that only 211 people worldwide hold the title of Master Sommelier, one can imagine that Mr. Harper’s mastery of the world of wine is exceptional.

Add to it the fact that two Master Sommeliers reside in Louisville – Brett Davis of La Coop and Doc Crows also holds the title – only adds to the foodie-cred that we are quickly building worldwide.  Last Christmas, Z and I were thrilled to receive the gift of wine school from my parents.  ‘Introduction to the Wines of France I’ was offered through Bellarmine University and would take place over four Mondays.  Set in two hour blocks and hosted at the Bristol, where Mr. Harper serves as Wine Director, I found myself completely immersed in the world of French wine.

Scott has a wonderful way of simplifying a highly complex and multifaceted subject, one that is central to the heart of what makes France, France, and is terribly intimidating to the everyday wine drinker.  I loved every second of Intro to French Wine I and could hardly wait for the fall course of ‘Introduction to the Wines of France II’ to roll around, which is where I find myself now, enjoying the beautiful wines of Alsace, the South of France and Champagne.  I am soaking – and drinking – up as much as possible about this favorite subject and I am excited to share with you my top five take-aways from our first day at school, a day that was all about Alsace!


1: Grape Varieties
The Riesling grape is the primary varietal of the Alsace region.  Following Rielsing, the Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris grapes round out the more well-known Alsace profile.  We sampled a beautiful 2011 Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc from Alsace in class and I was happy to find this same vintage at Westport Whiskey and Wine for $18.99.  Filled with flavors of yellow apple, ripe pear and melon, this wine has a balanced richness with a touch of tart.  Delicious!

2: So you think all Rieslings are sweet…
There is a terrible misconception out there.  One that, if believed, will surely cause you to miss out on wonderfully layered, crisp and mineral-driven wine that is otherwise assumed to be overly sweet and not worth exploring.  This misunderstanding is not surprising as Alsace – formally a part of Germany -shares the same signature long-neck bottle shape as it’s German neighbors (an oft under appreciated wine region we will certainly delve into in a later post).  Alsace and Germany share the same primary grape varietal of Riesling, a wine I previously wrote off as being too saccharine for my taste.  One will be highly pleased to find that the Riesling of Alsace is bone-dry and refreshing.  It is complex and often bears a palate of peach, red apple and plenty of citrus notes.  It is a fantastic wine to pair with food particularly spicy cuisine.

3: The Climate
Huddled at the base of the Vosges Mountains, the vineyards of Alsace are offered protection from rainfall, allowing for ample sunshine and a dry climate.  That said, the region does see four full seasons, with hot summers, cold winters, and spring and autumn seasons touched by the threat of frost and humidity.  An added challenge for winemakers, this also leads to a more complex grape and a multifaceted wine.

4: The Label
Unlike other regions of France, Alsace breaks the mold and, when the makeup is of one grape and not a blend, they choose to label their bottles with both the varietal and the region.  One of the main reasons I tend to bypass the French wine aisle is because the labeling can be so vague, so confusing, denoting only the region and not the grape.  In Alsace they don’t mess around – the grape will be noted and you will have a clear understanding of what you are taking home.  Additionally, as with all wines in France, you want to look for the AOC/AOP denotation.  Standing for ‘Appellation d’Origine Controlee/Protegee’, this indicates that the wine was made under strict conditions and is held to stringent quality-control parameters.  This is the case with all regions in France and is a quick way to check if the wine is up to snuff.  You will also be happy to know that nearly all wine exported to the US falls under this class.  It is hard to go wrong!
5. Food, Glorious Food!
With a refreshing and multifaceted profile, the wines of Alsace are perfect for many a cuisine and are widely considered some of the most food-friendly wines in the world.  Alsace also happens to boast an impressive number of Michelin-Starred restaurants, not that I needed another reason to pack my bags for Alsace (let’s go!).  Having a better understanding of these wines I am excited to try them alongside my foodie-girl creations at home and think the following recipes would pair perfectly well together:
  • Timbach Riesling 2010: Spicy Pork Tenderloin
  • Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc 2011: Pizza with Butternut Squash Puree, Pancetta & Goat Cheese
  • Hugel Gentil 2011, Blend: Sesame Tuna Rolls
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