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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Vins d'Alsace - The 11 Wonderful Wines of the Alsace, France.

from
Behind the French Menu
By
Bryan G.Newman
  
The Alsace and the Vosges
   
The Alsace is beautiful and apart from its excellent wines has some of the most beautiful villages in France along with many brilliant chefs in its many restaurants. Travelling in the region includes the Regional Park of the Ballons des Vosges which cover parts of the Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté. From there you may make short journeys into Lorraine and across the Rhine into Germany and part of the Black Forest. Here, in the winter from heights in the Regional Park winter many enjoy the cross-country skiing. The view from the high points of the Alsace are entirely different to those of the summer, you may think you are in another country.


Where is the Alsace
  

Alsace is in France’s North.  Germany to the North and  to the East the borders are Germany along the Rhine.  Also to the East is Switzerland. To the West are the French regions of Lorraine and Franche-Comte.

Over a period of twenty-five plus years, I worked for ten days a year in and on the borders of the Alsace. I became enamored with the wines and chefs who made the Alsace a unique culinary center in France. With friends and colleagues over such an  extended period, we tried nearly all the wines, most with delight, a few with sorrow.  It was after work that we took the evenings, weekends and added family vacations to explore the Alsace its wines and restaurants. As our guide we used the recommendations of our new friends whose restaurants we visited early on, and of course, the Route des Vins d'Alsace, the main wine road of the Alsace. There was no decision to spend ten days in the area; as day follows night so I followed trade shows. If you have to be in the area around April it is a wonderful time of the year and I never regretted my visits.
   

Follow this sign

There are ten grapes in the Alsace that give their names to AOP wines in the Alsace though some will say nine. Altogether with the crus and sweet wines these ten become the 51 AOP wines in the Alsace.
  
The ten grapes behind the AOP wines of the Alsace.
  
Auxerrois Blanc
Chasselas or Gutadel d’Alsace
Gewurztraminer d’Alsace.
Klevener de Heiligenstein
Muscat d’Alsac
Pinot Blanc d’Alsace,
Pinot Gris d’Alsace also called or Clevner  or Klevner
Pinot Noir d’Alsace
Riesling d’Alsace
Sylvaner
  
The tenth wine is the Alsatian Auxerrois Blanc AOP that is in contention; it is the first wine in alphabetically list of grapes above. It is a unique wine that will be found replacing some 30% of all Pinot Blanc d’Alsace wines, and few can tell the difference.  Despite that my friends and I never found a bottle  with Auxerrois Blanc AOP on the label. Apart from replacing Pinot Blanc an equal percentage of Auxerrois Blanc is also in the wonderful sparkling Crémants d’Alsace. More about that later.

There is also an eleventh wine, the Chardonnay d’Alsace that is crucial for some 50% of the Crémants d’Alsace. However, this is not an AOP wine and is classified as mere Vin de France, details further down. Despite this wine’s low stature nearly half of the wonderful sparkling Crémants d’Alsace are made with Chardonnay and the wine produced, the Crémant d’Alsace is among the best Cremants in all of France and it has its own AOP.

The names used for Alsatian wines:
 
Unlike most other French AOP wines, the AOC wines of Alsace may be named after the grape variety from which they are produced and must contain 85% to 100% of that grape.


Route de Vins of the Alsace, the Alsace wine road.
Photograph courtesy of the Alsatian English language website: www.alsace-wine-route.com
  
We researched the Route de Vins d'Alsace, the Alsace wine route. The road runs for some 185 km (115 miles) from South to North; it is practically a straight line crossing all the important wine centers and at most it is about 40 km (25 miles) from East to West.  Some visitors drive the whole Alsatian wine route in a week or ten days and then say they have been there, done that, but they will have missed a great deal. The Route de Vin d’ Alsace runs from Thann in the south (near Mulhouse the largest city in the Alsace) to Marelheim just past Strasbourg the capital of the European Parliament. My friends and I did not cover the route from South to North choosing instead for our wine and restaurant tours groups of villages in different wine areas.  We spent evenings and weekends there; often we would returned and  sometimes we moved on.
   
During the weekends or on free days, we wandered the streets of these beautiful villages with their endless wine shops, curio shops and houses with stork nests on the rooftops.  In a single village, there may be twenty plus wine shops, many offering wines from different vintners. Some shops are set up on the stairs to a house, others in family dining rooms and yet others are full-service wine shops in a cellar. In the house of one vintner, we were taken into the family living room where from the family pictures we could see that time had stood still since the 1920’s. The elderly and gracious owner plied us with wine from two different appellations and three different years and then gave us each two bottles to take with us and refused to take any payment. She said this is my home, you are my guests. This is not a shop and here I do not sell wine. Over a wonderful two hours battling through with our bad French we learned about the family and their wines history. N.B. Alsace has over 1,000 producers and all produce wines from more than one appellation and of course, they offer wines from different years. To do the Alsatian wines justice you do not need 25 years, you need 100!
   

The Storks of Riquewhir
   
Resting for the serious wining and dining.
   
In the afternoon, we would go to our hotels and rest; we needed to be rested to be ready for the serious dining and wining in the evening.  Alsatian wines will not only be on the wine list but also on the menu, in many restaurants, you may see the how Alsatian wines are used in the kitchen
  
Wining and dining in the Alsace in Alphabetical order:
 
Auxerrois Blanc AOP is out there, but I have never seen it on an Alsatian wine list. This white wine competes with Chardonnay to be the wine behind the Cremant d’Alsace and often competes with Pinot Blanc where it replaces the wine in the bottle though the label will still read Pinot Blanc.  You will not see this wine on its own, but it will be part of many blends, and it may well be hiding in that bottle marked Pinot Blanc, you would never know. I have not seen the Auxerrois Blanc on a French Menu.
  
Chardonnay

Chardonnay on the Alsatian wine list:
 
Chardonnay in the Alsace is probably the most important grape used in the Crémant d’Alsace. However, important this wine on its own has to be sold as a Vin de France. A Vin de France is today the most basic rating for a wine from France; it is the new name for wines that were previously called Vin de Table, table wines.  These are the cheapest wines on the market and the wines that are most often seen on the table in private homes.  Vins de France are the rating below the AOP and the IGP.  Many Vins de France wine are considered basic and inexpensive wines, but knowledgeable Sommeliers and Restaurateurs will find gold among these wines. A wine may be reduced to Vin de France status merely because they did not keep one of the rulings for an AOP wine or were grown outside an appellation, though they remain great wine. The restaurant professionals look for a Vin de France, which should be rated much higher, and they buy up all the production they can afford. Then they make this their house wine and with such a unique find they can offer their customers real value and have them returning for the wine alone. The Alsace sells plain, not sparkling, Chardonnay wines and we did find a few of these.  They are not great wines, but they did make a change, and they have their admirers. We found these wines in the villages of Turckheim and Kayseberg both better-known for their Gewürztraminer wines.  We did not see Chardonnay d’Alsace on any menus, but I am sure they are out there.


Crémant d'Alsace  AOP on the Alsatian wine list.
 
Cremant d’Alsace

The Crémant d'Alsace is a wonderful sparkling wine. This Crémant may be blended with a variety of other Alsatian wines, but the primary white blends will be Chardonnay or Auxerrois Blanc. Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling may also be in the blend, but the Crémant will be sold as a Crémant d'Alsace and the label will not note the wines in the blend though the vintner may tell you. The Crémant d'Alsace is made by the traditional method, that means the Champagne method, made with a second fermentation in the bottle.  The bottle design is the traditional Champagne bottle.  For the visitor and buyer at home, I suggest ordering a dry Crémant d'Alsace, that is a brut, dry, or even an ultra brut, very dry, whether the Crémant is, a white or a rose.  The wine will be an enjoyable sparkling wine that can accompany nearly any dish.  N.B. A semi-sweet crémant will be very, very sweet and may make many dishes unpalatable. Click on my previous posts on Cremants and Champagnes and note the sparkling wine sweetness grades at the end of those posts. Read them before you buy or order any sparkling wine. The meanings of dry, semi-dry, etc. for all sparkling wine and are very, very different to those of still wines. 


For the Crémants d'Alsace we first visited some three villages that at most were some 5 km (3 miles) from each other in the Haute Rhine.  We chose Mittelwihr, Kaysersberg, and Sigolsheim.  These villages are also at most 12 km (8 miles) from Colmar the beautiful regional capital with its many excellent restaurants, and of course, wine shops. In the village wine shops, they offer more than just the Crémant d”Alsace and around these beautiful villages are many growers who specialize in Gewurztraminer.

I have never had a Crémant d’Alsace that I did not enjoy, but the wines will differ from vintner to vintner. A Crémant may also be offered as a Blanc de Noir. A Blanc de Noir is a white wine in the Alsace made with the black Pinot Noir grape, that is a different Cremant d'Alsace.   In the restaurants when ordering Crémants we usually drank the same wine all through dinner apart from the aperitif and digestif

The Alsatian Rosé Crémants may only be made from Pinot Noir. In Champagne, the pink champagnes are made by adding a red wine to a white Champagne wine.  If you tried that in the Alsace, you would be out on your ear!

Cremant d’Alsace on French menus:
     
Cremant d'Alsace.
  
Your aperitif may be a Kir Royale au Crémant d'Alsace. Kir, the aperitif, has black currant liquor added to a Cremant wine.  While no longer at the top of the popularity stakes Kir has never gone out of fashion. While the original Kir Royale came from Burgundy I enjoy no less the Kir Royale from the Alsace.
   

Kir Royale
Photograph courtesy of Alex Brown

Noix de St-Jacques Rôties, Beurre Blanc au Crémant d'Alsace, Risotto aux Champignons – The roasted meat of the King Scallop served with a Beurre Blanc sauce made with the Crémant d’Alsace and a mushroom risotto. The Beurre Blanc sauce is France’s favorite sauce for fish and seafood. Also see the post on the city of Nantes where this sauce originated.

Sorbet Goyave Arrosé Crémant d'Alsace. A guava, the fruit, sorbet sprinkled and flavored with Crémant d’Alsace.

Choucroute Royale au Crémant d'Alsace - Choucroute Garni is a huge Alsatian traditional meal of pickled cabbage, sausages, pork and much more.  Choucroute Royal is the over the top version of this dish replacing the white wine with a Crémant.

Chasselas or Gutadel on the Alsatian wine list:

Chasselas or Gutadel outside the Alsace is the grape behind the French Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC wine and the Swiss Fendant. The Alsatian Chasselas wine has a fresh bouquet and is a crisp, slightly mineral, dry wine. The Alsatian Chasselas is an excellent wine for an aperitif,  but only a little of this unique wine is grown in the Alsace.
 
The Chasselas vines originally came from Germany and Chasselas’s second name is Gutedel, and that means good and noble in German. The Chasselas grape’s most famous cousin, albeit a distant cousin is one of France’s two most famous AOC table grapes, this is the unique and incredibly tasty Raisin Chasselas de Moissac AOC. For our first look at the Chasselas wine we went to the villages of Riquewihr and Ammerschwihr, they are some 8 km apart. These villages and communities all offer the Alsace wines, but some of the best Chasselas comes from the area around these villages.
 
Chasselas d’Alsace on French menus:
 
Les Filets de Féra du Lac Pochés, Servis Avec une Sauce du Chasselas. Filets of the broad whitefish, a member of the trout and salmon family, caught in the lakes and poached and served with a Chasselas wine sauce.

Blanquette de Sandre su Chasselas Etuvée De Lentilles Vertes En Duo De Poireaux Aux Deux Façons. - A stew of pike perch, zander, the fish.  The stew will be flavored with mushrooms and the Chasselas wine, and here it is served with steamed green lentils and leeks prepared in two different manners.


Edelzwicker and Gentil on the Alsatian wine list. 

Edelzwicker and Gentil are mixed blended wines with which may include any of the other Alsatian wines with some minimum quantity rules. I recommend all other Alsace white wines apart from these two cheap wines. I advise you to leave them alone.  These two wines have tastes that vary from year to year, ingredients that vary from producer to producer. These wines can only be excused as a marketing manager’s way of cheaply getting rid of over production.  They are sold cheaply, but it is best to forget about them as you will never know what you will be getting. None of those wines for me.

Gewurztraminer AOC on the Alsatian wine-list

Gewurztraminer AOC is a very fruity, occasionally sweet, but mostly semi-dry to dry wine. It is probably the best-known Alsatian wine now copied and grown all over the world. When semi-dry it is my favorite Alsatian wine narrowly winning against the Alsatian Pinot Gris and winning hands down against all the copies outside the Alsace.  If I had to choose an all-around favorite for a dinner with only one white wine and menu choices of asparagus, fish, poultry, fruit, cheese and a dessert course then it would have to be a Gewurztraminer d’Alsace AOP. Locally this wine is just called a Gewürz. Do not choose a Gewurztraminer that is very sweet, that may be nice as an aperitif or accompanying foie gras, but it will take over the tastes of the entrees and main dishes.


Gewurztraminer d’Alsace

For Gewurztraminer, we visited the villages of Winzenheim, Hunawihr, Kaysersberg and Riquewihr, they are all about 11 km (7 miles) from each other. We had heard about great restaurants in the area and apart from the wines we were also targeting restaurants. While checking the wines we found the workplaces of quite a few outstanding chefs.
 
We spent time learning about the many grades and types of Gewurztraminer. That includes the Gewurztraminer Grand Crus from separate appellations and Vendage Tardive wines plus the Sélection de Grains Noble. The Vendage Tardive are made with grapes that are left on the vine long past the usual harvest date. Open a bottle of a Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive and the area around is filled with the scent of flowers, these are very sweet wines. The Sélection de Grains Noble Alsatian wines are separate wines and are even sweeter than the Vendange Tardive wines. The Sélection de Grains Noble Alsatian wines are the highest grade of the Alsatian dessert wines.  Then there is the Marc de Gewürztraminer. Marcs, like Italian Grappas, and similar brandies from other wine producing countries are made from grape skins, leaves, pulp and seeds that are left over from the production of wines. Marc de Gewurztraminer 40% alcohol, adds its special scent and taste to sauces. To the wines add Gewurztraminer vinegar. Gewürztraminer Vinaigrette and other sauces made with this vinegar bring that scent of flowers. For more on all the versions of Gewürztraminer see the post: Gewurztraminer the wine.
 
Gewurztraminer on French Menus:

Dos de Maigre aux Effluves d'Epices Cuit sous vos Yeux Sauce Beurre Blanc au Gewurztraminer et son Risotto aux Champignons - A  thick cut from the back of meagre,  the fish. The fish is called Croaker, Shade Fish or Salmon Bass in English. Here the fish is scented with spices and cooked in front of the diner in a Beurre Blanc Sauce made with Gewurztraminer wine and served accompanied by a mushroom risotto.  The Beurre Blanc Sauce originated in the town of Nantes is France’s favorite sauce for fish dishes and also for certain seafood dishes.

Munster Flambé au Marc de Gewurztraminer. The Alsace’s famous AOP Munster cheese served flambéed with the Gewurztraminer 40% alcohol Marc brandy.

Parfait Glacé au Gewurztraminer. This is a frozen dessert parfait, often this will be a fruit based mousse, made with cream and here, however it is made, it is flavored with Gewürztraminer
 
There are many grades and types of Gewurztraminer, and the Grand Crus come from separate appellations and may be improved with aging over many years. That is not true for the less expensive Gewurztraminers that that we bought. The wines we bought were at their best at two years of age. In restaurants, Grand Crus can cost more than the meal, and we had agreed that we would not pay more for the wine than the main course. The sweet Vendage Tardive wines are made with grapes that are left on the vine long past the usual harvest date and when bottled may be aged for years. When you open a bottle of a Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive, the area around is filled with the scent of flowers.  The wines called the Sélection de Grains Noble Alsatian wines are even sweeter than the Vendange Tardive wines and are the highest grade of the Alsatian dessert wines.  There is also Gewurztraminer vinegar that adds its special scent and taste to sauces.  Vinaigrettes and other sauces made with vinegar, bring a scent of flowers. For more on all the versions of Gewurztraminer see the post: Gewurztraminer the white, semi-dry wine.

Muscat d'Alsace on Alsatian wine lists:

Muscat d'Alsace is a dry white wine; not at all like a sweet Muscat.  The is a very special Muscat wine that is distinguished from others in Germany and elsewhere in that it is very clear dry wine. The Muscat also makes a wonderful aperitif.  There are two types of Muscat, and their origins are noted on the label.  In our tastings, we could taste differences but neither seemed to dominate as the very best.

The rarest of the two Muscats in the Alsace is called the Muscat à Petits Grains. This Muscat is said to be one of the world’s oldest grapes. This is the grape that is grown all across the Old World and used for raisins, as a dessert wine and is behind all the different variations of Muscat wines. The other Muscat in the Alsace is the Muscat Ottonel.

We went looking for Muscat in the villages of Voegtlinshoffen and Geuberschwihr. The two villages are less than 1 km apart, and we also visited Turckheim about eight km (5 miles) away.

 Muscat d’Alsace on  French menus:

Foie Gras de Canard au Muscat d'Alsace, Confiture d'Oignons  - Fattened duck liver prepared with the Muscat d’Alsace and served with a sweet onion jam.
 
Le Poêlon d'Escargots au Muscat d'Alsace – Lightly fried snails prepared with the Muscat d’Alsace.

Pinot Gris AOC on the Alsatian Wine-lists:
 
 Pinot Gris AOC was previously called Tokay Pinot Gris AOC. (The name change is whole other story and connected to Hungary!). Pinot Gris d’Alsace is great full-bodied fragrant semi-dry to dry wine and my personal choice for salmon and poultry.

The grape was only distinguished from Chardonnay 100 years ago, and while clearly different the Chardonnay association may be noticed.   

Pinot Gris is one out of several varieties of the Pinot family that are grown in Alsace. In Italy Pinot Gris is known as Pinot Grigio, and there the original grape may have developed. Today the Alsatian Pinot Gris and the Italian Pinot Grigio are very different wines.  In the Loire Pinot Gris is called Malvoisie which was one of the wines blended with Champagne in the 17th century. In Burgundy Pinot Gris is called Pinot Beurot and grown mostly in the department of Yonne. Pinot Gris also has Grand Cru wines along with the sweet Vendant Tardive and their Sélection de Grains Noble.
  

Pinot Gris d’Alsace
  
Pinot Gris on French menus:
  
Dos de Sandre Rôti sur Oeau, sur Lit de Choux Vert Confit, Sauce Gris de Pinot Gris – A thick cut from the back of a pike perch roasted in its skin and served on a bed of green cabbage slowly cooked and offered as a sweet jam or condiment all flavored with Pinot Gris.

Foie Gras de Canard "Maison", Gelée au Pinot Gris et Pain de Campagne Grillé. Fattened duck liver prepared in the chef’s own manner along with an aspic jelly flavored with Pinot Gris and served with toasted country bread.
 
Gros Turbot Sauvage: Rôti sur l'Arête, Potimarron et Châtaigne, Réduction de Pinot Gris – A large cut from wild turbot roasted on the bone and served with pumpkin and chestnuts and a sauce flavored with Pinot Noir.  Wild turbot “sauvage” is noted here as France is one of the few countries that are actively sea-farming turbot. This restaurant wants to be sure that you know why you will be paying a higher price. Remember,  fish are very much what they eat and wild turbot will be tastier than farmed turbot.

Pinot Blanc d’Alsace also called Clevner or Klevner on Alsatian wine-lists

Pinot Blanc or Clevner or Klevner is not to be confused with the Klevener Heiligenstein. In the Alsace under the appellation rules, the Alsace Pinot Blanc may be applied as a wine designation to a white wine consisting of Auxerrois Blanc. Nearly 20% of Alsatian vineyards are planted with Pinot Blanc. 

Pinot Blanc has a pale yellow color with hints of green.  The wine is bright and clear. The bouquet is fresh, slightly fruity. It is a perfect example of a medium Alsatian white wine

The Auxerrois Blanc grape may legally replace the Pinot Gris in a bottle and retain the name, Pinot Blanc. I never saw a bottle where there was any marking to identify the wine inside as Auxerrois Blanc; I suppose you have to know the vintner and in any case we never suffered
 
For Pinot Blanc, we visited the villages of  Katzenthal and Niedermorschwihr which are less than 0,5 km apart.
  

Pinot Blanc d’Alsace (or is it)?
Photograph courtesy of Mattias Pettersson

Pinot Blanc d’Alsace on French menus:

Fricassée d'Escargots au Pinot Blanc et Champignons.  A snail stew made with Pinot Blanc and mushrooms 

Filet de Sandre au Pinot Blanc. - A filet of Pike Perch, Zander, prepared with Pinot Blanc.
 
Pinot Noir d’Alsace AOC on Alsatian Wine-lists:
  
Pinot Noir d’Alsace AOC - The only red wine, really a rosé, grown in the Alsace. It is a pleasant light rose or vinified  as a light red wine. If you have ordered a steak or a beef stew and wish for an intense red to accompany it, you will need to choose a red wine from outside the Alsace. Some meat dishes made with a Pinot Noir sauce are excellent though the Pinot Noir d’Alsace does not suit every meat dish.

Pinot Noir is, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, one the Worlds' most famous grapes for blended red wine.
 
For Pinot Noir, we visited the villages of Pfaffenheim, Rouffach, and Westhalten with less than 5 km (3 miles) between each village.  

Pinot Noir is also used for the production of Crémants d’Alsace Blancs de Noirs and the Crémant d’Alsace Rosé. Blanc de Noirs, as with Champagne, are white wines made with black grapes. These do have a different taste to white Cremants made with white grapes.
.
Pinot Noir d’Alsace on French menus:

Faux Filet Rôti, Sauce Aux Pinot Noir. –  A steak from just below the French entrecôte, roasted;  this is just below the cut for a US rib eye steak.  In the USA, this may be called a Strip Steak, among other names.  In the UK, this would be a UK sirloin steak, the cut above the rump and a very different cut to the US sirloin,  These are very juicy steaks and if you have the choice order yours as thick as possible. A contre-fillet will be grilled, or lightly pan-fried, and never well done. Well done this cut will be very tough so see the post: Ordering a steak cooked the way you like it.

Filet De Loup De Mer Au Pinot Noir  - This is the European Sea Bass, more often on French menus as Bar.  Loup de Mer  – The European Sea Bass, Sea Bass, Bass, Common Bass, Sea Perch, White Salmon, King of the mullets. Here the fish is served in a Pinot Noir Sauce.

Le Magret de Canard au Pinot Noir, Poires aux Airelles et Späetzles Maison Duck breast prepared with Pinot Noir, pears, cranberries and the restaurant's special version of spaetzli. Spaetzli or Spaetzle are small dumplings from the Alsace. They look something like overweight bumpy noodles and will be served as a garnish instead of potatoes or rice.  Despite their shape they are made, like most other dumplings, with flour, eggs, and water or milk; they are often flavored with herbs and or mushrooms. The dish is taken from a German recipe, and the word spâtzlé means little sparrow in German.
  

Magret de Canard au Pinot Noir.
   
  Sylvaner - Sylvaner d'Alsace on Alsatian wine lists:

 Sylvaner d'Alsace is a light white; the best are dry and crispy. Among the wines of Alsace, it is a white wine somewhat less aromatic than others, but it is wonderful with many seafood dishes.

In search of Sylvaner, we visited the villages of Rouffach, Westhalten, and Orschwihr all under 4 km  (2.5 miles) from each other.
 
Sylvaner d'Alsace on French menus:

Foie Gras de Canard, Chutney de Mirabelle au Sylvaner – Fattened duck liver served with a chutney made with France’s favorite and unique Mirabelle plums flavored with Sylvaner

Papillote De Saumon Et Rouget Sur Lit De Julienne De Légumes Ou Choucroute et sa Crème de Sylvane. Salmon and Striped Red Mullet cooked inside a sealed waxed paper or baking parchment paper, in English-English, that is grease-proof paper. Alternatively, aluminum foil is often used. The sealing keeps all the flavors in. Inside the sealed bag the fish on this menu listing is cooked on a bed of thinly cut (Julienne) vegetables along with the Alsace’s signature choucroute (pickled cabbage). All come served with a crème Sylvaner sauce. When opened, in front of the diner all the aromas rise together and none of the tastes are lost.

Terrine de Lapin au Sylvaner (An Alsatian specialty) – A rabbit pate flavored with Sylvaner.  The dish is made with farmed rabbits and is an Alsatian favorite, almost an Alsatian comfort food.
   

Terrine de Lapin.
 
Riesling d’Alsace on the Alsatian wine list:

Riesling is, among the serious Alsatian wine cognoscenti the number one wine of the Alsace, my claim for Gewurztraminer non-withstanding. Riesling is also the most widely grown vine in the Alsace.

Riesling vines probably began over the border in Germany on the banks of the River Rhine and spread to wine-growing regions all over the globe.  The Riesling grown in the Alsace is very clearly better than that of its German relative though the German’s are coming out with some newer and excellent dry Rieslings. The Alsatian Riesling has a wonderful bouquet with fruity aromas and a flinty taste in the back. Riesling is also one the Alsatian white wines that will age well in the bottle.

We visited the villages of Bergheim, Hunawihr, and Saint-Hippolyte all about 4 km (2.5miles) from each other when searching for Riesling. The Alsatian Riesling is a light green to yellow wine with a mineral bouquet with slight floral notes. This wine is not at all like the sweet Rieslings of Germany, and the Alsace makes no sparkling Riesling. The Alsatian Riesling is a dry white wine; Alsatian Rieslings also have Grand Crus and sweet Graines Nobles. I enjoy Alsatian Riesling as a superior dry white wine, but with most  meals in the Alsace I still prefer the Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris. 
  
Riesling d’Alsace
  
Riesling d’Alsace on French Menus:

Demi-Coquelet au Vin d'Alsace, Spaetzle Maison  –  Half of a 4 – 6 weeks old cockerel, a rooster. A young chicken of similar age is a poussin. This will be a French entrée or part of a light lunch. Spaetzli or Spaetzle are small dumplings from the Alsace.

Truite au Riesling - Rainbow or Steelhead trout.  This trout is also called Kamloops trout, Salmon Trout, Summer Salmon and Coast Angel Trout. N.B. The trout called salmon trout in North America is not the fish called salmon trout in Europe, they are different members of the trout family. Probably 90% of the truite arc-en-cel, rainbow trout, in France will have been farmed. Other rainbow trout in France will have been caught in rivers and lakes that have been stocked. Rainbow trout have a firm flesh with an excellent taste, and when the menu just says trout without any additional names, then the trout on the menu is rainbow trout. The majority of the farmed fish are sold when they weigh less than one kilo though in the wild they may grow to over 20 kilos.

Ėchine Fumée, Saucisse à l'Ail, Saucisse au Riesling et Pommes de Terre Vapeur. Smoked pork spare ribs with garlic sausage and a Riesling flavored sausage served with steamed potatoes.

Klevener de Heiligenstein on Alsatian wine lists:
 
Klevener de Heiligenstein is a rare grape variety also known as Traminer or Savagnin Rose. It is produced in only a few hectares around the village of Heiligenstein; We went to the villages of Heiligenstein, Obernai, and Rosheim all some 6km (4 miles) apart in search of  Klevener de Heiligenstein. There we found the wine, but the village of Obernai is, even more, famous for the local breweries that include Kronenbourg and Stoeffler beers among others.

Klevener de Heiligenstein is very popular with the Alsatian wine Cognoscente. It is a light dry white wine with a golden yellow color, with a mild aromatic floral bouquet that is very clear. This wine will often be on a wine list as an aperitif or dessert wine. The wine is less aromatic than Gewurztraminer, and if you buy a bottle, it is at its best when just two years old. The wine is not to be confused with the other wine made from grape varieties named Clevner or Klevner.

Klevener de Heiligenstein on French menus:

Filet de Turbot Fine sauce au Klevener de Heiligenstein – A filet of turbot, the fish, served with a sauce made with the Klevener de Heiligenstein wine.
 
Foie Gras de Canard Parfumé au Klevener Prestige de Heiligensteinet sa Confiture de Figues Violettes. Duck fois gras perfumed with the Prestige Klevener de Heiligensteinet and served with a jam made from violet colored figs.
 
Le Sandre Rôti au Klevener de Heiligenstein, Riz et Légumes de Saison -  The fish Pike-Perch or Zander; roasted with the Klevener de Heiligenstein wine and served with rice and the seasons vegetables. Pike-Perch is a meaty tasty freshwater fish somewhat similar to pike that is called brochet in French and also very popular. In the Alsace the lakes and rivers are stocked with these two fish and they are also farmed.
  
The laws of the Alsace wines

All Alsace wines except, the Crémants, must by law be bottled in the region of production, in the traditional thin looking Alsace bottle called a flûte. (see the post Bouteilles, on French bottle shapes and sizes).

The best sweet Alsatian wines and  the excellent Sauternes from Bordeaux:
    
Among the four Vendant Tardive wines of the Alsace the Vendant Tardive Gewurztraminer and the Vendant Tardive Pinot Gris, can hold their own when up against the Sauternes from Bordeaux.
 
Exploring the Alsace along with its wines is a unique experience. It is very different to exploring the wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy and not just because Alsace is famous for its white wines and produces only one red. It is different because the wines are very different as are the villages, the people, and the countryside. The wines are, with rare exceptions are not limited to a single area and grow in vineyards all over the place along the wine route.
 
In the beginning, we were novice explorers enjoying the newspaper and magazine reports on excellent Alsatian chefs and the wines served in their restaurants. Later our guides to the wines were the chefs and sommeliers.  These experts became friends, and then they would suggest their favorite wines and even competing restaurants where there were other great chefs.
 
The Alsace wine route has many smaller trails branching off along the way, and there you will see many of France’s most beautiful villages. We chose the quieter trails and picked groups of villages, close by each other where we could wander and taste different wines. We did not want to spend hours driving, but rather we chose fairyland villages that were at most a ten or fifteen-minute drive away from another village. I never expected to spend twenty-five years for ten days a year in the Alsace, but that time frame also gave me many opportunities to meet many the growers and return a few years later and then again. The wines from single vintner are not the same year after year; the climate affects wines, and while they may always be good they will be different.
    
Alsace wines have a Confrérie
   
Of course to promote and protect its wines Alsace has a confrérie. This one goes back to 1561; probably the oldest specifically wine-centered confrérie in France. This is the Confrérie Saint-Etienne. The name is derived from the feast of Saint-Etienne, historically held on the 26th December. In 1973, its headquarters were installed in the Château de Kientzheim near Kaysersberg, and no one may become a Confrère unless he is joyful, fond of good living, of Alsace wines and has passed a wine tasting test set by the Grand Council.
  
The escutcheon of the Confrérie Saint-Etienne. 
  
Confréries were Brotherhoods; today these are nearly all brotherhoods and sisterhoods and dedicated to food and wine. France once had hundreds of brotherhoods, many with ancient religious or secret craft backgrounds; shades of the Da Vinci code.  In France, hundreds of confréries devote themselves to foods and wines including liquors, cheeses, fresh mayonnaise, the Real Tarte Tatin, garlic, blood sausages, cattle, snails,  etc. All confréries are determined to enhance and protect their chosen area of interest.  Many also use their organizations for charitable events; however sincere they are they are marketing organizations.
      
Just tasting Alsatian wines:
 
With so many different wines and years, the final number of choices is beyond counting,  In the villages some wine shops are owned or dedicated to the wines of a single producer while others promote a variety of different vintners. For a small contribution to the local economy, you may try a small glass of each. Of course, the sellers hope that you will then buy a whole bottle or possibly a case. When visiting the villages we would stop for a light lunch, often choosing one of Alsace’s signature dishes, such as Tarte Flambée, Flammekueche in Allemand Alsacien. N.B. Tarte Flambee is not an Alsatian pizza! Of course, at lunch, we would also try another Alsatian wine, but not a whole bottle.
 
Alsatian cuisine is much more that traditional dishes such as Choucroute, Baeckeofe (also called Potée Alsacienne), Foie Gras, Tarte Flambée, Carp, (the Fish), Alsatian Honey and Munster cheese. The highly skilled chefs of the Alsace emphasize local produce with the cutting edge skill of the great modern chefs of France. Despite the pursuit of the latest in French cuisine for the traditionalists most restaurants will offer at least one of the traditional dishes on its regular menu. The diners should not be suprised if those traditional dishes may come with a few recent changes.
  
When buying Alsatian white wines, apart from the aged sweet dessert wines and the carefully nurtured crus, you can buy wonderful inexpensive wines that are just one or two years old. A two-year-old white wine from Alsace is often ideal, quaffable, memorable and inexpensive. From personal experience, outside of the grand crus, a three-year-old white will often be no better than a two-year-old. 
  
The Alsace in Winter.
  
The language of the Alsace
     
 Allemand Alsacien is the German-based dialect used in the Alsace.  Both Alsace and Lorraine changed hands fairly frequently between France and the various German States with their continual wars and then again with a united Germany during both world wars. The Alsace and Lorraine German-based languages are very much in use today with local newspapers and radio programs available; the dialect used over the border in Lorraine is somewhat different and called Franconian.  Many local menus will be in Allemand Alsacien and will offer a French translation, but, not all Alsatian menus will provide an English translation! Despite that, French-speaking visitors should not worry as the population of the Alsace all speak perfect French as well as Allemand Alsacien.
   
The German influence in the Alsatian wine industry.
   
The wars between France, German States and Germany over many centuries saw the Alsace being ruled by German and France in turn with the German viniculture influencing both the shape of the bottles and in some of the wine production methods. Only in 1962 did the Alsace join the French AOC system.
    
As I have traveled around France and enjoyed its cuisine and wine, I have tried, as far as I can, to keep away from the various labels of Crus, grand crus, etc. as they are so unique and outside most diners’ day to day budgets. There are enough fabulous wines at prices that will not deter the traveler.  Even more to the point when choosing a top of the line Cru when you do not know the vintner and the year you may well get less than you bargained for. On my journeys I have been invited to enjoy  some of these fabulous wines but this post is based on the wines that most of us will be able to try and enjoy without knowledgeable outside advice.
  
As an impressive number of top named vintners have changed to or added organic wines to their products in recent years and that trend is set to continue to grow and add new tastes.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2015.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman
at
behindthefrenchmenu@gmail.com