I am part of an awesome wine blogger group called The French #Winophiles and this month, we are exploring Alsace wines. It was extra fun because Alsace wines provided samples and I got four amazing bottles of Grand Cru Riesling! Score!
So first, what the hell does “Grand Cru” mean? Excellent question, and here’s the answer: It’s the highest classification that a vineyard can receive. A Grand Cru vineyard must be between 200 and 300 meters in altitude, adhere to certain yields (the amount of fruit harvested per hectare) and meet other criteria. In short, it means that the grapes are the best in the land!
I was sent four bottles of Alsace Grand Cru Riesling and I had no idea what they would be like. Alsace is a region in far northwest France 10 miles wide and 80 miles long. It rubs shoulders with Germany and Switzerland.
And if you read only this far, here’s my one nugget of knowledge: Try dry Riesling from Alsace! So many people dismiss Riesling entirely because they think it is all sweet. Well, stand back, because I am going to set the record straight: Riesling comes in endless styles and dry Riesling can bring you to your knees. Uh huh. It is that delicious.
What I did know: these four wines all come from different terroirs. Terroir can be a fuzzy concept to many. It basically refers to all the elements of a place that come together to form a wine’s aroma, flavor and body. It’s the soil (and there are lots of types like limestone, schist, marl, granite, volcanic), it’s the aspect of the vineyard (which direction it faces, how much sun, wind and rain it gets), it’s the climate, it’s the longitude and latitude — all those things have an influence on the wine and together – it’s called “terroir”
With this many wines to try, I needed tasting assistants, so I headed to my friend Stacey’s house and she and her husband, Bill – who is as big a wine dork as me, at least – and I popped the corks on a sunny summer Friday late afternoon.
And this is where my head started popping off. Because if you like crisp, juicy white wine, you will LOVE dry Alsatian Riesling.
Three more cool things to know about Riesling in general and Alsatian Riesling specifically:
- Gas Station Goodness! Riesling has one signature aroma and that aroma is petrol, or gasoline. I’m not going to get all sciencey about it, but it just does. It’s not bad, it’s just a consistent characteristic and if you’re a freak like me who loves to blind-taste and you know this – buh bam! You get a whiff of gas-station-y goodness and you know what you’ve got in your glass – Riesling!
- Signs of Sweetness Many Alsatian Riesling labels tell you something about the level of sweetness versus dryness. Zind-Humbrecht wines have an “Indice” on the label. Indice 1 means driest, and Indice 5 means sweetest. Charles Baur wines have a little scale on the back label, indicated Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet or Sweet. Super handy!
- Not Too Cool It’s tempting to serve Rieslings super-chilled, but that is going to smash down some of the aromas and flavors, so let the wine warm up for about 15 minutes out of the fridge before you start guzzling.
Let’s take a quick spin through the bottles, and then I’ll show you the delicious dinner I made!
Zind-Humbrecht Riesling 2009 When I hauled my bottles over to Bill and Stacey’s house, they went a little bananas, because they adore Zind-Humbrecht, so an extra bottle was brought out. Because you know, three people and four bottles of wine – it’s how we roll.) This is Zind-Humbrecht’s entry-level Riesling – not Grand Cru but still delicious. It’s a 2009, so kind of hard to find now, but the current vintage is about $25. Zind-Humbrecht produces biodynamic wines, which, to me, always have a lot of character and terroir – they’re fun to taste. And this wine is gorgeous – bone-dry, with juicy lychee and apricot flavors, zesty acids and a creamy texture. It got all sorts of crazy 90+ scores from the media, and it was fun to try two wines from the same producer.
Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg 2013 This was Grand Cru #1, from limestone, sandstone and marl soils. We got citrus fruits, green apples, zippy acids, that faint petrol scent and thought it was a little thin or “austere.” We thought an ideal food pairing should involve some fat, because the wine would cut through it like a knife and bring everything to life in your mouth. Seared scallops in brown butter or a grilled cheese sammie made with Taleggio cheese or French fries with mayo would all be divine. $25
Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2016 Now we move to granite soil. I got a little funk of white mushrooms on the nose, and then dried apricots came along. In my mouth, it was like a juicy fruit salad – green and red apples, cantaloupe, peach. Oh, wait, here comes some elderflower. It had a creamy finish – almost like a creamsicle – remember those things? It definitely seemed like a more “serious” wine than the Charles Baur and Stacey and Bill wanted rack of lamb with it, which threw me for a loop, but I’d try it! We also thought Mediterranean dishes like gyros would be fun, but then our thoughts zoomed toward crispy pork belly and sticky Chinese ribs. Clearly we were hungry and I think this is when Stacey brought out her caper-cornichon butter with black bread! Yes, we loved this wine a lot. $40
Emile Beyer Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2016 Marching onward to clay and limestone mixed with sandstone! Yowza – this wine explodes with floral notes – hibiscus elderflower, and honey and pepper – black pepper. It’s a happy wine that’s like a burst of sunshine in your mouth. Crisp green apple comes out, too, along with its pal, cantaloupe. It’s a lovely, soft wine and would be best friends with bratwurst, spaghetti cacio e pepe, a green salad with a vinaigrette. And of course, it’s divine with that crazy caper-cornichon butter that I made after I tasted it at Stacey’s house. $44
Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St Urbain 2012 On to the grand prize wine. Volcanic soil. Hooooly wow. We all nearly went into a trance upon tasting this beauty. It’s like a three-dimensional experience – nothing is standing down in this wine. Everything is blasting through, but it’s all beautifully balanced and integrated. I’m talking flowers, fruits, spices, and yes, a tiny hint of smokiness. Is that the volcanic soil talking? Maybe! This wine blankets your entire mouth in silky ribbons of lusciousness, yet it is somehow crisp at the same time. It screams for duck à l’orange or a very ripe Camembert or an aged Comté. And of course, that caper-cornichon butter on black bread was divine with it. $75
Sassy Sausages Sing with Riesling!
I wanted to make a dinner to go with these wines, and after a lot of research on Alsatian food, I went with a classic – grilled bratwurst and sour kraut. And I invented an Alsatian potato salad by simply boiling quartered red potatoes and tossing them with — yep, here it comes again – that caper-cornichon butter. Grilled asparagus is a nice accompaniment. We tasted all the wines with the food and they were all beautiful. I love it when the wine makes the food taste better and the food makes the wine come to life. Because – better living through better wine!
Let’s Talk and Tweet About Alsace!
But what, there’s more! My blogger colleagues from The French Winophiles have 16 amazing posts on Alsatian wines. Please join our French Winophiles #AlsaceRocks Twitter chat! We’ll ask and answer all sorts of questions related to Alsace and its beautiful wines. Use the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter on Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.
Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “A Palette of Pinots – The Hues of Alsace”
Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “Pinot d’Alsace…Yes Please!”
Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “Rockin Alsace With Pinots”
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Alsace Rocks the Summer Grilling Scene”
Jeff (our co-host this month) at Food Wine Click! shares “Alsace Wines in the American Kitchen”
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “Alsatian Temptation: Wine from the Vosges Mountains in France“
Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Tips and Recipes for Alsace Pairings”
Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Alsace Pairing Challenge? Accepted!”
Olivier at In Taste Buds We Trust shares “Taking gewürztraminer to a higher level”
Michelle at Rockin Red Blog shares “Getting Dirty with Alsace Riesling“
Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Alsace: A Geologist’s Dream”
Jill at L’Occasion shares “A Riesling Experience: Nuanced Terroirs of Alsace” (thanks for reading)
Liz at What’s in that Bottle shares “All in for Alsace Riesling”
David at Cooking Chat shares “Pork and Cabbage Skillet with Riesling from Alsace”
Gwen at Wine Predator shares “Alsace Rocks 4 Riesling With Fondue!”
Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Alsace-a-palooza Part 1: The Wines”