Showing posts with label Alsace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alsace. Show all posts

Monday, October 1, 2018

Cremant Tour de France Stage 3: Alsace

Now that Stages 1 & 2 of my Cremant tour de France are complete, I celebrated Stage 3 by tasting my way through the Cremants of Alsace, in person! 

Located on the eastern border with Germany, Alsace contains 15,621 hectares of vineyards. (Source: backinalsace.com). Approximately 23.3% of grapes harvested from the vineyards are used to make Cremant d'Alsace bubbly. In 2017, 32,125 bottles of Cremant wine were made, 80% of which remained in France due to domestic demand! 

Our first stop along our tasting journey was Domaine Klipfel, in the small town of Barr.


The estate was founded in 1824 by Martin Klipfel. In 1830, he procured the prestigious Clos Zisser vineyard, which is used today for their Vendage Tardive (late-harvest) and Selection de Grains Nobles (grapes affected by "Noble Rot", botrytis, made into lusciously sweet dessert-style wines). Klipfel crafts their Cremants in the Methode Traditionelle style, using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir either as single-varietal bottles, or a mix of the two.


Klipfel's Blanc de Noirs Cremant d'Alsace opens up with a nose of green apples and continues into a palate of lemon zest and steely minerality. The bubbles were aggressive up front, but settled down into a creamy mousse mid-palate, leading into a clean finish.

I am all about the high quality and the unique, sometimes extraordinary quality that comes from smaller, lesser-known producers. Located in the small Alsatian town of Heiligenstein, Domaine J.L. Schwartz lives up to this quality!


Our tasting at J.L Schwartz started off with their Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose. A lively bouquet composed of strawberries and navel oranges, intertwines with refreshing acidity and delicate mousse on the palate to create a delightful mouthfeel. Unfortunately, the finish dropped off rather quickly, but it did make me want to take more sips quicker to compensate!   


The standout Cremant of the day for both my husband and I was the Brut Chardonnay! The varietal's flavour profile is well represented here, with an intriguing blend of underripe banana and navel oranges along with stony minerality. There is a lively mouthfeel that doesn't overpower, full of delicate mousse and refreshing acidity. Very elegant in style, and very approachable!


Our day of Cremant tasting ended at Domaine Julien Dopff au Moulin. Regarded as one of the pioneers of Cremant d'Alsace, Julien Dopff attended the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, where he learned about "Methode Champenoise". He made it his mission to experiment with Alsatian varietals, and Dopff au Moulin now dedicates a considerable amount of their wine portfolio to Cremant d'Alsace bubbly.

The Dopff au Moulin Rose expresses more autolytic notes than other Cremants d'Alsace I have tasted. But it doesn't overpower the abundant flavours of underripe red fruit on the palate, the creamy mousse, or the bright acidity. Very well-structured and refreshing!



Finally, the 2013 Blanc de Noirs Brut marries notes of dried red fruit and toasted almonds with crisp acidity and aggressive, but not off-putting mousse. Very elegant in style, and very food-friendly.

Cremant d'Alsace offers a variety of sparkling wine created in the Methode Traditionelle, yet can also express a wide array of flavour profiles. There are many excellent Cremants available throughout the world, and even though only 20% of all bottles are exported, you will likely find a variety of Cremants available in your local wine stores.

Stay tuned as I wrap up my Cremant Tour de France later this month with Cremant de Bourgogne!    



Friday, January 30, 2015

Eastern France: La Coeur du Vin

Motivated by the French sweep in my ultimate 2014 wine list, I continued to drink French wine like it was going out of style. I have fallen in love with regions like Chablis and Alsace, where the quality of the wines shine year after year. This post focuses on the eastern wine regions of France, including Alsace, Burgundy and Beaujolais.

Alsace is the French white wine love of my life. Located close to the border of Germany, the variety and complexity of the soil, along with the longer growing season, allows the grapes to reach a ripeness that creates beautiful, expressive wines. The four noble varieties of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat, are the heart of Alsatian wine.

One of my favourite producers, Pfaffenheim, makes an expressive Gewurztraminer that starts with a bouquet of honey and blossom. Pear and ginger feature on the palate, with a sleek texture and a citrus backbone. I paired a spicy seafood salad with the Gewurz; the smoothness of the wine harmonized beautifully with the spiciness of the dish.

    

Domaine Eugene Meyer produces a dry Riesling that shows flavours of underripe peach, lime zest, green apples and a steely minerality with their 2011 vintage. Lively acidity brings intensity and carries through the long finish. This domaine focuses on organic and biodynamic viticulture, and would also make a great gift for the vegan winelover in your life!

Chablis is the northeastern wine region in Burgundy. Wines produced here are made from the Chardonnay grape, but thanks to the fossil-rich soils of Kimmeridgian clay, Chablis wines tend to consist of high acidity, little to no oak flavours and show ripe fruit and minerality.

Herve Azo's Chablis 2012 is an elegant, polished wine with zesty acidity and notes of green apple, apricot and lime. There is a whisper of flint on the finish. Excellent with goat's cheese, crudites or grilled chicken. 

Farther south in the Burgundy region lies Pouilly-Fuisse. Chardonnays from this region are known to be rich and full-bodied, with flavours consistent with oak aging, like hazelnuts, toast and coconut.

Bouchard Pere et Fils is a well known producer throughout the Burgundy region. Their 2013 Pouilly Fuisse is an exception to the Pouilly Fuisse stereotype as only a fraction of the grapes are aged for 6 months in oak barrels, offering a lighter mouthfeel and creamier texture. Pear, ripe pineapple and lemon essences mingle with a hint of brioche that marries well on the palate. Crisp acidity adds intensity without overpowering the flavour profile. An ideal accompaniment to seafood.

Red wine country is featured south of Pouilly Fuisse with the Beaujolais region. The grape varietal grown here is Gamay Noir, which tends to produce fruit-forward wines with an added zip of pepper. There are 10 "cru" villages of distinction, one of which is named Morgon. Winelovers who are looking for a more robust, complex Beaujolais will likely find what they are looking for in this area.

George DuBoeuf's Domaine Mont Chavy Morgon 2013 expresses these characteristics well. A bouquet of cherries and granite follow through to the mouth alongside strawberries and a spicy cinnamon finish. Mouthwatering acidity and chocolate tannins cast intensity and spine. Unique and complex, this wine would pair well with gourmet burgers and pork loin in a berry sauce.

Winelovers really can't go wrong when it comes to Eastern France. The emphasis put to both the viticulture and vinification techniques ensure that the end results are of sound quality and taste. Your palate will thank you!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Tale of 2 Wine Regions: Part 3 and Conclusion

One of the most well-known white wine grapes in the world is Riesling. Although it is widely grown in many countries world-wide, it is synonymous with Germany, where the first known mention of it was found, and where it remains the most widely-planted varietal today. Other regions that are known for their Rieslings include the Clare Valley in Australia, Austria, Alsace, and Canada, both the Niagara and Okanagan regions.

With hard wood on it's trunk and hardy fruit, Riesling grapes can withstand frosts and cold temperatures, and are resistant to downy mildew. It ripens late, which make it ideal for late-harvest wines, botrytised sweet wines, and even Icewine. Riesling wines tend to be high in acidity and low in alcohol, with a wide flavour profile that includes blossom, stone fruits, citrus, and even petrol and kerosene with age. One of the most unique characteristics of Riesling is it's aging power; it can last for 20+ years in a cellar.

My husband and I compared Gray Monk's 2011 Riesling with Trimbach's 2010 Riesling. The style of the Trimbach Riesling is similar to the "kabinett" style of German Rieslings: light-bodied, with high acidity and more citrus flavours on the palate. Alsace Rieslings tend to have more body, are higher in alcohol, and show a distinct flinty note. The flavours my husband and I detected were blossom, green apple, honeydew melon and lime.

I found the Gray Monk showed similar characteristics on the nose and palate, but it also had the traditional peach flavour that attracts many to Riesling. It had a little more sweetness (off-dry) and the acidity was more mellow in the mouth. It seemed to be more balanced than the Trimbach, where the acidity in the Alsatian wine seemed to overpower the flavour intensity. This surprised me because the Alsatian was older by a year, and I thought it would have settled more than the Gray Monk, which comes from a colder climate. Both my husband and I preferred the Gray Monk over the Trimbach because of these reasons. In comparison to the standard characteristics of Riesling, the wines were on par with eachother, and we ranked both Rieslings as "good" using the WSET Advanced quality assessment. In fact, all 3 varietals were ranked the same quality throughout the project. And all wines retailed under $30 CDN.

The final "scores", based on personal preference:

Gewurztraminer: Tie. My husband preferred the Sumac Ridge, I preferred the Trimbach.
Pinot Gris: Pfaffenheim 2010
Riesling: Gray Monk 2011
Overall: Tie!

So are there differences between Alsace and Okanagan's noble varieties? I would argue yes. The differences we found were in acidity levels (in 2 of the 3 varietals), body, and flavour characteristics. If you like wines that have mouth-watering acidity and minerality with apple and citrus flavours, Okanagan white wines are a great bet. If you prefer a more mellow, fruit-forward white, Alsace wines are a must-try. These would all vary due to the climatic and soil differences between both regions. However, there really isn't a difference between the wines that were compared when assessing the quality. Try it yourself and see what you prefer, you just may be surprised like we were!


Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Wine Regions, Part 2

Pinot Gris is likely one of the first of the four Alsatian noble grape varieties wine connoisseurs think of. Although it is the third most planted varietal in Alsace, many consider Alsace to be the benchmark of Pinot Gris wines. Can an Okanagan Pinot Gris hold up against a strong Alsatian contender? My husband and I put it to the test this week.

Also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and Grauburgunder and Rulander in Germany and Austria, it was once known as Tokay-Pinot Gris in Alsace, but the Tokay part of the name was dropped for good in 2007. The grape was first documented in 1711 when it was found growing wild in a garden in Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany. Other legends suggest that the grape was brought to Hungary from France in the 1300s, and returned to Alsace from Hungary in the 1500s. What makes it unique is the colour of the grapes; the skins tend to be grayish-pink in colour unlike other white grapes. Some might say that what makes Pinot Gris unique is a musty, smoky aroma that complements the aromatic flavours of the wine. The grapes generally produce wines that are low in acidity and higher in alcoholic content with flavours of stone fruit, melon and even butter when aged. Pinot Gris is well known for making sweeter, late harvest wines when able to reach full ripeness.


(Photo Courtesy: The Wandering Palate)
I pitted a 2011 Laughingstock Pinot Gris against a bottle of 2011 Pfaffenehim Pinot Gris for this week's battle. We started with the BC wine, the Laughingstock PG. We purchased this bottle directly from the winery in 2012 and it spent the last year of it's life in our cool, humid cellar on it's side. The first thing we both noticed was the mouth-watering acidity of the Laughingstock, which lasts well into the long finish. Both intense and complex, the wine showcases a flavour profile that includes lemon, red apple, tangerine and a hint of honey. This wine seemed a little "angry" at us for not letting it sleep for longer, so I recommend this wine be cellared for 3 more years to mellow out the acidity a little bit. It is a youthful wine, but still of good quality.

The Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris is off-dry, full-bodied and smooth, with a unique and beautiful bouquet of tangerine, candied ginger, orange blossom and honey. Although not as intense as the Laughingstock, the Pfaffenheim is also complex, well balanced, and very expressive of what an Alsatian Pinot Gris is said to be. Both wines were excellent values at $21 CDN each.

I noticed that with both the Gewurz and Pinot Gris tastings, the Okanagan wines showed riper fruit flavours, more mouth-watering acidity and a hint of minerality. Both the Alsatian Gewurz and the Pinot Gris were smoother and a little sweeter. Will these trends follow in the Riesling battle? Stay tuned to find out!


Friday, August 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Wine Regions, Part 1

"So why do Okanagan wineries generally produce whites like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris?" My husband asked me on our annual trip there this past month.

Good question. And coincidentally, those three varietals he mentioned also happen to be 3 of the four Noble Grape varieties of Alsace, France.

Let's face it, the Okanagan isn't known internationally as a major region with high-demand, high-priced wines. But Alsace is located in one of the most well-known wine regions of the world: France. If all three of these varietals produce the majority of the wines made in both regions, can Okanagan whites can be just as good in quality as Alsatian wines? I am hoping to find out, so I made it my late summer project of 2013.

The Purpose: To compare and contrast the flavours and structural elements of the Okanagan aromatic white wines with the quality of the same Alsatian Noble Varieties via 3 blind tastings of each varietal from both regions (6 wines total). Can my husband pick out which wine is from which region?
The Grapes: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris
The blind-tasting "Guinea Pig": My Husband. I won't be tasting blindly (someone has to pour the wine!), but will be taking subjective notes as if I didn't know what each wine was
Timeline: 2-3 weeks, with 3-4 blog entries devoted to the project

Alsace and the Okanagan have a few terroir-related things in common. They are both classified as having continental climates, meaning there is a wide temperature range between the warmest and coldest months of the year (the Okanagan has a much wilder temperature swing). Both regions generally experience hot, dry summers and longer-lasting Autumns, ideal for ensuring the grapes have reached both full and physiological ripeness, and provides ideal conditions for late harvest wines. Both regions are also known to have arid, drier conditions; Alsace is protected from wind and rain thanks to the Vosges Mountains, and the Okanagan lies between 2 mountain ranges, creating an arid, semi-desert micro climate. The soils are extremely varied in Alsace, also due to the Vosges mountains. The Okanagan's vineyards are planted on sandy loam or alluvial gravel soils. This could reflect the differences in the wines between the two regions, as well as other factors like vineyard practices and vinification techniques, which can vary from winery to winery. But if the climate is fairly similar, do the regions produce similar wines?

We started with Gewurztraminer, a wine that enthusiasts tend to either love or hate. Wine snobs generally stick their noses up at Gewurz - the HoseMaster of Wine refers to it as "The first choice of sommeliers everywhere to be left off the by-the-glass list.", among other pretentious comments. However, women tend to love it for it's perfumed bouquet, slight sweetness and approachable, easy-to-drink nature.The German word for “spice", Gewurztraminer wines tend to be full-bodied, with an oily texture, low to medium acidity, and also can be high in alcohol, with aromatic notes of lychee, roses, and naturally, spice. Gewurz wines have proven to be a good match with turkey, spicy dishes like curry, and ladies' nights out. The 2 bottles we compared were Trimbach's 2010 wine (Alsace) against Sumac Ridge's 2012 Gewurz. Since I wasn't able to get both wines of the same vintage, I took into account the fact that Sumac's acidity may be higher and the flavours riper, whereas the Trimbach may be showing more signs of age (golden colour of the wine, smooth texture, etc). Both of the wines were bottled in the well-known "Flutes d'Alsace", a taller, thinner wine bottle with a long neck.

I found the Sumac Ridge Gewurz to have a complex and intense flavour profile of green apple, lychee, pineapple and blossom, along with well-balanced acidity. Although it needs a few years to settle a bit, it is drinkable now. My husband detected notes of nectarine & apple with a hint of minerality and crisp acidity.

The Trimbach Gewurz had the trademark oily texture with a rich, golden colour, smooth texture and flavours of pineapple, apricot and spice. My husband also found the Trimbach to be a thick and oily wine, with a bouquet consisting of green apple, blossom and honey.
We found that both wines had similar flavours; blossom, pineapple, the traditional lychee and green apple. Both wines also showed great body and flavour intensity, as well as intriguing complexity. The Sumac Ridge Gewurz showed a hint of minerality that the Trimbach did not have, and the Trimbach seemed to be more typical of a Gewurz wine with more aromatic flavours and the typical oiliness. When I asked my husband if he could pick out the Alsatian wine, he thought it was the Sumac Ridge.

All in all, my opinion is that Gewurztraminers from both regions have similar flavours and complexity and a few minor differences. But this is just my opinion. Despite the fact that some in the wine industry look the other way when it comes to this varietal, I recommend both of these wines for those who love Gewurz and the elements that make it what it is. Try it yourself and see what you think!

Up next: Trimbach vs Gray Monk: A Ries-slinging (like mud-slinging?) battle



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