If you are in the mood for fine French wine and food, you should consider the Alsace region of northeastern France. Perhaps you will find a bargain, and I am sure that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Pinot Blanc wine. When it comes to the total acreage devoted to French vineyards, Alsace ranks tenth out of the eleven winemaking regions. Don't be fooled by the numbers; Alsace is a major producer of quality French wine.
Its wine growing area is only about 60 miles (100 kilometers) long, and at the most a mere 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide nestled between the Vosges Mountains to the east and the Rhine River and Germany to the west. But this relatively tiny area is known for distinctive wines.
Their wine bottles are also distinctive; tall and slim and their labels feature the grape variety, in contrast to most French wine labels. Chaptalization (adding sugar to the fermenting grape mixture) is allowed for many wine categories. About 95% of Alsace wine is white. The major white grape varieties are Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. Secondary white grape varieties include Pinot Blanc, reviewed below, Sylvaner, and Muscat. The major red grape variety is Pinot Noir, reviewed in a companion article in this series.
Colmar is an Alsatian town pretty well in the middle of the Alsatian wine villages. Go there if you don't like rain; given its proximity to the Vosges Mountains, Colmar is the driest town in all of France. This city of about sixty-five thousand was founded in the Ninth Century.
In spite of the fact that Colmar was largely destroyed in both World Wars, its old town (Vieille Ville) remains worthy of a visit. Some say that it's more interesting than Strasbourg. You really should visit both and decide for yourself. Among Colmar's sights are the St-Martin church constructed from the Thirteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries, the Ancienne Douane (Old Customs House), and the Maison aux Arcades (Arcades House).
Ribeauville is the home of Trimbach wines and has been since 1626. In spite of its size, under five thousand, it has a bit of everything: ancient town walls, Gothic churches, storybook medieval houses, ,a town hall peppered with antiques, and a spring. Nearby are the ruins of three castles. And the first Sunday in September, Ribeauville hosts a major Minstrel Show.
Before reviewing the Alsatian wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Foie Gras (Goose or Duck Liver). For your second course savor Baeckeoffe (Meat and Potato Casserole). And as dessert indulge yourself with Gateau Chasseur (Almond Cake with Raspberries and Meringue). OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2004 12.5% alcohol about $13.50 Let's start by quoting the marketing materials.
Tasting Note Straw colour; apple, pear fruit aromas with light biscuit and citrus tones; medium- to full-bodied with ripe peachy flavours and a clean, zesty finish. Serving Suggestion Smoked salmon, shellfish or asparagus in hollandaise sauce. Alsatian Pinot Gris is becoming increasingly fashionable, and this example illustrates why. Honeyed fruit aromas, such as peach and pear, plus a texture of smoke and mineral seduce in this just off-dry white that's, round, soft and quite rich.
The producer recommends this as a good substitute for red wine with meat dishes such as cold cuts, roast beef or game. They also suggest pairing it with smoked chicken, fish or lobster. And now for the review. My first meal consisted of a commercially prepared chicken breast with the skin on (increased flavor but increased calories), potato salad, and a spicy tomato, red pepper and garlic salad. The wine was refreshingly acidic and somewhat fruity. I finished with fresh pineapple.
This combination was quite good; the pineapple's fruit flavors and the wine's fruit flavors melded well, and seemed to intensify each other. I then paired the Pinot Blanc with a reheated home-cooked chicken leg in a tomato-based sauce with beets and more of the above potato salad. The wine scored as in the first round, but was more assertively fruity including the taste of pears. I am not used to a Pinot Blanc wine being so present, and I like this change. My last meal consisted of a cheeseless broccoli, mushroom, and zucchini quiche and mashed potatoes.
The wine was powerful and quite fruity, but short. The first cheese pairing involved a French goat's milk cheese that I would have taken for a Camembert. At the first sips the cheese sort of cut off the wine.
Later the results were somewhat better; the wine was moderately acidic and somewhat fruity. Then I went for a Swiss Gruyere with a lightly sharp, nutty flavor. This combination was even better; the Pinot Blanc came out nice and fruity.
I usually don't go with a non-imported cheese when tasting wines. However, I am making an exception for a Canadian Asiago cheese that our local supermarket almost never carries. This cheese is perhaps the best that I have tasted in a long time; in my opinion it clearly surpasses its Italian Asiago cousin. When I like a cheese that good, I really want to try it with wine. The result wasn't disappointing; this excellent cheese really intensified the wine's fruit and acidity.
Final verdict. There is no doubt in my mind, this wine is a winner. And its price is quite reasonable.
Over the years Levi Reiss has written sometimes with a co-author ten Internet and computer books. When he has some spare time he loves to drink fine Italian or other wine, and to pair it with tasty food. He teaches various and sundry computer classes at a French-language community college in Ontario, Canada. His central wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com and his Italian food website is www.fooditalyfood.com.