If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the northeastern French region of Alsace. You may unearth a bargain wine, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled educational tour in which we review a local white Pinot Gris wine. Among France's eleven wine-growing regions Alsace ranks number ten in total acreage devoted to vineyards, perhaps because it is the smallest region of metropolitan France. In any case Alsace is one of France's best-known wine regions.
The wine growing area is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) long, but at most 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide. Their wine bottles are distinctively tall and thin.
Chaptalization (adding sugar to the fermenting grape mixture) is allowed for many wine categories. In contrast to the general French practice, in Alsace wine labels feature the grape variety. About 95% of Alsace wine is white.
The major white grape varieties are Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. The major red grape variety is Pinot Noir. A companion article in this series will review an Alsatian red wine. Strasbourg is the major Alsatian city, with a population somewhat exceeding a quarter million.
The city dates back to Roman times. It was part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire for centuries and first joined France in 1681, but as a Free Royal City retaining some independence. Like the rest of Alsace, Strasbourg sometimes belonged to France and sometimes to Germany. It is now the home of the European Parliament and serves as a symbol of both French-German reconciliation and a united Europe. Hopefully by the time you read these lines the Ancienne Douane (Old Customs House) will be fully rebuilt from its fire in 2000.
This magnificent building that served as an art gallery was first constructed in 1358 and destroyed during the Second World War. It was faithfully reconstructed after the war. The Ancienne Douane is the site of a huge brewery, for those of you who like beer. The dark pink sandstone Gothic Cathedrale Notre-Dame, dating from 1176, is unsurprisingly the most Germanic of all French cathedrals. Climb the spire, finished almost three hundred years later, to get a magnificent view of Strasbourg and the nearby Black Forest and Vosges Mountains.
Among the museums to visit are the Musee Alsacien (Alsatian Museum), the Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (Modern and Contemporary Art Museum) and the Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame (Notre Dame Cathedral Museum). The list goes on and on. Make sure to see the Petite France (Little France) neighborhood close to the town center with its gingerbread houses and tiny streets. After this look into the past, you may want to see the European Parliament, open to the public one week per month, which may or may not represent the future of Europe. 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 Tarte Flambee (Onion Tart). For your second course savor Chouchroute Garnie (Sauerkraut with various Pork dishes, perhaps cooked in Champagne). And as dessert indulge yourself with Kugelhopf (Almond and Raisin Cake).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price. Wine Reviewed Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris Cuvee Rabelais 2005 13.5% alcohol about $17 Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. 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 broccoli quiche with avocado and out-of-season grape tomatoes. The wine was a true success. Two words came to mind, gossamer and honey. I then paired it with slow-cooked chicken and potatoes in Mediterranean spices.
The wine kept its fruitiness and did a great job of cutting the grease. It went excellent with the chocolate mint cake dessert. The mint intensified the wine's fruit. I was somewhat disappointed when I tasted this Pinot Gris with a cheddar-cheese omelet. The combination was OK, neither element added anything to the other. I tried to make up for this shortcoming with two desserts.
First, and I should have known better, I tried the wine with a very sweet chocolaty pecan pie. Once again, nothing was added. But at least the wine wasn't destroyed. All's well that ends well.
I finished the meal with high-quality butter (and margarine) cookies. This time the words were gossamer and orange. Saint-Aubin is a soft French cow's milk cheese traditionally packed in a wooden box. This cheese has a creamy brie-like texture and a stronger taste. The wine's fruit came out to meet the cheese, but the wine was a bit short.
I next tried the wine with an Italian Bel Paese, a mild buttery cheese suggested to accompany fruity wines or to be eaten alone as a snack or a dessert. The wine was quite round and had great fruit. This was one of the best wine and cheese combinations that I've enjoyed in quite a while. Final verdict. I usually don't like Pinot Gris.
So what. I really liked this wine and plan to buy it again even if, as almost always, I do wish that it cost a bit less.
Levi Reiss is the author or co-author of ten books about computers and the Internet, but between you and me, he really prefers drinking fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches computer classes at a French-language community college in Ontario, Canada. His major wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com. His major travel website is www.travelitalytravel.com