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Discovering Alsace

Written by: Gavin Smith

As we careered into Alsace on a rather stormy Friday morning, the driest wine region in France was looking decidedly sodden. Nearing the end of November there are still some grapes on vine, slowly concentrating and waiting to be picked for 'Vendange Tardives' (late harvest) wines...

Despite the weather during the winter months, Alsace remains an area that you really have to visit, to both find and appreciate great wines. Steeped in history with great food and some of the best-known estates in France, this is a true wine lovers playground. 

The southern Grand Cru terroir of Alsace was surrounded by water 45 million years ago which has left behind a complex array of alluvial, limestone, chalk, volcanic and sand based soils, making the region so unique today. As Severine Schlumberger said on our first visit to Domaines Schlumberger, “if you think the varied soil types of Burgundy are like floor tiles then Alsace is more like a mosaic. This mosaic is made up of 1000s of soil combinations, which affect the flavour in the wine, what we often ascribe to when we talk about the ‘minerality’ of the wine and its specific terroir.”

It was astonishing to taste three of Domaines Schlumberger’s Grand Crus cuvees from the same varietal, that offered such completely different flavours and aromas.

Our second visit of the day was to the legendary Domaine Hugel located in the beautiful village of Riquewihr. The village is made up of Hansel and Gretel style chocolate box houses, all heavily decorated with classic Christmas decorations for the season. The Hugel family can trace their winemaking back to 1639… the result is impeccable quality and precision. Their standout wine for me is the Grossi Laüe Riesling 2010, which touches on greatness whilst remaining fairly priced for the quality and aging potential.

       

Because of its hardiness, Riesling thrives in cool-climate regions, where slow ripening allows sufficient time for aromas to develop fully, without the grapes losing their acidity or freshness. Due to their high acidity and intense flavours, Rieslings can be very age-worthy, developing notes of honey, smoke and even petrol as they get older.

All the wine makers in Alsace top and tail their passion for wine with food. Alsace has the most Michelin star restaurants in France (26 in total), which further clarifies the regions obsession with food. Riesling in particular is a great food wine, especially when being paired with spicy Asian food, which can otherwise dominate less intense, lower-acid wines.

Riesling still suffers from a bad reputation due to being confused with the sweeter German styles (remember the infamous blue bottles?!) but we ensure you, dry Riesling from Alsace will get you hooked!

 

      

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