Perhaps you may have traveled to Munich one summer, where the beer flows like water and you find yourself getting intimately close to some strangers you met on the bench to your right. Here, the polka music doesn’t stop and all the German you care to speak is to cheers someone with your stein and say, “Prost.”
Well immediately to the west, Germany has a prized river valley where the wine tastes like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. Well, you may have tasted it, and you may have liked it. The Alsace region borders the North East of France and the adjacent side of Germany and is the smallest wine region of France. This small area that is shared between the two countries is cool and the air is quite crisp. This enables the people of Alsace to make the best white wines in the world. This hasn’t just been a recent thing. The people of the Rhine have been producing the best white wine since the first millennium, making this region one of the first to produce wine in Europe.
In the mid-16th century, the Thirty Year War stopped this region from producing. Soldiers destroyed the villages and burned the vineyards. The region would not make a come back until, ironically, the end of the First World War in 1945. From that year forward, the region concentrated on small quantities of good quality vines and use of the traditional methods to produce this quality wine. In 1962, the French government gave the region the Appellation d’Origine Contr“l‚e (AOC) status which meant that it was qualified to be sold for more money because it genuinely was a quality product.
In the Alsace region, the wines take their name from the varietal instead of region. (Think Champagne as a region and Pinot Noir as a varietal). So the kinds of wines produced in the Rhine are the best in the world. In fact, 90% of the wines produced there are only white wines. It makes sense that they concentrate on their whites because they have the smallest rainfall in France and that makes it an ideal growing spot for white wines.
Though, here in California, it’s not uncommon to see Riesling, Muscat and Gewrztraminer, generally the most popular Alsace wine. I sense a little bit of hesitance reading over that last one,,,,shall we give it a go together? Gewrztraminer….Ga-verst-tra-mean-er. See, simple as pie.
You can normally spot this Rhine wines in the grocery store as they have tall, slender, distinctive bottles. Wineries in San Luis Obispo, such as Claiborne and Churchill take pride in producing Alsace style wines in the Edna Valley. They have Rieslings, Gewrztraminer and Sweet Muscats available for purchase in stores or at their winery: http://www.claibornechurchill.com.
Gewrztraminer is spicy (which in German “Gewrz” literally means spice) and quite dry. They can sometimes be sweet but predominantly, they are dry with a deep rich fruit aroma and a subsequent rich floral tone. Rieslings on the other hand, have a refined fruit bouquet. Mineral traces and floral tones can be taken from some Rieslings. It has good aging potential which is a bit abnormal for most white wines. Riesling is recognized around the world as the best white wine varietal and is the number one varietal produced in the Alsace region. In addition, the Riesling is quite the versatile wine and is easily paired with many different foods.
Today, I am recommending the 2005 Riesling from Claiborne and Churchill (Albertson’s, $18). It is dry and sweet at the same time. The Riesling has a touch of citrus and peach in the noise and has a very floral mouth feel. It is very airy and light. This bottle makes the perfect pairing with light Asian cuisine such as sushi or spring rolls.
So the next “homework” assignment is to go check out Alsatian wines and try them with foods you never thought could go well with your standard white wine line up. You might be pleasantly surprised with these Rhine beauties.
Lauren Jeter is a 2005 wine and viticulture graduate and is pursuing a master’s degree in agribusiness.
Feel free to submit any recommendations, grad tickets, favorite wines or recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org.