MyWinePal In Alsace 2008

Alsace, located in eastern France, has a long history of wine making. The Rhine River flows through the Alsace region and the wine trade from the 12th to the 16th century was almost monopolized by Strasbourg and Cologne as the Mediterranean region was controlled by the Arabian people who shut off the wine trade by controlling access to the Straits of Gibraltar. The prosperous region of Alsace ended in the early to mid 1600’s during the Thirty Years’ War when 90% of the population died from famine or disease. Then again after the end of the First World War, Alsace was again devastated.

The main grape varieties that are best known in Alsace are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. But this was not always the case. At the end of WWI less than 10% of the total vineyard area had these grapes. On to some wine tasting stories.

Just south of Strausbourg is the city of Barr and the Domaine Klipfel. This winery produces Alsatian style white wines as well a eaux-de-vie (fruit infused distilled spirits). My guide in this tasting was a wonderful lady, but spoke no English, and my French is not too extensive. We spoke enough wine terms that we both understood and so enjoyed the tasting. I tried both the entry level riesling / pinot gris / muscat / gewurztraminer as well as their Grand Cru versions.

The entry level wines were quite light and off-dry. They showed some of their varietal character. All were very refreshing. The riesling though was my favorite of this group. The Grand Cru wines were all fantastic, being more intense in fruit flavour and more full bodied. The riesling was again my favourite. This one was starting to show some of the petrol aromas you get from an aged riesling. I was told that their Grand Cru wines can age for 10 years in the bottle.

As a special treat, I was offered to taste a Vendage Tardive (late harvest) gewurztraminer. It was of course much sweeter due to the concentration of sugar in these late harvested grapes. There was the typical lychee aroma, but also honey and orange, which I believe came from Noble Rot from some of the grapes. Truly a wonderful wine as an aperitif on it’s own or with some cheese.

On another day touring the Alsace region, I stopped in at Hugel & Fils in Riquewihr. Hugel & Fils is a well known in Canada and around the world. Of course people will be interested in their white wines, but they also produce some very good Pinot Noir. This winery has more than 25 hectares of vineyards in Riquewihr, with almost half in the Grand Cru zone. They use no fertilizer, produce low yields, and hand pick the grapes. I tried both their Classic and Jubilee level wines. Classic is the entry level, but even entry level is very good quality. I sampled a Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and a Pinot Noir. Although I love rieslings, I will mention the Classic Pinot Noir as most people think white wines instead of red in Alsace, due to it’s cooler climate. But Alsace is in the rain shadow of the Vosges Mountains which keeps the Alsace region dry and sunny, which allows for longer ripening which in turn makes the grapes more flavourful. The Classic pinot noir was light coloured in the glass with the red fruit aromas, such as strawberries. One could compare it to a New Zealand Marlborough Pinot Noir.

As we step up to the Jubilee series, the Jubliee Pinot Noir was much more deeper coloured and the aromas much more pronounced. The Jubiliee grapes come exclusively from Hugel’s vineyards which includes 2 Grand Cru vineyards. Black fruit and black cherry aromas and flavours with some pepperiness. A wine that can age a few years and get better.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Some people prefer red wines. Some only like Cabernet Sauvignon. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I met many great wine makers. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.