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.
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.