Is it time to check out the Alsace alternative?

Flagship wines 02.07.15

Flagship wines 02.07.15 - Credit: Archant

Aromatic, crisp, fruity and stylish, are all descriptions that can be applied to wines made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and also to those from Alsace. This is a rather forgotten region that is the source of lovely wines in the north east of France and often thought of as only the home of Gewurztraminers.

However, what is sometimes forgotten is that Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling grapes also produce distinctive elegant wines and are permitted to be grown in Alsace.

It was one of the first French wine-growing regions to use the name of the grape on the label as permitted in their wine laws unlike in other areas of France until recently.

Ironically, as the region uses mainly German grape varieties wine drinkers are often indifferent to them remembering sweeter styles of German Riesling etc.

It is the region’s chequered history with repeated changes of nationality between France and Germany that have created or at least emphasised this issue.

Unlike German Rieslings those from Alsace have a pure fruit driven nose, perfumed with limes citrus fruit and a perfumed honeyed palate that is intensely fruity with white peach flavours and mineral complexity and is a dry style.

It is lovely as an aperitif or with lightly spiced dishes, thereby offering a refreshing alternative to Chardonnays from around the world.

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Two other grapes are widely grown in Alsace – the Pinot Blanc from which is made the most delicate of the region’s wines with a light peachy, citrus perfume and a silky dry fruity palate and the Pinot Gris. The latter is rich ripe and rounded though still dry with a lovely textured flavour and a long slightly smoky finish. Their crisp style that is often quite zesty especially when young thus replicates the much loved but now slightly passé New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc flavours.

Most of the wines produced in Alsace are white using aromatic grape varieties that produce distinctive characterful still and sparkling wines. The Gewurztraminer grape variety is often synonymous with Alsace where it has a high profile and is widely grown.

Many people have a love-hate relationship with its wines due their intense perfumed aromas of lychees and spice with rose petal (think Turkish Delight ) overtones and lemony freshness on the palate such as the Turckheim Co-op’s Reserve wine made near Colmar in the Vosges Mountains and also the Grand Cru wines of Hengst and A Metz – some more recent names in the UK market.

Don’t forget the high quality luscious dessert wines made from Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris grapes called Vendange Tardive or late harvest and Selection de Grains Nobles where the grapes are affected by noble rot.

So seek out the tall Germanic looking wines from Alsace on the wine shelves and ignore the past reference to German wines and discover the pleasures of Alsace style for yourself.