On Monday 19th April over 30 of us gathered, via Zoom once more, for a tasting of fabulous Alsace wine. We had suggested recipes which many people had prepared, so for many of us it was a great opportunity to try the wines of this incredible region with the fusion of Germanic and French cuisine for which it is famous.
We started the zoom a bit early and several people joined us with their first course – the very easy to prepare Flammekeuche, typical of the region, or an onion tart. The Sylvaner Reserve from Rolly Gassmann, one of Alsace’s top producers was a revelation – this grape variety is rather looked down upon as less than ‘noble’, best for blending, but ours had lovely concentrated fruit, fresh acidity and a bit of residual sugar which was just perfect with the rich pastry. Tim had provided this (and some of the other wines) in 100ml bottles so we just about managed to have some ready when the main Zoom call started at 7.30 and we sampled the Muscat Reserve from Trimbach. What a contrast! True to Trimbach style this was austere and far more minerally than most Muscats, and very good.
Tim gave a short exposition on the Alsace region and its history and explained that he is among its Number One Fans. We have enjoyed some lovely holidays there, sometimes taking people on wine tours, sometimes by ourselves (yes we do actually go on holiday without 20 of our closest friends). It is exquisitely beautiful, and the winemakers are extremely welcoming and very happy to talk about their wines and in particular the soils on which they are grown.
Our next wines were both from the Grand Cru Muenchberg vineyard, in Epfig. Not to be confused with the Moenchberg Grand Cru vineyard just up the road. Vineyard designations are very confusing in Alsace – most wines simply have the variety on the bottle, and it’s generally the name of the producer that guides enthusiasts about what to expect. Grand Cru designations were introduced in the 1970s, intended to promote the very best wines from the very best sites in each of the main villages of Alsace, but they were immediately controversial – the vingnerons of Rorschwihr (home of Rolly Gassman) refused to have one, and to this day some top producers do not release their best wines as Grand Crus even though they could (for example Trimbach could but doesn’t label their Clos Sainte Hune as a Rosacker Grand Cru). They represent less than 5% of Alsace’s production, and we can look forward to more drama and strife as a Premier Cru designation has been in negotiation for many years and may yet emerge.
Back to Muenchberg. Two wines from Domaine Ostertag, based in Epfig, a few miles north of Sélestat, in the northern half of Alsace. The 2018 Riesling was a superb example – great fruit, lovely minerality and a long finish. The Pinot Gris is from the A360P plot, which does not actually qualify for Grand Cru status but was equally lovely with the smoky honeyed notes Pinot Gris can deliver when yields are kept low and it is fully ripe. These were our main course wines, enjoyed with some Choucroute – a sauerkraut/cabbage/ham stew that is a lot nicer than I just made it sound.
Those who dared had some Munster cheese ready. Tim loves Munster. I could leave it, but I really enjoyed the alternative Teddington Cheese provided – a Trami d’Alsace – a creamy cow’s milk cheese wind washed with marc de Gewurztraminer. Two Gewurztraminers accompanied it – the Roche Roulée from Zind Humbrecht, a wonderfully expressive wine with loads of lychee and rose water, which we compared to the 2008 Vendages Tardives from Rolly Gassman – an even more concentrated wine with a hint of residual sugar.
With our pear tatin or alternative tarte, we enjoyed two sweet Rieslings. Back to Rolly Gassman, a 2010 Vendages Tardives, absolutely gorgeous lime, honey and hints of petrol. Our final wine a botrytised Selection des Grains Nobles from the Hengst Grand Cru vineyard (south of Colmar), made by Josmeyer – an long established family of winemakers whose current generation are women, and make their wine according to biodynamic principles which opened up a whole new debate…. Some of us just sipped the wine (which had such lovely fruit, marmalade and minerality it was hard to believe it was from the 2002 vintage though easier to believe it cost £150+/bottle) and enjoyed it.
Details about the wines (and links to the recipes we recommended) are on the wines we have tasted page.