Tasting French wine – fruity white Alsace wines
March 6, 2017
You know how you build pictures of places you’ve read about but never seen? Well, when I think of Alsace and sniff the pure fruity aromas of its wines, I visualize a Sound of Music type of landscape, all green mountain meadows and blue skies, maybe even Julie Andrews skipping among the vines. I expect I’m somewhat off the mark – after all, this is northern France we’re talking about. However, it is a region with a special climate, protected from the wind and rain by the Vosges mountains. Alsace wines are known for their own special style: single varietals with pure, fresh fruit expression and elegance. Most Alsace wines are white but I’ve heard about some outstanding Pinot Noirs – here’s hoping I can find one to try soon.
I recently tried two different varieties from Alsace, both by biodynamic producer Josmeyer, purchased in Chile from Edwards Fine Wines.
The grapes for both these Alsace wines were grown on clay-rich soil with silt, sand, pebbles and loess, so reasonably well-draining. They were hand-picked and whole-bunch pressed very slowly, enabling the production of clean must and some skin contact, perhaps accounting for their pale golden colour. The must was fermented with its natural yeasts in stainless steel and then settled in stainless steel, to retain the fruity aromas and flavours. It was lightly filtered and bottled in the early spring following harvest. More information from the producer’s website.
Josmeyer Mise du Printemps Vu Par Isabelle 2015 Le Pinot Blanc, 12% ABV
This pale gold-coloured wine displayed lots of pure, fresh fruit aromas, particularly golden apples and pears and some soft citrus aromas, like limes, together with a honeyed note. There was a hard-to-pin-down note that added a complexity into the otherwise pure fruit – a smoky quality maybe? Bacon fat? It was very subtle, not unpleasant but rather interesting.
This was a dry wine with high acidity and fairly full body – more akin to a Chardonnay than the weedy body of a Sauvignon Blanc, for instance. In the mouth, it was fruity, featuring flavours of apples and pears, a hint of waxy lemons, a honeyed note and that subtle savoury hint that was apparent on the nose. The wine had a pleasing texture – smooth and enveloping – but cut through with the zing of zesty acidity. The finish was surprisingly long. This wine would be a great alternative to a Chardonnay, for instance to go with fish or chicken dishes.
Josmeyer Les Folastries Gewürztraminer 2011, 14% ABV
This pale gold-coloured wine had the wonderful, exciting aromas so typical of Gewürztraminer, one of the most aromatic of all wine grape varieties. Think roses and orange blossom, spices like ginger, tropical citrus notes of pineapples and sherbert lemon, together with Turkish delight, like you just walked into an old-fashioned sweet shop.
This wine was off-dry with medium acidity, medium body and quite intense flavours of spices, like ginger, tropical citrus aromas (pineapple, pink grapefruit, lemon sherbert) and floral notes (rose, orange blossom). The finish was quite long.
This was a lovely wine but, as is common in Gewürztraminer, it was a little lacking in acidity. This makes many Gewürztraminer wines less refreshing and a little less exciting to drink than other, more acidic wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or Riesling.
Gewürztraminer wines often have a touch (or more) of sweetness, which makes them a good alternative for sweet and sour dishes and Oriental food in general. My friend Smilja regards this variety as the perfect pairing for Chinese food, for instance.
I was unable to find any Chilean Pinot Blanc wines to try alongside the version from Alsace. However, Chile does produce a small number of Gewürztraminer wines, though they aren’t always easy to track down, so I was taste the following Chilean Gewürztraminer alongside Josmeyer’s version.
Viña Casablanca Nimbus Single Vineyard Gewürztraminer 2015, Casablanca, 13% ABV
This pale lemon-coloured wine had a pronounced nose featuring citrus fruit aromas, like pineapple and sweet notes of Turkish Delight and spices like ginger, but rather lacked the complexity of the Alsace wine’s aromas.
In the mouth it was dry with medium acidity, medium body, medium flavour intensity with citrus and spice notes. The finish was medium. Less complex and elegant than the Alsace wine, this wine would work well as a fresh, aromatic chilled drink to enjoy while watching the sun go down.
For details of other French wines, check out these posts:
What do you think about Gewürztraminer? Have you tried one you especially liked?