If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Alsace region of northeastern France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that youíll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Riesling wine tasted with several meals and paired with imported cheeses.
Alsace ranks tenth out of the eleven French winemaking regions in terms of its acreage devoted vineyards. But donít be mislead by statistics; little Alsace is a major producer of quality French wine. Its wine growing area is barely 60 miles (100 kilometers) long, and at most 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide tucked between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine River and Germany to the east. But this relatively tiny area is famous for its distinctive wines. Their wine bottles are also distinctive; tall and thin with labels that feature the grape variety, not the usual practice in France. Chaptalization (adding sugar to the fermenting grape mixture) is allowed for many wine categories.
About 95% of Alsace wine is white. The major white grape varieties are Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling, reviewed below. Its secondary white grape varieties include Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, and Muscat. The major red grape variety is Pinot Noir, reviewed in a companion article in this series.
The beautiful Vosges mountains are located in eastern France near the Rhine River and Black Forest of western Germany. To a large extent they are composed of granite and red sandstone. Their highest point is the Grand Ballon (also called Ballon de Guebwiller) with an elevation of about 4600 feet (slightly more than 1424 meters). The vineyards of its eastern slopes have an elevation of up to 1300 feet (400 meters).
The Vosges mountains are great for tourists. Attractions include beautiful forests, several castles in ruins, and health resorts. If you are so inclined you can hike their usually gentle slopes and are never far from vineyards and restaurants serving delicious foods and local wines. After all, you are on the Alsace Wine Route, at least for the eastern slopes. Donít forget the winter skiing. The southern Vosges, near the village of Bussang, is home to a lovely fountain exploiting a spring that originates in the Moselle River. I hope you donít mind that this particular area is just over the border in Lorraine.
Before reviewing the Alsatian wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Schniederspaetle (Onion Ravioli). For your second course savor Brochet díI a la creme (Pike in White Wine and Cream Sauce). And as dessert indulge yourself with Strudel aux Pommes (Apple Strudel).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Hattstatty Hatschbourg Riesling 2003 12.5% alcohol about $21.00
Letís start by quoting the marketing materials. This wine won a Gold Medal at the 2006 Concours Riesling du Monde. Established in 1998, the Concours Riesling du Monde (Rieslings of the World) competition takes place every year in Strasbourg, Alsace. Rieslings from throughout the world are submitted to an international jury of oenologists and wine critics. This hugely respected competition illustrates the diversity and brilliance of fine Riesling from around the world. And now for the review.
My first meal consisted of home made barbecued chicken in a sweet and sour Thai sauce with Portabello mushrooms and red pepper. The wine was fruity, nice and complex. It was quite a good match and I knew that this would be a quality wine.
The next shot was a commercially barbecued chicken leg (of course not as tasty as my own barbecued chicken) with its skin in a paprika sauce accompanied by, Turkish salad, and Greek olives. I started by sipping the wine alone, as I was afraid that I might have lost the bottle because the wine sat in the fridge for quite some time. No problem. This Riesling wine was fine with an appely taste but in the positive sense. In response to the food the wine got even better. It was quite long and powerful and yet delicate. While I liked the Greek olives and I liked the wine, I did not enjoy the two together. The Rieslingís acidity actually intensified in the presence of the moderately spicy Turkish salad. I finished my glass with overripe cherries. This time the wine went flat, especially with the sweet ones.
The final meal was an omelet with a local Provolone cheese and a side of Turkish salad. The wine was nice and crisp. I tasted a touch of lime. As dessert I had a high-quality chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream bar. The ice cream bar was fine but it did flatten the wine somewhat.
My first cheese was a nutty, fatty, and slightly sour Dutch Edam cheese. My German Edam was well beyond edible by humans, although the spores looked like they were having a real feast. Anyway, in the presence of this Dutch Edam the Riesling was round and fruity, with pleasant acidity. In the presence of an Italian Friulano cheese the wine became sour and flatter.
Final verdict. Great wine, I will buy it again and watch my pairings more closely. This should accompany very well the right gourmet meal.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would
rather just drink fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario
French-language community college. His wine websites include
www.theworldwidewine.com and http://www.theitalianwineconnection.com
Visit his website devoted to Italian travel www.travelitalytravel.com
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