When we started our wine business in 1987 we had less than a dozen wines on our list – but it did feature Alsace wines from Emile Boeckel in Mittelbergheim (67 Bas Rhin, Alsace) – a traditional independent winemaker who has made some stunning wines – see www.boeckel-alsace.com/
The main cellars run underneath the impossibly quaint house in the picturesque village north of Colmar. We enjoyed one of our first serious tastings on a cold wet March morning in 1988 and were generously entertained and educated by Emile himself.
I have always enjoyed Alsace wines – but they are notoriously difficult to sell in the UK – known in the trade as the “wine merchant’s wine”. Perhaps its the germanic bottle shape, names and gothic lettering which dissuades customers – but these are so different from the German wines just the other side of the Rhine river. They are dry and crisp for the most part, with an extraordinary depth of flavour. The Riesling is probably shown at its best in Alsace, with steely mineral character unmatched elsewhere.
Gewurztraminer is also an Alsace speciality – so very different from the Riesliing – perfumed, aromatic and spicy – a bit of an acquired taste but such a contrast to the normal run of Chardonnay and Sauvignon – excellent with spicy food – and also as a Vendange Tardive – a late harvest dessert wine with such intensity.
Alsace is also unique in France in allowing/requiring the grape variety to be on the label as part of the appellation – so you’ll find Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Tokay/Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc,Sylvaner, Muscat and Pinot Noir. There is also the “Edlezwicker” which is a blend of grape varieties – seldom very exciting.
Alsace also has its own Grand Cru – e.g. Boeckel has a Gewurztraminer Zotzenberg Grand Cru – which implies that the grapes come from a specified plot of land officially recognised as consistently producing top class wines – usually parts of well-drained hillsides with good aspect to the sun.
One wine we had great success with was the Crémant d’Alsace – a sparkling wine made from Pinot Blanc.
UK stockist for Boeckel wines is Sandhams Wine Merchants in Caistor, Lincs
However, one problem with Alsace wines is that other than Edelzwicker prices start quite high (usually about £5.99 for a decent bottle), despite the area having a large number of co-operative cellars – however this is one region where some of the best wines come from Co-operatives, e,g, Pfaffenheim
For more on Alsace wines see www.vinsalsace.com
The region is well worth visiting, despite being something off the beaten track for most of the rest of France – great landscapes, pretty villages, the Rhine Valley and the Vosges mountains – and plenty of vineyards to visit! Despite being relatively far north the region enjoys one of the highest numbers of sunny days in France!
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