Often overlooked and definitely under-appreciated, Alsace is a small region born of both French and German influence on the north-eastern edge of France. It has swopped back and forth between countries for the last 1700 years since the Romans left and hence has its own unique character and language. I remember visiting Alsace as a young lad and thinking I had stumbled onto the quaint, fairy-tale-like set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (still one of my favorite movies).
The Romans first planted grapes in Alsace sometime in the 2nd century BCE, and the vineyards were deemed so important that they built large fortresses to protect them. To the west, the Vosges mountains protect the area from the excesses of weather and provide a long, cool growing season for vines. This is the home of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc with smaller amounts of Sylvaner and Pinot Noir, too. Unlike Germany, the philosophy here is to ferment all the sugar in the grapes into alcohol and so, for the most part, Alsace is known for dry wines of great intensity.
One of my favorite winemakers in the region is Roland Schmitt, whose family has been making wine in Alsace since the 17th century. Roland, who started working the family vineyard at age 14, produces truly phenomenal whites. He sends only a small amount of his wine to the US and so we are thrilled to be able to offer them to our Wine Friends. Here’s two crisp, complex and mouthwatering whites of his we can’t stop sipping:
2019 Domaine Roland Schmitt Sylvaner, Grand A du Petit Leon ($22). Sylvaner is one of my favorite grapes, but it is very tricky to get right. If not skillfully made, you can end up with a dry, insipid wine. However, with the right terroir and care you can create a wine of bracing acidity and minerality with hints of guava and mango and a lovely herby touch at the finish. Roland has nailed it. One sip and I was daydreaming of the French scallop festival in Villers sur Mer, where local chefs vie for most delectable shellfish masterpiece. To drink this with scallops seared in butter and topped with a little lemon aioli and a few crumbles of bacon would be my version of heaven.
2019 Domaine Roland Schmitt Riesling Glintzberg ($23). This is just a great sipping wine to drink chilled on a warm afternoon. It has beautiful yellow cherries and a honeycomb richness with scintillating clean, dry minerals at the finish. You could pair it with veal, pork loin, or any white meats which are common in Alsatian cuisine, though it also has a depth and character that works with spicier foods, like curries and Thai food.
These are the first Alsatian wines we've offered through Wine Friends, which is strange because it's one of my favorite wine regions. If you're not familiar with the area, it will be a delightful journey, and if you are, these are fantastic examples of two wonderful grapes. Enjoy and, as ever, we'd love to hear what you think!