I Love French Wine and Food - An Alsace Pinot Blanc
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 you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Pinot Blanc wine.
Alsace ranks tenth out of the eleven French winemaking regions in terms of vineyard area. Don't be fooled by the numbers; Alsace is a major producer of quality French wine. Its wine growing area is only about 60 miles (100 kilometers) long, and at the most a mere 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide nestled between the Vosges Mountains to the east and the Rhine River and Germany to the west. But this relatively tiny area is known for 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. Secondary white grape varieties include Pinot Blanc, reviewed below, Sylvaner, and Muscat. The major red grape variety is Pinot Noir, reviewed in a companion article in this series.
Colmar is an Alsatian town pretty well in the middle of the Alsatian wine villages. Go there if you don't like rain; given its proximity to the Vosges Mountains, Colmar is the driest town in all of France. This city of about sixty-five thousand was founded in the Ninth Century. In spite of the fact that Colmar was largely destroyed in both World Wars, its old town (Vieille Ville) remains worthy of a visit. Some say that it's more interesting than Strasbourg. You really should visit both and decide for yourself. Among Colmar's sights are the St-Martin church constructed from the Thirteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries, the Ancienne Douane (Old Customs House), and the Maison aux Arcades (Arcades House).
Ribeauville is the home of Trimbach wines and has been since 1626. In spite of its size, under five thousand, it has a bit of everything: ancient town walls, Gothic churches, storybook medieval houses, ,a town hall peppered with antiques, and a spring. Nearby are the ruins of three castles. And the first Sunday in September, Ribeauville hosts a major Minstrel Show.
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 Foie Gras (Goose or Duck Liver). For your second course savor Baeckeoffe (Meat and Potato Casserole). And as dessert indulge yourself with Gateau Chasseur (Almond Cake with Raspberries and Meringue).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2004 12.5% alcohol about $13.50
Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Tasting Note Straw colour; apple, pear fruit aromas with light biscuit and citrus tones; medium- to full-bodied with ripe peachy flavours and a clean, zesty finish. Serving Suggestion Smoked salmon, shellfish or asparagus in hollandaise sauce. Alsatian Pinot Gris is becoming increasingly fashionable, and this example illustrates why. Honeyed fruit aromas, such as peach and pear, plus a texture of smoke and mineral seduce in this just off-dry white that's, round, soft and quite rich. The producer recommends this as a good substitute for red wine with meat dishes such as cold cuts, roast beef or game. They also suggest pairing it with smoked chicken, fish or lobster. And now for the review.
My first meal consisted of a commercially prepared chicken breast with the skin on (more calories, more flavor), potato salad, and a spicy salad based on tomatoes, red pepper and garlic. The wine was refreshingly acidic and somewhat fruity. I finished with fresh pineapple. This combination was quite good; the pineapple's fruit flavors and the wine's fruit flavors melded well, and seemed to intensify each other.
I then paired the Pinot Blanc with a reheated home-cooked chicken leg in a tomato-based sauce with beets and more of the above potato salad. The wine scored as in the first round, but was more assertively fruity including the taste of pears. I am not used to a Pinot Blanc wine being so present, and I like this change.
My last meal consisted of a cheeseless broccoli, mushroom, and zucchini quiche and mashed potatoes. While the wine was powerful and quite fruity, it did come up short.
The first cheese was a French goat's milk cheese that really seemed more like a Camembert. At the first sips the cheese sort of cut off the wine. Later the results were somewhat better; the wine was moderately acidic and somewhat fruity. Then I went for a Swiss Gruyere with a lightly sharp, nutty flavor. This combination was even better; the Pinot Blanc came out nice and fruity.
I usually don't go with a non-imported cheese when tasting wines. However, I am making an exception for a Canadian Asiago cheese that our local supermarket almost never carries. I think that this is the best cheese I have tasted in quite a while; in my opinion it clearly surpasses its Italian Asiago cousin. When I like a cheese that good, I really want to try it with wine. The result wasn't disappointing; this gem intensified the wine's fruit and acidity.
Final verdict. There is no doubt in my mind, this wine is a winner. And the price is reasonable to boot.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he definitely prefers drinking fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his global wine website is http://www.theworldwidewine.com which links to his other web sites.