Saturday, June 16, 2018

ALSACE: A GEOLOGIST'S DREAM

This month at the #frenchwinophiles we've been all about Alsace! Another cool weather wine region in France, this time in the NE. Alsace, as we know, is in the rain shadow of the ancient Vosges mountains in NE France at the border of Germany. So on the border in fact, that it's been back and forth between Germany and France numerous times although these days Alsace is in France. I received four splendid samples of Alsace wines from the generous folks at Alsace Rocks and I've reviewed three here, the last one to come shortly.


When thinking of Alsatian wine few, if any, of us might immediately think of the paleozoic evolution of the Vosges mountains or the fact that the Rhine Valley, home to a majority of Alsace wines, was the site of Central Europe's most significant seismological event, the Basel earthquake in 1356. In fact, the Rhine Valley, so favourable to grapevine growing, is a rift valley, a zone where the the lithosphere is being pulled apart, much like pull apart bread where if you pull one section off, an adjacent piece might start to cleave off as well.  In other words, it's on a geological fault. Needless to say, the earth in Alsace has been very active for not just centuries, but millennia, and continues to be so. The granitic Vosges mountains are over 570 million years old but after their formation and well before the Rhine Valley formed, the Vosges were below sea level, and subjected to layers of sedimentitious deposits... sandstone - which is essentially pressed sand - at the bottom, limestone - which is essentially decomposed seashells next, and marl - calcium carbonate-rich clay, also sometimes called mudstone at the top.

It's safe to say that the soil in the majority of the Rhine Valley is a marble cake of calcium carbonate-based soils from various geologic eras, along with granite on the hillsides of the Vosges and volcanic soil on the other side, a remnant from the now extinct Kaiserstuhl which is no longer useful as a volcano but is home to the largest wine cellars in Western Europe.

What does all this mean vis-à-vis Alsace wine? In a nutshell, this:
  • Sandstone: elegant restrained aromatic wines, pale color
  • Limestone: sprightly fresh acidity and citrus-y juiciness to the wine
  • Marl: complex wines with well defined structure
  • Granite: lower acidity, balanced wine
  • Volcanic: aromatic wine with discernible minerality on the nose and palate

Beyond vine growing and other agriculture, geology matters in daily life. The next time you look at an old building think about what the stone is, and whether it came from a place that was below sea level at some point long ago, or from rock formed from the folding of layers of the earth, or from rock formed from soil being trapped and heated to intensely high temperatures. In forensics, we use all these clues and more to piece together the puzzle when solving problems. Geology is everywhere, and Alsace offers an entire course on it in one area!

2013 GEWÜRZTRAMINER TRADITION
DOMAINE PFISTER, http://www.domaine-pfister.com/

Domaine Pfister is a family owned and operated winemaker, seven generations strong, growing a select variety of grapes on their primarily argilo-calcareous (clay/sand-limestone) soils. The resulting wines, no matter the grape, have the bright acidity imparted by limestone (calcareous) soils and the richness and depth from the clay. And since Alsace is already a cool climate, and clayey limestone soils are cooler soils, the wine also has a delightful astringency without being overbearing.

The grapes are grown in limestone soil, and the wine has 13.5% ABV. The bouquet is fairly straightforward, not too complex, with overripe stone fruit and an undeniable whiff of petrol, but not in a bad way. On the palate it is elegant, off-dry with a medium finish, minerality, and notes of dried roses, stone fruit, and citrus.





This gewürztraminer is discernibly different from German gewürztraminers since it's drier and less sweet. We wouldn't mind a bit higher acidity, but it's excellent nevertheless with the classic pairing of muenster and petit muenster cheeses. + grapes, and dried apricots and cranberries.

We also had it with spiced elk, lemony hummus, pickled onions, peppers and cucumbers, and olives... outstanding with the wine! We also enjoyed it on its own, and at $30 it won't break the bank if you want to give it a go. You won't regret it!












2015 RIESLING "CUVÉE CHARLES"
CHARLES BAUR, http://www.vinscharlesbaur.fr/en/

The Baur family has owned the Charles Baur estate in the heart of Alsace since the early 18th century. The Riesling we sampled is fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged on the lees for several months. It is a 13% ABV wine, grown in sandy gravel soil. The wine is a beautiful pale yellow, clear with a bouquet and tasting notes mainly of citrus, citrus zest, and white flowers. It's sprightly and balanced with a medium-long finish. Not too complex a wine but still superb.


We had it with coq au riesling (chicken in riesling sauce, made with this same wine) and buttered spätzle. Perfect for a leisurely weekend dinner! At $23, this bottle is a must-buy for warm days!








2015 PINOT BLANC
CAVE DE RIBEAUVILLÉ, http://www.vins-ribeauville.com/en/

Cave de Ribeauvillé has been around since 1885, making it the oldest wine co-op (cave, kaav, is co-op in French) in France. 38 members only, and the co-op buys the entire harvest from each member, so everyone has a vested interest in the wine that comes from the co-op. This particular wine is from grapes grown on a 22.5 acre vineyard near Ribeauvillé. Jean Baltenweck, the vineyard owner, cultivates the grapes on limestone soil using organic agriculture methods with no chemical treatments, and low yields. At 12.5% ABV, this organic 2015 Pinot Blanc is a refreshing but intense wine, perfect for a warm day and a light lunch. A clear wine with a greenish-gold hue, and a gorgeous, primarily grapefruit-citrus zest bouquet with some dried stone fruit. On the palate, it's dry, not very complex or lingering, but has a mouthwatering acidity, is crisp, fresh, and pleasantly lemony. We relished it with galettes de sarrasin complète (Brittany-style buckwheat crepes, eggs, comté cheese, sautéed mushrooms) and butter lettuce with a lemon vinaigrette. Good now or within the next 3 years. Priced at <$20 a bottle this is even more 
of a winner!

All the wines we received were terrific, and we'd most certainly buy more bottles of each for the summer. Perfect to bring to a party as well!

See how the other #winophiles are enjoying Alsace and what they're saying about it:

14 comments:

  1. An array of delicious pairings that sound perfect with the wines. What a fun topic this was! Cheers!

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    1. Thanks Lauren, looking forward to the next! :-)

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  2. Your pairings look so good! Thank you for sharing.

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  3. "the Rhine Valley is a marble cake of calcium carbonate-based soils from various geologic eras, along with granite on the hillsides of the Vosges and volcanic soil on the other side" What a fantastic description. And thank you so much for breaking down the notes these soils bring to the wines! What a wonderful read. I love all this geologic discussion!

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  4. I am always amazed how differently wines are experienced by people. I shared two of your 3 wines. Paired them with different foods and experienced a different tasting than you. We do both agree that these are food friendly wines at a good price.

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    1. Yes, it's funny how wine is so subjective. And yes these are terrific wines, priced well!

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  5. Payal, nice geological overview of the area! Do you have a background or a special interest? I especially loved your gewurztraminer pairing, looks delicious!

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    1. Thanks Jeff! Geology is fascinating and very relevant to my work in engineering forensics. I love the fact that limestone comes in so many varieties and so do most rocks and sands.

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  6. Hi Payal, nice food pairings. Your galette de sarrasin looks very authentic and delicious!

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    1. Thanks Olivier, it's one of my favourites!

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  7. Really lovely pairings! I also really enjoyed your summary of the fascinating geological history.

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    1. Thank you, and see you soon for rosé!

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