Information

Alsace Blends

Alsace is mainly known and loved for its stunning single varietal wines, but less widely known are its blends.  In fact, there are even more types of blend than many wine lovers know, so, in advance of Alsace Wine Week, here’s a quick rundown of the six types I have counted!

Edelzwicker

 

Edelzwicker

Edelzwicker is probably the most well known Alsace blend.  The word comes from the Alsace dialect for “noble blend” (it’s a Germanic dialect more closely linked to Swiss German than textbook German) although noble grapes aren’t a requirement nowadays. In fact, any of the officially permitted Alsace varieties can be blended in any proportion.

The grapes used are usually those from the less favoured sites and which aren’t required for varietal wines, and so the proportions change a little from year to year.  However, despite their modest origins, Edelzwickers can be a very nice everyday wine – more than the sum of their parts!

Gentil

hugel gentil alsace

Gentil is the French word for “kind”, though quite why the term was awarded to this style of wine I do not know.  A Gentil is very similar to an Edelzwicker except that the four “noble grapes” of Alsace should be at least 50% of the blend:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

Pinot Blanc

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

Yes, Pinot Blanc is a variety, and a wine so labelled could be a varietal, but the rules in Alsace permit four grapes to be used:

  • Pinot Blanc itself
  • Auxerrois
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir (vinified white, i.e. no contact with the skins)

Auxerois is a sibling of Chardonnay and is sometimes given its full name Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy but more often known as Pinot Auxerrois or Clevner/Klevner – though the latter is especially confusing as it is also the synonym for Pinot Blanc!  Interestingly, the amount of true Pinot Blanc in still wines has fallen over the decades as it is in such high demand for Crémant!

Muscat

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat Alsace

There are three different members of the Muscat family allowed in Alsace wines:

  • Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (White Muscat with small berries)
  • Muscat Rose à Petits Grains (Pink Muscat with small berries)
  • Muscat Ottonel (thought to be a descendent of Pinot Noir Précose, Chasselas and an unknown other member of the Muscat family)

Blends of these different varieties are allowed in AOC Alsace; however, most of the AOC Alsace Grands Crus do not permit a mix and two (Zotzenberg and Kaefferkopf) do not allow any Muscat at all.

Crémant d’Alsace

dopff irion cremant d alsace brut

Alsace’s traditional method sparkler is the second most popular in France (after Champagne, of course).  It doesn’t have to be a blend, but usually is – with the exception of the rosé which has to be 100% Pinot Noir.  The permitted varieties are:

  • Pinot Blanc (usually the biggest component)
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Auxerrois
  • Chardonnay (although not permitted in still Alsace wines, an exception is made for Crémant )

Field Blends

BURG Domaine Marcel Deiss

The final category is also probably the rarest, but also actually the most traditional:  blends created from different varieties which are grown, picked and vinified together.  The original practice for Edelzwicker was to make it from field blends, but now separate vinification before blending is mandatory.  Instead, a few producers still make field blends the “old fashioned way”.  Most notable of these is Domaine Marcel Deiss who make a broad range of “Cru d’Alsace” wines named by their lieu-dit rather than varieties.  As an example, the Deiss Burg is nearly a full house as it contains:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Muscat
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Sylvaner
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling

On a smaller scale, Agathe Bursin’s “L’As de B” is also a field blend.  The name is actually short for “L’Assemblage de Bollenberg ” – which translates as “Bollenberg Blend” – and contains the same six grapes as Burg.

Advertisements
Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #15 – Unusual Alsace

raisins
Grapes at Domaine Christian Dock, Heiligenstein

There are a few types of Alsace wine that most wine lovers are very familiar with – Riesling and Gewurztraminer for example – and aficionados will also know about the Crémants and Vendanges Tardives wines.  However, here are a couple that are really off the beaten track – but no less delicious for it!

Christian Dock Klevener de Heiligenstein 2011 (13.5%, bought from producer)

2016-04-21 19.28.03

When Gewurz is great it can be really great – such as this pair.  However, even when it’s as good as that it’s not necessarily a supping wine – it can be so rich that one glass is fab, but enough.  This related grape is less expressive, usually drier, and much more quaffable.  So what the heck is it?

We begin with the Traminer grape which is thought to have originated in the town of Tramin an der Weinstraße, previously in the Austria-Hungary County of Tyrol and now in South Tyrol / Alte Adige in northern Italy (the town didn’t move but the border did). Traminer made its way north to the Jura mountains where it became known as Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), though it differs very slightly from its antecedent.  Here it is still produced for Savagnin table wine, Vin de Paille and Vin Jaune.

A pink-skinned mutation (of either Traminer or Savagnin Blanc) called Savagnin Rose then developed, and was allegedly taken north from Chiavenna in Italy (Cleven or Kleven in German).  An aromatic mutation of this then became Gewürztraminer (literally Spicy Traminer) in Germany and Alsace.

However, in the village of Heiligenstein (near Barr) and its surrounds in northern Alsace there are still some plantings of Savagnin Rose – known as Klevener de Heiligenstein – which is what we have here.  Further confusion is caused by Klevner (only 2 ‘e’s) which is either a synonym for Pinot Blanc or a blend which can contain Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir plus Auxerrois.

Unfortunately production is fairly small so it’s a rarity, but if you ever come across a bottle then you must try it – still off-dry, soft and round but more subtle than most Gewurztraminers. Like its offspring I think it would be great with Asian food.

Christian Dock is a small family producer in the village that I happened to stop at in passing.  Like most producers they make the full range of Alsace wines and I recommend you try any you can get your hands on.

Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Zind” Vin de France 2013 (13.0%, RRP €23.95, jnwine.com)

1

So first of all you may notice that this isn’t an Appellation Alsace Controllée wine, or any Appellation at all come to that, despite being made by one of the region’s most celebrated producers, Zind-Humbrecht.  This is because it doesn’t satisfy the AOC rules for Alsace and there is no junior Vin de Pays or IGP designation for the area so it has to fall all the way down to Vin de France.  And where does it fall short of the rules?  Chardonnay! *gasp*

This is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Auxerrois.  You never see the former on an Alsace label as it’s not considered to be a local grape, but it is permitted in Crémant d’Alsace (as in many other crémants around France).  Occasionally a small percentage might find its way into a Pinot blend, but that’s strictly on the QT.

Auxerrois (this version of it, at least – it’s also the synonym for grapes such as Malbec and Valdiguié) is a full sibling of Chardonnay, as they both have Gouais Blanc and Pinot as parents (due to the Pinot family’s genetic instability it’s not always possible to tell the colour of a particular parent).  Although this is considered a local grape, it too nearly always ends up in blends.

Despite not being an AOC wine this was special.  It showed lots of citrus and white fruit, but also minerality and some pleasant reductive characteristics.  My friend Mags said it reminded her of a good white Burgundy – though at a much lower price!

If you don’t want to miss anymore posts then please subscribe – just enter your email in the box near the top right of the page.

Other “Make Mine A Double” Posts

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Make Mine a Double #14 – Wines With B-Rio

With the Rio Olympics looming over the horizon, what better time to sample Brazil’s vinous delights.  What?  Brazilian wine?  Yes indeed, and though as a whole the country isn’t a viticultural paradise there are some tasty wines being made there.  Here are a couple from M&S that I tried recently:

Riosecco Sparkling Glera NV (11.5%, €13.29)

Riosecco trimmed small

Riosecco is a portmanteau of Rio and Prosecco, a not too subtle hint that this is a Brazilian alternative to Italy’s Prosecco.  Before 2009 the grape used in DOC Prosecco was often referred to as by the same name, which meant that other areas could use the Prosecco name without being made in the same region (…or even country). When the even stricter DOCG was created in 2009 the old synonym Glera was adopted, and that’s what we have on this Latin American bubbly.

It’s pleasantly fruity but refreshing and dry on the finish.  A better effort that many ordinary Proseccos.  Give it a try!

Araucria Riesling Pinot Grigio 2015 (12.5%, €13.29)

Riesling Pinot Grigio trimmed small

I tasted this without looking closely at the information provided and was a bit stumped – I just didn’t know what to make of it.  “Can I get back to you on this?” I told my notepad. Then, noticing the blend was 70% Riesling and 30% Pinot Grigio, it started to make sense.

It has the refreshing acidity and citrus bite of Riesling plus a bit of the rounder fruit and texture from Pinot Grigio.  This could actually pass for an Alsace blend from a cooler year – not quite as round as an average Edelzwicker as it doesn’t have any Pinot Blanc.  It’s a well made, modern wine which deserves to be sipped while sitting in the sun.

And just because I can, here is another Rio:

Tasting Events

State Of The Nation (Part 2): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

Part 1 covered the big 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Now we turn our attention to the other varieties grown in the country of the Long White Cloud.

Riesling

As a self-confessed Riesling lover and fan of NZ wines, I find Kiwi Riesling a bit unsure of what it wants to be.  Acidity and flavour are never in doubt, but the residual sugar levels vary significantly from producer to producer – often without explanation on the front label – and don’t always result in a balanced wine.  For zing and purity stick to Clare Valley in South Australia, but there are some NZ gems out there.

Tohu Single Vineyard Riesling Awatere, Marlborough 2013

Zing!  Made in an Alsace, bone-dry style from the cooler Awatere part of Marlborough.  Very clean and linear on the palate, it might be a little too limey and intense for some on its own (though not for me!)  Would be fabulous with shellfish.

Yealands Estate Riesling Marlborough 2012

This is their slightly more premium Riesling, the junior range being “Peter Yealands”.  It tastes even drier than its 6g of Residual Sugar would suggest – that’s the acidity coming through.

Greywacke Riesling Marlborough 2011

This is made in an off-dry style not unlike Kabinett examples from Germany; it has 22g of residual sugar.  I got a strong flavour of chalk – more pleasant than it sounds – along with citrus and honey.

Siegfried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling Nelson 2012 

This full-on dessert style has nearly ten times the residual sugar of the Greywacke above.  It’s a heavenly liquor with luscious stone fruit, mandarin and buttered brioche – all balanced by ample acidity so it’s never cloying.  So moreish!

Syrah

Touted by some observers as the future of New Zealand red wine, Syrah grows best in the warmer parts of the country (Auckland, Waiheke, Hawke’s Bay) and is closer to the northern Rhone than the Barossa in style – very perfumed and elegant, restrained rather than powerful.  Although Syrah likes the heat is it more tolerant of different temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.  Some producers are now experimenting with Syrah in Marlborough, watch this space!

Tinpot Hut Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2009

Fiona Turner hails from Hawke’s Bay, so it was natural that she would look to her home region for a source of Syrah.  The fruit is grown in the Dartmoor Valley and Gimblett Gravels sub-regions, vinified separately then blended together.  This is an elegant, supple and refined Syrah with plum and spice on the attack followed by notes of crisp bacon – very much Northern Rhône style.

Man O’ War Dreadnaught Syrah Waiheke 2010

This is the Waiheke outfit’s top Syrah, from the warmest and steepest slopes.  Fairly dense and intimidating at first, it gradually opens up to reveal plum, blueberry and pepper with a savoury edge.  This might benefit from food right now, but it will soften and develop over the next ten years – a keeper!

Trinity Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2011

Trinity Hill’s winemaker John Hancock is a big fan of the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s spiritual home, after working under Gerard Jaboulet in Côte-Rôtie.  Following the practice of that region, a small amount of Viognier is often blended in to soft the palate and add more interest on the nose.  This is the entry level Trinity Hill Syrah, with Gimblett Gravels and “Homage” above it, but it acquits itself very well

Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2011

This was the only wine I noticed that wasn’t available for the consumer tasting that followed the trade tasting, with a very good reason – the price!  Craggy Range are all single vineyard wines, but this is getting towards “super-premium” territory.  This does everything the other Syrahs above do, but more so.  The youngest vintage that Craggy Range recommend drinking now is 2002 – so although this Le Sol can be drunk now, it won’t do itself justice until at least 2021 – then it will sing.

Pinot Gris

Sometimes spelling makes a big difference.  Usually, a wine labelled as “Pinot Gris” will be similar to the Alsace style, intense and often off dry.  Those with “Pinot Grigio” are more likely to be light and almost neutral in flavour like the thin, acidic Italian wines which clog up pub winelists everywhere (did I just say that out loud?)  For the most part, New Zealand is closer to the Alsace style – even when called a Grigio as the first wine below.

Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio Marlborough 2013

This is round and supple, a very pleasant easy-drinking style.  Would partner well with lots of Asian dishes.

Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris Martinborough 2013

As Craighall is to Chardonnay, Lismore is to Pinot Gris.  Both ripe pears and pear drop sweets feature on the round palate.  It’s very rich and just off-dry – both flavour and sweetness would stand up to Thai food.

Ostler Lakeside Pinot Gris Waitaki Valley 2012

The only wine (I noticed) at the tasting from the Waitaki Valley – a marginal (even for NZ) new wine making region by the South East coast of the South Island.  Marginal areas sometimes produce poor wines in bad vintages, but can excel in better vintages – it’s all about taking risks.  This wine is off-dry to medium-dry with 15g of RS; it’s not a dessert wine but would be fine with spicy food, or at a push fruit salad.  The 2012 is only the second vintage ever made, so vine age should lend even more complexity.

Grüner Veltliner

This variety has a lot of potential, in Marlborough (in particular), where nights are cool like its home in Austria.  Usually made dry, it is an aromatic alternative to Sauvignon and Riesling, and some (I’m looking at you, Tara!) even prefer it.  Grüner is generally medium-bodied and very food-friendly.

Tin Pot Hut McKee Vineyard Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2012

As the name suggests this is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard, located in the Blind River sub-region of Marlborough.  The acidity keeps it dry, clean and crisp, with a fabulous texture that makes you want to roll it round your mouth.  This is a subtle wine combining peach and pear with gentle peppery spice.

Siegfried Grüner Veltliner Nelson 2011

One of Nelson’s top producers (see their Sweet Agnes dessert Riesling in part 1) who also make New Zealand’s only Würzer, a white German wine grape variety that is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau.  The winery’s founder Hermann Siegfried hails from Austria so he naturally looked to introduce Grüner to Nelson, after the regulation quarantine process.  This is a typical example of the grape, with white stone fruit and white pepper (better than it sounds, honestly) from a young vineyard.

The Best of the Rest

A selection of the other wines I found interesting…

Yealands Estate, Awatere Valley Single Vineyard PGR Marlborough 2013

Pinot Gris (50%) Gewurztraminer (15%) Riesling (35%) not unlike an Alsace Edelzwicker blend. It’s so new that it doesn’t even yet feature on the Yealand’s website or even in the tasting catalogue. The small proportion of Gewurz means that it doesn’t dominate – the nose isn’t overwhelmingly floral. If you like the sound of this then also consider Te Whare Re (TWR)’s Toru.

Brancott Estate Letter Series “R” Sauvignon Gris Marlborough 2013

This is the first Sauvignon Gris I have tasted from New Zealand; there are some reasonable examples of the variety from Chile and it sometimes finds its way into white Bordeaux (both dry and sweet). This is a powerful wine with 14.0% abv and the 6.9g/L residual sugar gives it extra body and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Stylistically this is closer to a Pinot Gris than a Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott are hoping that this will help them diversify away from reliance on the latter.  Interestingly, they have launched the variety with a premium rather than everyday version.

Hunters MiruMiru Reserve Sparkling Marlborough 2005

This has the traditional Champagne grape blend: Chardonnay (56%) and Pinots Noir and Meunier (44% together) and is made in the traditional method.  Apparently this only had eight months on the lees before disgorgement, but it tastes like it was more.  Obviously lots of bottle age which has allowed lots of complexity to develop – a class fizz.

Man O’ War Ironclad Waiheke 2010

This is a Bordeaux blend with virtually the full house of black grapes permitted in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  The grapes are picked and sorted separately from 45 different parcels on the warmer hillside sites, then blended together.  As might be expected it tastes something akin to an Haut-Médoc from a warm year, blackcurrant and plum fruit dancing against a background of supple tannins.  This is lovely to drink now but will easily keep (and keep developing) until the end of the decade.

Craggy Range “Sophia” Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2004 & 2006

Finally, two different vintages of Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends from Craggy Range, and older than you might often see available.  The Gimblett Gravels sub-region lies over a former riverbed – hence the gravel – and so is very well drained (most quality grapes don’t produce quality wine if they have too much access to water).  The 2004 consists of 92% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the 2006 was made with 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec – a perfect example of adjusting the blend depending on the vintage, as is the norm in Bordeaux.  Both of these examples were maturing but not fully mature; there was still plenty of cassis and plum on the palate but cedar and tobacco notes starting to creep in – complex and very drinkable.

I hope you liked this post, please leave a comment and/or follow my blog  if you haven't done so already.