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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.

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Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2017

Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!

10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)

les_deux_cols_cuvee_zephyr

“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain.  Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill?  I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely.  Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95)

lawsons

Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines.  This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others.  And what a great decision that was!  Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.

8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)

les-choix

This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse.  Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through.  This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?

7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)

Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list.  As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess.  I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.

6. Mahi Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €26)

mahi-boundary-road

A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough.  Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year.  My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years.  Very good wine for the money.

5. Greywacke Wild Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €34.99)

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2

Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting.  I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes.  Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes

4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)

CHABLISIENNE_GRANDE_CUVEE

I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus.  The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years.  It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice.  This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.

3. Blank Canvas Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €36.99)

Blank Canvas Chardonnay

It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand.  After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas.  This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner!  It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.

2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)

BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016

And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!)  The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix).  After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months.  It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.

1. Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen 2011 (13.0%, RRP €48)

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It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over.  The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power.  Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this.  Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #5 – Joe Coyle [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Joe Coyle is Head of Sales for Liberty Wines Ireland, a wine importer with an impressive portfolio with great coverage of Italy, NZ and Australia in particular.


At Christmas I like to serve a mix of tried-and-tested favourites alongside new wines that have excited me through the year.

CH Brut reserveA firm favourite that I always go back to is the dangerously drinkable Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve.  Charles Heidsieck is one of the most awarded Champagne houses, and it’s not hard to see why.  With at least five years on the lees and 40% reserve wines in the blend, their flagship Brut Réserve is rich and complex.

The nose is characterised by complex pastry aromas, with an opulent combination of ripe apricot, mango and greengages, dried fruits, pistachio and almond.  The palate begins with a silky-smooth sensation, developing into ripe fleshy apricot, melon and enticing plum pastry notes and delicate spice.

There is perfect balance of freshness and generosity.  Plus, the story of Charles Heidsieck, the original Champagne Charlie, includes Atlantic crossings, American high society, Mississippi swamp jails, political intrigue and financial windfalls.  It never fails to entertain!


Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Red 2014This year, my most exciting discoveries have come from Portugal.  Like Liberty Wines’ traditional stronghold in Italy, Portugal has dozens of native grape varieties to explore, from Alvarinho and Loureira in Vinho Verde through the Touriga Nacional based wines in the Douro and Dao to the intriguingly minerally white wines made from Enruzado in Dão.

The flavour profiles of these native grapes varieties are as diverse and exciting in Portugal as they are in Italy.   Perhaps it is this affinity, or just a search for originality and diversity, that drew us to Portugal. I’ll be serving Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015 with dinner this year, its juicy red berry notes and subtle vanilla making it the perfect match with Christmas turkey.

 

 

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV: available at around €65 at O’Briens and independent wine merchants.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015: available at around €19.99 at J.J. O’Driscoll Cork, Clontarf Wines. Wine Online


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single Bottle Review

The Long Little Dog [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #11]

The Long Little Dog White 2014 (12.5%, €9.95 at Sweeney’s)

2017-02-09-18-34-29

Unsung hero Colombard takes a starring role in this “critter wine”, with the balance of 30% contributed by Chardonnay.  These varieties don’t feature on the front or even back label as it’s not really a wine aimed at aficionados – it doesn’t even shout about its origins either, with a subtle Produit de France underneath the vintage.

It only takes a sip to realise that, despite the commercial packaging, this is actually a very pleasant wine – crisp, fruity and really enjoyable.  For a tenner in Ireland, you will struggle to beat it!

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Tesco Summer Whites [Make Mine a Double #22]

While we are still clinging to summer (here in Dublin at any rate) here are a couple of fresh whites that make for a perfect summer tipple:

Palais Des Anciens Gaillac Perlé 2013 (12.0%, €8.99 at Tesco)

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This wine has a very interesting background, so please excuse me if I get a little wine geeky here.

  • Gaillac is one of the oldest wine-producing areas of France: there are records showing wines being made there in the first century CE (only Côte Rôtie is thought to be older)
  • Some rare varieties are grown here, including Mauzac and Len de l’El*
  • This “Perlé” style white is bottled just before fermentation has ended, and thus the carbon dioxide produced is retained in the wine as a slight spritz!

I first tasted this wine nearly two years ago (see my friend Anne’s review) and I do remember it had a light spritz at the time, not unlike some Vinho Verde does.  Now the fizz has faded, but the wine still tastes fresh.  It has an almost saline quality to it with Mediterranean herbs.  There’s far more character here than you might expect from a €9 wine!

*Len de l’El is the official name for this grape – based in the Occitan language – and is also known an Loin-de-l’Oeil (amongst other names) which is the French term for the same thing: “far from the eye”.  This is because the stalks attaching the grape clusters to the vine are relatively far away from the bud, or “eye”

 

Tesco Finest Terre de Chieti Passerina 2015 (13.0%, €9.99 at Tesco)

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Passerina is a grape that I first came across when discussing Pecorino wine with Fergus O’Halloran, General Manager & Sommelier of The Twelve Hotel in County Galway.  The producer in the Marche that Fergus sources his Pecorino from – Il Crinale – also make a fresh, dry and aromatic wine from Passerina.

Now Tesco are in on the act!  Just like Pecorino, Passerina is predominantly made in the Marche and Abruzzo regions (the latter of which is obviously more famous for its Montepulciano reds).  Tesco’s “Finest” Passerina is made in Chieti in Abruzzo, a stone’s throw from the Adriatic.

As an Italian white, the obvious comparison is with the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, and (thankfully) it has far more going on than the average PG plonk.  It is dry with crisp acidity, but has an array of citrus and stone fruit on the nose and the palate.  It’s a perfect patio wine!

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine A Double #13 – Gorgeous Gewurz!

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As I’ve hinted at many times, Gewurztraminer isn’t always a guaranteed winner with me – sometimes it’s glorious, but sometimes it doesn’t quite sit right – some of the elements out of kilter.  When the DNS Wine Club met recently for an all-Alsace tasting, two Gewurz were the value-for-money and money-no-object winners of the night – much to everyone’s surprise!

Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012 (13.5%,  €24.00 Mitchell & Son)

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Sipp-Mack has been a favourite producer of mine for several years, and one I was able to visit when over in Hunawihr a few years ago.  Their Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling is a regular tipple at Ely – the whole range has great depth of flavour.  At the time this wine was made the winery was “in conversion” to organic practices, and are now certified.

The helpful label on the back describes the sweetness of this wine as “medium” – and at 51 g/L of residual sugar it would never be mistaken for dry.  It’s one of the most remarkably balance Gewurz I’ve ever had – lots of lychee, floral and ginger flavours from the old vines but also acidity to balance that sweetness.  This is as good as some of the Grand Cru Gewurz wines I’ve had from other producers – a veritable bargain.

 

Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998 (13.5%, €39.90 Léon Beyer)

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I happened across the little shop front of Léon Beyer after buying several cases from Domaine Bruno Sorg in the same village of Eguisheim.  Leaving my wife in a souvenir shop I dashed through the wines open for tasting.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines”.  Although this might sound like nonsense, of course she was referring to the Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (botrytised grapes) dessert wines.  The dry wines were indeed dry, and lovely, but this late harvest wine really stood out.

Opening an 18 year old wine does leave you a bit on edge, but I needn’t have worried – it was magnificent.  And so fresh!  It didn’t taste in the slightest bit tired.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  Some measure of the wine’s rarity can be garnered from the fact that only 4 more vintages have been produced since the 1998.

Although not cheap at around €40 (for 750ml) in France, this wine was jaw-droppingly good.  If I’d had another bottle I might have been mugged for it by the rest of the wine club!