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)
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)
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!
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