About 90 per cent of wine produced in Alsace, the region in eastern France near the border with Germany, is white. Alsace is France’s only region to grow significant quantities of riesling and gewürztraminer.
Chinese people tend to avoid white wine for a range of reasons, many of them based on ignorance and a reluctance to drink anything beyond Bordeaux. This is sad and frustrating. The law of supply and demand means that if everyone wants Bordeaux, prices will rise.
Alsace is a rectangle of land 185 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide that has been occupied by France and Germany several times throughout history, especially during the nineteenth century. The changing sovereignty explains the French-Germanic naming system, and many features of Alsace, including the architecture and the wine.
Wines are produced under three key appellations: Alsace and Alsace grand cru for still wines, and Cremant Alsace for sparkling.
People interested in good-quality wine that is not over-priced should consider white wines from Alsace. A tasting in Hong Kong last month (December) demonstrated the value of wines made from pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer.
A China-based online wine retailer, YesMyWines, offered wines from three Alsatian providers: Krossfelder, Rolly-Gassmannn, and Martin Schaetzel. The company assembled a group of wine enthusiasts to solicit feedback on the wines, to see if they were worth stocking.
The least said about the four Krossfelder wines the better. They were boring and bland. These 2010 whites were dumb in the sense that I could not detect any aromas, though it might have been a reflection of their relative youth and poor storage or transport. Wine is such a delicate creature that variations in temperature in the three months at sea between France and China can significantly affect flavors.
Stickers on the labels peeled off to reveal other wine names, causing me to worry about the origins of the wine. The corks were cheap and artificial.
All of the six Rolly-Gassmann wines were impressive, especially the 2009 gewürztraminer and the 2009 riesling. The former tasted and smelled of ripe fruit salad and had medium length and good balance. The latter offered zingy acids and lingering lemon taste.
The combination of rich fruit, velvety sweetness and vibrant acidity in Alsace produces seductive wines. Both would be superb with a range of spicy Chinese food. They would also be an ideal match with Thai or Indian curries.
Three of the eight Schaetzel wines were memorable. The 2009 grand cru Kaefferkopf Ammerschwihr gewürztraminer was superb, with a lingering nose of rose petals and spice and a soft balance of acid and fruit.
Also impressive was the 2009 cuvee reserve gewürztraminer with its flavors of passionfruit and lychees. Both had velvety backbones of acid that suggest they would be superb drinking in a decade, though they are very approachable now.
My favorite was the 2008 vendage tardive pinot gris. Vendage tardive is French for late harvest. It produces sweet or dessert wines, because late-picked grapes retain more sugar and character. Its flavors of ripe pears and quince would pair superbly with blue cheese.
The wines are made by Jean Schaetzel, a professor at a wine school in Rouffach in Alsace. The prestigious La Revue du Vin de France recognizes his wines every year. He makes 30 wines, half of them riesling, using organic grape growing techniques.
Alsatian wines represent very good value for money compared with other regions of France, and they work beautifully with most Chinese food. You can find them at YesMyWines.com, China’s biggest online wine store.
* “A region where white tastes right” in China Daily, page 12, 7 January 2012. Find link here.