Wineontrial’s first look at Alsace is probably overdue. It might not be the best known of all the great French wine regions, but I doubt whether that’s its own fault. Its output certainly isn’t at the levels of some of the others, and little of what it does produce sits in the sub-£10 a bottle market.
I think it’s fair to say, without generalising to excess, that Alsace focuses on quality rather than quantity. What I really love about this region is that it does things differently. It would be easy for the winemakers of Alsace to make Rieslings that mimic the traditional medium-sweet style of the Moselle valley. But instead, they tend to make them completely dry. It would be easy to compete with the appley, or even bland and insipid, Pinot Grigio of Northern Italy. What they actually do is let those grapes ripen just a little bit longer, and, in many cases, leave just a little of that natural sugar unfermented (in other words, make the wine off-dry). The theory goes that you get a decidedly fruity wine, with the touch of sweetness helping that fruit to sing to your palate.
At £8, our example is about as cheap as Alsace gets in the UK. So we probably can’t go expecting something extraordinary.
Almost as if to suggest that the discerning drinker should know what’s coming, the only tasting information offered by the label is that the wine is off-dry. The retailer helps out, telling me that I’ll get apricot, honey and gingerbread. Sounds delicious! But does that description stand up to scrutiny?
Just about. I can see where they’re coming from with apricot, but I was tending more towards grape (how original for something made of grapes!) and a slice or two of banana. I’ll let them have gingerbread, and at a pinch, the honey too. So far so good, but every so often, I also got a touch of bitterness. And that has no place at all in this wine.
Fortunately, the bitterness doesn’t announce itself often enough to stop me from liking this wine. I’m happy to say that it is reasonable, going on for good, and perhaps this is all that’s realistic for an £8 Alsace. I wouldn’t necessarily see this as something to lament though, especially if you like your whites rich, fruity, exotic and off-dry, and you want something under £10.
One final thought. I completely disagree with the retailer’s suggestion that this will cut through creamy meat dishes. That is something you would say of a wine with medium-to-high acidity, which this certainly isn’t. I just can’t see it working. This wine is however an excellent foil for a chicken or pork dish with a slightly sweet or spicy sauce (as long as it’s not also creamy or oily). Try that combo on some guests and you might just be able to make them believe you’re a trained sommelier…