Category Archives: Alsace

Alsace Winegrowers’ Palpable Passion for World Class Pinot Noirs

Alsace Winegrowers’ Palpable Passion for World Class Pinot Noirs

Burgundy may be Pinot Noir’s spiritual home, but Alsace winegrowers’ palpable passion for Pinot Noir these days cannot be ignored. Leading winegrowers such as André Ostertag, Christian Beyer, Jean-Paul and Marie Zusslin, Maxime Barmès and Rémy Gresser embody the renewed dedication to producing high quality, delicious Pinot Noir wines worthy of international attention. Each grower offers an ambitious vision for Alsace red wines.

André Ostertag:

“Studying winegrowig in Burgundy gave me a high sense of grand vin. It is a place with a high sense of terroir,” says André Ostertag who returned home to manage Domaine Ostertag which his father, Adolph, created in 1966.  “The temptation is to try to copy the style of red Burgundies, but this is a beginner’s temptation. After a while you learn that you have to discover your own wine by understanding the essence of what’s going on in your soils and terroir.”

He notes that Alsace has more diverse soils than Burgundy, and the climate has more sunshine and drier conditions. And on a cultural level, Alsace mixes both Germanic and Latin influences.

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Winegrower André Ostertag in his cellar in Epfig, a winegrowing village below Strasbourg in Alsace’s Bas-Rhine département.

“Our best Pinot Noirs have an identity all their own, one with powerful fruit, freshness and ripe tannins,” he says. Achieving this optimal style requires savoir-faire.

“For a long time in Alsace we treated red winemaking similar to white winemaking, but producing serious red wines requires a different approach,” he notes.

He points to reduced yields as a key to enabling proper extraction of color from Pinot Noir grape skins. Providing the notoriously fickle grape with more sun and heat, he notes, also promotes riper tannins which create better balanced wines.

More importantly for Osterag, discovering the true identity and potential of Alsace Pinot Noirs pivoted on the conversion of vineyards to biodyanmie practices. He began in 1997 by abandoning synthetic chemical applications on the vines in favor of biodynamie’s teas and composts. Vineyard soils regained vitality, and he says the vines became more self-sufficient.

“The best grapes come from happy vines that are respected. Biodynamie is the most natural and best way to respect the vines,” he notes. “The vines become better adapted to react to difficult circumstances on their own instead of just depending on humans. The vines then produce better tasting and healthier grapes.”

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Ostertag’s “dancing vines” label.

Ostertag produces two Pinot Noirs. The first, Pinot Noir “E”, he calls vin de fruit or “fruit wine.” The 2014 Domaine Ostertag, Pinot Noir “E” (Imported to the U.S. by Kermit Lynch) comes from 20 year old vines growing in clay and gravel. The wine aged in stainless steel for nine months before bottling. The lovely ruby color offers piping aromas of raspberries and a touch of earthiness. Delicious, crunchy red fruit flavors balance with zesty acidity and marvelous, mouthwatering mineral notes. Elegant, soft tannins frame the fruity finish. A fun, well made red made for gulping pleasure.

Ostertag’s second Pinot Noir comes from forty year old vines in Fronholz vineyard, a very unique site atop a hill in Epfig.

“Fronholz is a very strong place in terms of personality,” he notes. “It faces southwest so the evening sun creates warm afternoons followed by cool mornings. The grapes ripen slowly and develop complex aromatics.”

“The soils are marnes—a type of heavy clay—and clay mixed with chalky limestone, soils perfectly suited for Pinot Noir,” Ostertag adds. “The vineyard gives a Pinot Noir reflecting both sky and earth, lightness and mineral power.”

The 2015 Domaine Ostertag, Fronholz Pinot Noir fermented in stainless steel and then aged in previously used French barrique barrels. It offers red cherry and spicy aromas followed by delicious, ripe sweet fruit, ample concentration, marvelous freshness and smooth tannins. An elegant, understated red giving terrific pleasure.

Looking to the future, Ostertag says his son Arthur, who also trained in Burgundy, has a strong desire to make more Pinot Noir. The warming climate create opportunities, in Ostertag’s view, especially as more growers plant Pinot Noir vines on Alsace’s prominent hillside sites.

“There are many positive conditions for more and better Pinot Noirs in Alsace,” Ostertag says. “But making Pinot Noir is more than a question of just style and what you you want to do.  The question of who you are is just as important. Because you make the wine you are.”

Christian Beyer:

Christian Beyer par C. PENNEAU
Winegrower Christian Beyer’s domain in the picturesque, prime winegrowing village of Eguisheim lies below Colmar in the Alsace Haut-Rhine. Credit: C. Penneau

“In Medieval times, Alsace made as much red as white wine, so we have a tradition with Pinot Noir for over 400 years,” says 14th generation winegrower Christian Beyer of Domaine Emile Beyer in Eguisheim. “We have everything Pinot Noir needs—a relatively cool climate, plenty of limestone soils, and more and more older vines.”

But Beyer says today’s Alsace reds differ from those of thirty years ago.

“My generation has many experiences outside Alsace in Burgundy, Bordeaux and elsewhere, and this makes a big difference,” says Beyer who, like André Ostertag, studied winegrowing in Burgundy. “Today more winegrowers have big ambitions to produce great Alsace red wines.”

In pursuing quality, Beyer reduced yields and worked organically without synthetic chemicals since returning to manage the domaine in 1997. In 2016 he went further by beginning conversion to biodynamie work in the vineyards. After harvesting by hand, fermentation occurs naturally in stainless steel tanks in a new cuverie.

Beyer produces three levels of Pinot Noir. His Domaine Emile Beyer “Tradition” Pinot Noir comes from both estate grown fruit and purchased grapes.The vines grow primarily in limestone soils to deliver a fruit forward red wine with medium body and well balanced acidity and tannins.

The Domaine Emile Beyer, “Eguisheim” Pinot Noir uses all estate grown fruit harvested from thirty year old vines growing on slopes south of the village. The soils are mainly marl and limestone. The wine has darker red fruit with a touch of earthiness and spice from partial aging in barrique barrels made from Allier and Vosges oak. Ample concentration of pure red fruit in the glass balances with fine freshness and smooth tannins.

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Beyer’s Pinot Noir vines in the “Sundel” lieu-dit lie within the Pfersigberg Grand Cru, a place where the sunny microclimate features flowering lavender and peach trees as part of the unique terroir.

Beyer has special fondness for the Sundel lieu-dit, a plot of Pinot Noir vines planted in the upper portion of the Pfersigberg Grand Cru. The soils feature Bajocian limestone mixed with with iron. “Sundel” means “little sun,” and the vines lie on a south facing slope with ideal sun exposure.

“It is wonderful place and always a pleasure to work there,” says Beyer who collaborates closely with his wife Valérie in managing the estate. “You always feel good in this place because it is sunny and yet has a cool climate.”

Beyer used Pommard “Clos des Epenots” 1er cru  clones from Burgundy to plant the Pinot Noir vines which are now approaching 20 years old. Respect for the soils and vines is the key to quality, he says.

“It is a cliché, but there are no great wines without grapes,” he says. “I consider myself a viticulturalist first, and a winemaker second.”

alsace pinot noir emile beyer revised
2015 Domaine Emile Beyer, “Sundel” lieu-dit Pinot Noir

The 2015 Domaine Emile Beyer, “Sundel” lieu-dit Pinot Noir has a dark garnet color with a burst of pure, red fruit aromas and earthy notes. Pure, ripe dark red flavors layer in rich concentration balanced by uplifting acidity and elegant, understated tannins. It gives terrific immediate pleasure, but the wine has the fruit and structure to age for 10 to 20 years.

Going forward, Beyer believes that proven, superior Alsace Pinot Noir climats should be considered for Grand Cru status, a designation that the INAO, France’s governing body for appellations, has declined to grant thus far.

“The new generation is open to planting Pinot Noir in the best sites in Alsace,” Beyer notes. “Allowing Grand Cru status for Alsace red wines will encourage the efforts.”

Jean-Paul and Marie Zusslin:

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Sister and brother winegrowing team, Marie and Jean-Paul Zusslin.

Siblings Jean-Paul and Marie Zusslin both returned in 2000 to their family wine estate, Domaine Valentin Zusslin in Orschwihr south of Colmar. Jean-Paul had studied winegrowing in Beaune, Burgundy, while Marie initially studied law before switching to viticulture school in Rouffach, Alsace.

“We grew up in a family winery and our father was a great fan of Pinot Noirs from all over the world,” Marie says. “So my brother and I always shared the same dream and goal—to make our own Alsatian style of Pinot Noir from our beautiful Bollenberg lieu-dit vineyard.”

The siblings started with great advantages. The Bollenberg vineyard had been planted with Pinot Noir for three generations, and conversion to biodynamie already took place in 1997 with approval by Biodyvin in 2000.  Using biodynamic teas and MT compost instead of synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides is crucial to quality, according to Zusslin.

“The vineyard is a living organism. The cultivated soil is not just a support for the vine, but a living environment, the source of energy for the plant as well as its aerial environment,” Zusslin says.

They religiously apply dynamized biodynamic treatments such as the 500 preparation of “cow horn dung” and the preparation 501 “horn silica” along with other preparations made from yarrow, camomile and other natural materials. The process helps the vines stay in healthy balance and maintains vital soils. Better tasting, fresher grapes result from the magnificent Bollenberg terroir.

Coulisses des Vendanges 2014. Pinot Noir. Domaine Valentin Zusslin. Credit Photo : Domaine Valentin Zusslin/Gregory Pigot
Careful sorting of Pinot Noir after harvest ensures only fully ripened, undamaged fruit goes into fermentation at Domaine Valentin Zusslin. Credit Photo : Domaine Valentin Zusslin/Gregory Pigot

As part of a protected nature reserve, the “Landes Seches,” the vineyard actually lies within a dry moor. The Pinot Noir vines grow amid a tremendous diversity of flowers and plants populated by numerous birds, snails, and lizards—not to mention a feral cat or two. It is a windswept, peaceful place of moving beauty with wide open skies in all directions.

The soils include clay and limestone as well as iron minerals. The latter account for the vineyard’s reddish-brown soil color. Bollenberg’s sunny, warm, and dry climate makes leaf canopy management a priority, according to Zusslin.

“We want to avoid overcooked and compote berries,” she says

The Zusslin’s harvest by hand with yields at a very modest 35 hectoliters per hectare. Sorting unripe and damaged fruit occurs first in the vineyard and then again on an air-powered sorting table at the winery.

“It all makes a real difference in the final juice, purer and more delicate,” Zusslin says. All stems are also removed. Fermentation follows with indigenous yeasts in large foudres with extended maceration. Manual punch downs occur three times daily.

“Fermentation is kind of birth. We have to be precise in the process,” she adds.

Aging occurs in a French oak barrels with 1/3 being new each year and a 1/3 of the barrels coming from the nearby Vosges Mountains. Bottling occurs with minute additions of sulfites. In 2010 and 2012 bottling occurred without sulfites added.

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All the meticulous attention to detail results in enthralling, delicious Pinot Noirs. The 2013 Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Pinot Noir Bollenberg offers pure red fruit aromas opening to blackberry and ripe red fruit flavors. Fine acidity and a touch of oak carry the fruity, clean, crisp finish. The 2011 Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Pinot Noir Bollenberg “Harmonie” comes from older vines. Pure red fruit and brown spice aromas lead to concentrated red fruit flavors of tremendous purity and freshness. Elegant, firm tannins add balance to the fruity, smooth finish. Delicious! The 2009  Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Pinot Noir Bollenberg “Harmonie” delivers pure, ripe red fruit aromas with fine complexity and a touch of pleasant earthiness. Ripe, and round fruit balances with terrific freshness and fine, polished tannins. Outstanding!

“When sommeliers blind taste our Bollenberg Pinot Noirs, they typically try to guess the Burgundy location for the wine. When they discover the wine is from Alsace they are astonished,” Zusslin says. “We are proud and a bit amused. It will take a lot more work to convince more people that great Pinot Noir is possible in Alsace. But some good vignerons opened the way years ago in Alsace, and the new generations will continue with the same passion for Pinot Noir.”

Maxime Barmès:

Domaine viticole Barmes-Buecher Wettolsheim (68920)
Winegrower Maxime Barmès of Domaine Barmès-Buecher in Wettolsheim.

At the tender age of thirteen, Maxime Barmès began working in the vineyards with his late father, François, during school holidays and weekends. Maxime and his sister Sophine also tasted plenty of wine with their parents at family meals and restaurants.

Like more and more young growers in Alsace, Maxime eventually journeyed to Burgundy to pursue his formal winegrowing studies. There he learned the latest theories on vine planting and the microbiology and chemistry of vinification. He also pursued an internship with Didier Montchovet, a winegrower in Nantoux near Pommard and an early pioneer of the biodynamie philosophy applied to Pinot Noir in Burgundy.

“I observed the Burgundy method with Pinot Noir,” he recalls. He also came to an important realization.

“Honestly my father already understood how to make great Pinot Noirs, and he always believed in Pinot Noir in Alsace. Aside from decreasing the quantity of new casks used for aging, I have not really changed the methods I learned from my father,” says Maxime who manages the domaine with his mother, Geneviève, and sister, Sophie. “But in the future, we are always open to other ways of doing things. The important thing is what is in the glass at the end.”

When Maxime’s parents founded Domaine Barmès-Buecher in 1985, they brought together vineyards from their respective families to create a 15 hectare estate. They rapidly moved towards an organic approach in the vineyards and eventually converted to biodyanmie in 1998. Approval from Biodyvin occurred in 2002. Maxime remains a strong believer in biodyanmie as a critical factor in producing quality wines with marked personalities.

“The biodynamie philosophy of cultivation brings harmony and balance to the vine and increases its intrinsic qualities. It strengthens the vine’s natural defenses and gives dynamism to the life and composition of the soils in which the vine is anchored.” he notes.  “It also encourages maturation of the grapes’ sugars, acids and phenolics in a healthy and balanced way.”

Phenolic ripening of the skins is especially important for Pinot Noir, according to Maxime, who looks for a “natural expression of the grape in its soil.”

“A good phenolic maturatalsace barmes wineion is important for Pinot Noir because the grapes macerate with the skins,” he notes. “It is very important that anthocyanins and tannins are ripe for Pinot Noir. The resulting wine will naturally require fewer exogenous inputs.”

Maxime produces two Pinot Noirs. The Pinot Noir Réserve comes from an assemblage of different plots of Pinot Noir of different ages and sun exposures. The oldest and youngest vines come from sélection massale grafts from Pinot Noir vines with Burgundy origins. The soils consist of either clay and limestone or marl and limestone soil.

The 2014 Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir Réserve offers a ruby color with bewitching red cherry, raspberry and earthy aromas. Fresh, pure red fruit flavors of medium concentration balance with zesty acidity and mouthwatering minerality. Elegant, understated tannins balance the fruity, exuberant finish. A charming, delicious wine all the way around. The 2015 Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir Réserve unfolds dark red fruit with a touch of spicy oak. The rich, juicy red fruit flavors have great purity and fuller concentration while balancing beautifully with clean acidity. An outstanding, delicious wine.
Domaine viticole Barmes-Buecher Wettolsheim (68920)
The second wine, the Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, comes from 55-year old vines planted in Grand Cru Hengst. The clonal grafts came from Domaine d’Angerville in Volnay, a gift from the Marquis d’Angerville to Maxime’s maternal grandfather. The vines toil with a warm southeastern exposure and marl and limestone soils.

“The micro-climate is very sunny and rather dry, which reinforces the potential maturity of Pinot Noir grapes from this terroir,” Maxime notes.
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Forty percent of the wine for the 2013 Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir “Vieilles Vignes” aged in new French barrique barrels. The wine opens with a ruby color and lovely pure red fruit aromas and a touch of spice. The purity carries through in the delicious red fruit flavors balanced with superb freshness and elegant tannins. This is a vin de garder, a wine that will mellow and improve with 5 to 10 years of cellar aging. Impressive and delicious.

For the future, Maxime is bullish on Alsace Pinot Noirs and sees new confidence in the region.

“Alsace growers have realized that we have the terroirs to produce great Pinot Noirs, he says. “The future is very promising.”

Rémy Gresser:

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Winegrower Rémy Gresser in Andlau.

Vigneron Rémy Gresser is best known for scintillating Rieslings from the Grand Crus Kastelberg, Wiebelsberg and Moenchberg in Andlau in the Alsace’s Bas-Rhine region. But he also takes special care with his Pinot Noirs. The domaine follows a biodynamic philosophy which, according to Gresser, best embodies preceding generations’ respect for the soils and love of authentic winemaking.  For Gresser, Alsace’s cultural history always holds important keys to successful winegrowing.

The 2013 Domaine Rémy Gresser, Pinot Noir “Clos de l’Ourse” takes its name from the “clos of the bear” which symbolizes Andlau’s two thousand year winegrowing history dating to “pagan” times. The Pinot Noir grapes grow on slate and limestone soils. The wine ferments naturally and slowly before aging in used barrique barrels of varying ages. The deep ruby color offers delightful, pure red fruit and notes of smokiness and brown spices. Fresh, ripe red fruit with pleasant earthiness and medium concentration balances with precise acidity and fine tannins. Delicious, well made wine.

 

Other Alsace Pinot Noir Producers Of Note:

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2014 François Baur, Alsace Pinot Noir “Schlittweg” lieu-dit: The wine comes from grapes grown biodynamically (as approved by Biodyvin) in stony, sandy soils near Turckheim.  It aged in stainless steel for freshness. The dark ruby color offers black cherry and violet aromas leading to ripe, round dark cherry flavors with plenty of zesty acidity. Fresh minerality and smooth tannins balance the wine’s medium concentration. Terrific example of the pleasures of well made Alsace Pinot Noir.

2013 Kuentz-Bas, Pinot Noir “Trois Châteaux”: 
Winemaker Samuel Tottoli used grapes grown biodynamically (certified by Demeter) with a yield of 35hl/h for a rich, fleshy red. Aromas of black cherries, kirsch compote, and smoky notes open in the glass. Juicy black cherry flavors with a touch of earthiness balance with smoky oak notes and rich concentration. Bright acidity and elegant tannins provide good balance.

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Winegrower Olivier Humbrecht in Heimbourg vineyard.

2014 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Noir “Heimbourg”: Winegrower Olivier Humbrecht’s high profile support for biodynamie cultivation as a Biodyvin member and his well deserved reputation as one of Alsace’s top white wine producers overshadows his considerable talents as a red wine producer. The Pinot Noir grapes for this delicious wine come from the west facing slopes of Heimbourg vineyard, a plot just across the road from Brand Grand Cru. The 22-year old vines toil in marl and limestone soils and render a red wine with aromatic complexity, pure ripe red fruit flavors and rich concentration. Fresh acidity and minerality provide the wine with marvelous lift balanced by firm, yet smooth, well structured tannins. Fermentation occurs with 1/3 whole clusters. Aging occurs in used barrique barrels, A lovely, impressive wine that will soften with five years or so of cellar aging.

Domaine Marcel Deiss, Pinot Noir “Burlenberg” lieu-dit: In their Burlenberg vineyard in Bergheim, winegrowers Jean-Michel Deiss and son Mathieu use a co-plantation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Beurot (a.k.a., Pinot Gris) vines growing in complex, hard limestone soils. They follow an a biodynamic approach, but don’t look for messages about certification from Jean-Michel. He rejects facile labels and easy answers in favor of a more philosophical bent. That said, his Burlenberg Pinot Noirs are known for their originality—a blend of complex blackberry, currant and spice traits with full concentration, firm acidity, marvelous minerality and rich tannins.

Domaine Albert Mann, Pinot Noir “Grand H”: Winegrower Jacky Barthelmé trained in Burgundy and holds a special passion for Alsace reds. The domaine pursues biodynamie cultivation (as approved by Biodyvin), and the grapes for this wine come from primarily heavy clay and limestone soils in the Grand Cru Hengst vineyard. A wine of complex aromatics with raspberry and blackcurrant flavors, full concentration, rich acidity and firm tannins.

Christian Binner, Pinot Noir “Hinterberg”: The wine comes from a small parcel of Burgundy clone vines under biodynamic cultivation within the famed Schlossberg Grand Cru’s granite soils. Yields are a modest 35 hl/h and harvested manually. Fermentation occurs with whole clusters with indigenous yeasts in large foudres. Aging takes place in foudre for eleven months before bottling without added sulfites.

Fritz-Schmidt, Pinot Noir, Rouge d’Ottrott Réserve de l’Ami Fritz: The wines is made from grapes grown with a “sustainable” philosophy under Terra Vits certification in the village of Ottrott, one of Alsace’s best known Pinot Noir terroirs dating to the Middle Ages. Soils are sands, clay and alluvial muds. Aged in both foudres and barriques.

Pair Trendy Hawaiian Poke Bowls with Alsace Gewurztraminer and Craft Beers

Pair Trendy Hawaiian Poke Bowls with Alsace Gewurztraminer and Craft Beers

If you haven’t heard of poke bowls, don’t worry. You will. Just ask Angela Earley, a partner in Penn Avenue Fish Company in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

“Recently regular customers have come in saying how much they enjoyed poke bowls in L.A.,” she notes. “Some even told us we should open a poke only restaurant.”

But what are poke bowls? And why all the sudden excitement over pairing them with wine and craft beers?

It starts simply enough with poke bowls’ humble origins. Hawaiian fishmongers look to use all parts of the fresh catch in appetizing, inexpensive ways. So tender, raw parts cut from the heads and tails of fatty fish such as ahi tuna are mixed with rice and then covered with a sweet and spicy sauce. Crowning, crunchy tidbits include macadamia nuts, scallions, avocado slices, wasabi peas, radishes, pickled onions, pickled ginger and fresh herbs.

Eventually the tasty poke (pronounced “poh-kay”) bowls spread to the U.S. West and East coasts and went upscale. Choice cuts of fish including salmon and hamachi—yellowtail amberjack—serve as the protein and noodles often replace the rice. Because of the dish’s diverse flavors and textures, sommeliers and cicerones love experimenting by pairing poke bowls with crisp, fruity white wines and craft beers. Now the poke trend is moving inexorably mainstream across the land.

Chef Henry Dewey of Penn Avenue Fish Market In Pittsburgh's Strip District holds a freshly made Poke Bowl.
Chef Henry Dewey of Penn Avenue Fish Company In Pittsburgh’s Strip District holds a freshly made Poke Bowl.

At Penn Avenue Fish Company, Earley and fellow fish mongers Chef Henry Dewey and Tim Reynolds offer poke bowls made to order. They like to make an artistic presentation while maintaining poke’s fun, uncomplicated spirit as a fish and rice dish meant for casual enjoyment.

“The key is starting with a great sauce to tie it all together,” Chef Dewey notes.

While the exact recipe remains in house, he likes to begin with a rich, Asian brown sauce “kind of like a Peking Duck sauce.” He adds a bit of Sambal Oelek Asian chili sauce “to give a kick.” Then the chef adds Ketjap Manis—Indonesian sweet soy sauce—for balance.

For protein, Dewey recommends using chunks of Scottish Faroe Island Salmon for the firm texture, delicious flavor and fatty oils. The fish handles the sauce effortlessly. Dewey also offers a poke bowl with firm tofu as protein for vegetarians

Final toppings include macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, avocado slices and plenty of cilantro. A seasoned, sticky rice serves as the base.

For wine, Dewey recommends Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s Gewurztraminer from Alsace. The wine has just the right amount of bold flavor and freshness to complement, rather than overwhelm the dish.

Fishmonger Tim Reynolds holding a fresh Faroe Island salmon.
Fishmonger Tim Reynolds holding a fresh Faroe Island salmon.

“Man, Humbrecht is a genius, and I’ve loved his wines forever,” Dewey says enthusiastically. “He captures all the fruit’s aromas and ripeness, but the wine has great, refreshing balance.”

In the vineyards, Olivier Humbrecht, MW, follows a biodynamic approach that uses homeopathic treatments on the vines rather than synthetic chemicals. So his vineyards have rich soils teeming with flora and fauna that force vines to sink deep roots to mineral rocks below. The resulting wines have a fresh purity and balance that enthralls chefs and amateurs the world over. For a delightful introduction try the 2014 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Gewurztraminer, Turckheim, available nationally at around $23.

Back at Penn Avenue Fish Company, fellow fishmonger Tim Reynolds prefers craft beer with the poke bowl.

“That touch of heat in the dish goes well with a session style India Pale Ale without a lot of alcohol,” he says.

He recommends beers from craft brewer Helltown Brewery, located in the Western Pennsylvania town of Mount Pleasant. The Helltown Hot Frenzy I.P.A. has 5.5% A.B.V. with hop-forward aromas and a refreshingly fruity yet bitter taste. The recipe includes Columbus, Citra, and Nugget hops.

“Good, crisp Pilsners and German style lagers also  work well too with the poke bowl,” Reynolds adds. He recommends Penn Brewery’s Penn Gold, a  “Munich Helles” style lager. The pale, gold color has ample malty, sweet flavors and just enough hops for lovely, delicious balance..

Chef Dewey also encourages customers to have fun while making Poke bowls at home.

“There are plenty of recipes online,” he notes. “Just go with fresh fish and imagination, and you won’t go wrong.”

Crémants from the Loire and Alsace Deliver Sparkling Quality and Value

Crémants from the Loire and Alsace Deliver Sparkling Quality and Value

It’s New Year’s again. A time when enjoying wine on the night before and the day of is not only condoned but expected. So start anew with resolve and gratitude while celebrating with the ol’ bubbly.

French Champagnes make a terrific sparkling wine choice. Bien sûrBut well made sparkling Crémants from Alsace and the Loire can match Champagne for quality but with better prices. Success turns on starting with high quality grapes and then relying on the time-tested method of using secondary fermentation in the bottle for nose tingling, taste bud teasing bubbles.

In Eguisheim, Alsace, talented vigneron Philippe Zinck (pictured above) makes the delicious N.V. Domaine Zinck, Crémant d’Alsace Brut, France (around $20 nationally) from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. For added complexity, secondary fermentation occurs in the bottles on the lees over twelve months. The wine offers frothy berry and citrus aromas with light yeastiness. Ripe fruity notes balance the clean, dry finish. Zinck’s meticulous attention to detail and passion shine in this lovely, inspiring wine. Highly Recommended.

In the Loire Valley, vigneron Vincent Girault uses a blend of hand-picked Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc grapes for the terrific N.V. Clos de la Briderie, “Pureté de Silex,” Crémant de Loircremant-de-loiree Brut, France (around $20 nationally). The vines grow near the Loire River in flinty limestone soils. Girault farms biodynamically without synthetic chemical applications. His living soils and hardy vines naturally highlight the terroir by producing fruit with distinct personality.

“Wine is a four-sided pyramid consisting the terroir of the soil and sub-soils, the climate, the grape varietals and agriculture methods,” Girault notes. “No great wines without great terroir, and no good wines without good agriculture.”

Secondary fermentation and aging of the wine on the lees in bottles takes place over two years. The wine’s complexity and quality shine beginning with the dusky pink color and the persistent bubbly beads. Inviting peach and light smoky aromas open to fresh citrus and peach flavors. Vibrant acidity and clean minerality balance the fresh, dry finish that persists with frothy delight. Délicieux! Highly Recommended.

Cheers and Happy New Year! Bonne Année! Felice Anno Nuovo!

Eat and Drink Well in Alsace      …Without Breaking The Bank.

Eat and Drink Well in Alsace …Without Breaking The Bank.


M
ention Alsace in France and invariably you’ll hear: “One eats and drinks well in Alsace.”

It’s true. Notable, modestly priced coups de cœur—instant personal favorite restaurants—abound. They reflect an unique mix of French, German and Swiss cultures while relying on the glorious bounty of regional products coming Alsace’s diverse soils and remarkably dry, sunny climate.

In city of Colmar, the beating heart of Alsace’s winegrowing region, locals and visitors flock to Brasserie l’Auberge in the Grand Hôtel Bistrol.  With a backdrop of high ceilings, twinkling chandeliers and colorful murals depicting the nearby Vosges Mountains, the engaging, prompt servers create a bustling, warm ambiance. A glass of delicious, dry Alsace sparkling wine sets a relaxed, festive tone while whetting the appetite. Try the Cave de Rbibeauvillé, Giersberger Brut, Crémant d’Alsace, a frothy, beautifully balanced wine made by Alsace’s oldest quality-oriented cooperative from hand-picked Pinot Blanc grapes.

235000840_5A classic main dish, Poulet à l’alsacienne  (succulent local chicken with shallots and mushrooms in white wine and cream sauce) matches well with the dry, mineral laden Domaine Schoffit, Tradition Riesling, Lieu-Dit Harth. Jarret du porc (ham hocks slowly cooked in a broth of herbs and spices) served with sauteed potatoes and sinus-clearing horseradish pairs beautifully with the floral, fruity and refreshing Famille Hugel “Gentil,” a six grape white blend. The list also features outstanding Alsace reds including the fruity, fresh and superbly balanced Domaine Valentin-Zusslin, Pinot Noir, Bollenberg from biodynamic grapes.

taverne-alsacienne

Just outside of Colmar in Ingershem, Charles and Monique Guggenbuhl opened La Taverne Alsacienne in 1964, the year of current chef Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl’s birth.

“I spent a lot of time growing up with my great aunt in the mountains,” Guggenbuhl says. “I learned about living with and respecting nature’s changing seasons. Now, we use local, seasonal products as much as possible in our menus.”

He maintains traditional favorites, such as La Cassolette d’escargots à la crème de Riesling (snails in riesling cream sauce) and Choucroute traditionnelle à l’Alsacienne (sauerkraut made with goose fat and diverse pork cuts). In the photo, Robert and Pat Thompson enjoy the Choucroute with the ripe, exotic, yet refreshing flavors of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer. The masterful Olivier Humbrecht, M.W. makes the wine from grapes grown biodynamically on Muschelkalk limestone.

Guggenbuhl procures fresh fish “right off the trawler” from Rungis market in Paris. The Lotte à l’Armoricainemonkfish slowly cooked with tomatoes, shallots, cognac and saffron, a spice produced by Alsace artisans since medieval times—has tender, juicy texture and exotic flavors. It pairs marvelously with the Domaine Rolly Gassmann Pflaenzerreben Riesling de Rohrschwih, a biodynamic, exhilarating wine with racy minerality and transparent fruit.

North of Colmar in the village of Bergheim, Chef Patrick and Antje Schneider meld culinary and wine passions at Wistub du Sommelier.  As pictured at beginning of this post, the dining room’s wood paneling and charming, comfortable ambiance recalls a traditional winegrower’s home, but with modern touches.

Chef Schneider’s tempting terroir-driven menus inventively incorporate regional favorites such as foie gras, tête de veau and boudin noir sausages. The wine list — selected by Antje — features accomplished terroir-focused Alsace producers. They include Bergheim’s own Domaine Gustave Lorentz and local organic/biodynamic growers Domaine Sylvie Spielmann and Domaine Marcel Deiss.

“We like to use local, seasonal products such as freshwater fish, sauerkraut, potatoes, onions, asparagus and strawberries for the quality and flavors,” says Alsace-born Chef Schneider. His wife comes from Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

For Wistub du Sommelier’s delicious, trademark Presskopf made in the fashion of grand-mère, Chef Schneider seasons and slowly cooks pork head meat in stock to create a pressed aspic. Slices of this tender delicacy pair perfectly with the Domaine Emile Beyer, Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, a delicious dry white crafted by 14th generation winegrower Christian Beyer with marvelous acidity balancing ripe, transparent citrus fruit.

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La Nouvelle Auberge in Wihr-au-Val, occupies a former postal hotel along the old route between Colmer and Munster. On the top floor, Chef Bernard Leray’s main restaurant maintains a well-earned Michelin Guide star. On the ground floor, the snug and convivial “Le Bistrot” offers a casual lunch just around the corner from the chef’s kitchen.

Leray makes everything fresh from ingredients from the surrounding valley including the famous Munster cheese. Try the Terrine Maison with shallot chutney with the Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir Réserve and the Quenelles de foie with sauteed potatoes with the Domaine Josmeyer Pinot Gris “1854 Fondation.”. Both wines are beautiful, biodynamic gems.

North of Colmar about halfway to Strasbourg, Restaurant Château d’Andlau near the medieval village of Andlau offers a serene, sylvan setting along with delicious food and an expansive wine list. Wine highlights include Domaine Rémy Gresser’s scintillating, steely selections from nearby vineyards such as Grand Cru Kastelberg with distinct slate soils and Kritt Lieu-Dit with gravelly soils. Restaurant Château d’Andlau’s sommeliers provide expert advice in navigating the intriguing, well-priced wine list.

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Alsace’s 51 grand crus offer wines meriting a closer look

Alsace’s 51 grand crus offer wines meriting a closer look

Vigneron Antoine Krydenweiss harvesting Riesling grapes in Grand Cru Kastelberg in Andlau, Alsace
Vigneron Antoine Krydenweiss harvesting Riesling grapes in Grand Cru Kastelberg in Andlau, Alsace

By most measures, the F.E. Trimbach’s riesling Clos Sainte Hune remains the flagship of Alsace’s dry white wines. Made from grapes grown in Rosacker vineyard’s distinctive Dolomitic limestone, the wine’s consistent elegance, complexity and fidelity to terroir certainly merit accolades.

But Alsace’s glorious dry rieslings do not stop there. The sheltering Vosges Mountain to the west create a marvelously sunny, dry climate over a stunningly diverse mosaic of soils in 51 grand cru vineyards. This provides scores of outstanding Alsace winegrowers with singular opportunities at every turn to make world-class dry rieslings worthy of serious consideration and enjoyment.

Just southwest of Strasbourg in northern Alsace, for instance, the village of Andlau nestles in a snug valley surrounded on slopes by three distinct grand cru vineyards: Wiebelsberg with sandy soils over sandstone, Moenchberg with marl soils and limestone and the magnificent Kastelberg with brittle blue slate soils. With laborious pruning, manual harvesting and organic treatments of the vines, the well-drained slopes yield outstanding quality grapes and thrilling riesling wines.

A visit with winegrower Rémy Gresser, a wily veteran of 40 vintages, proves the point. In the town center, Gresser points out a statue of a bear eating grapes, a symbol of Andlau’s winegrowing dating to ancient Gallo-Roman “pagan” times. More systematic cultivation began in the ninth century with the founding of the Abbey of Andlau.

Gresser, a former president of the growers’ Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace, focuses on his keen appreciation of history, Alsace’s larger purposes and terroir in his 2013 Domaine Rémy Gresser Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg, Alsace, France. Its lovely, complex, floral and citrus aromas mingle with smoky hints. Ripe citrus flavors balance exquisitely with fresh acidity and smoky mineral touches. The wine finishes completely dry with a clean, lingering finish.

At 33 years old, the 1983 Domaine Rémy Gresser Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg, Alsace, also reveals vibrant, persistent freshness, delicious ripeness and remarkable flair and personality. Its longevity comes from Kastelberg’s distinct slate terroir which, with dedicated hard work and savoir-faire, accords an abiding backbone of acidity and fruity purity.

Also in Andlau, bio-dynamic winegrower Antoine Kreydenweiss offers the terrific 2014 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg, Alsace. Marvelous, pure citrus flavors unwind with fresh acidity and flinty minerality on a long, dry finish.

South of Andlau in Nothalten, hardworking winegrower André Ostertag, a biodynamic pioneer in Alsace, cultivates riesling in grand cru Muenchberg. Stony volcanic soils and pink sandstone prevail for a richer dry riesling as shown in the 2010 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg, Alsace (PLCB Luxury Code: 48250; $57.99).

The golden color and ripe nose of apple and peach open to delicious ripe fruit with firm acidity. Fresh, pure fruit and resounding minerality frame the long, dry finish. It expresses eloquently distinctive Alsace terroir and the winegrower’s style and vibrant personality. Recommended.

Further south in Katzenthal, Felix and Aura Meyer tend riesling on the superb southeastern exposure of Wineck-Schlossberg grand cru’s sunny slopes. Ancient granite geology covered by thin topsoil yields full flavored, yet dry, wines with crystalline purity.

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Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg.

The 2011 Domaine Meyer-Fonné Riesling Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg, Alsace, France (PLCB Luxury Code: 46979; $41.99; Waterworks store only) delivers marvelous floral and citrus aromas along with taut citrus flavors of notable depth. Chiseled acidity creates beautiful, elegant tension balanced with delicious saline minerality carrying through the lingering, bone-dry finish. Highly recommended.

In Alsace’s southern tip, Grand Cru Rangen de Thann’s spectacularly steep slopes feature hard, purely volcanic grauwacke — metamorphic rocks with little or no top soil. Vine roots plunge deep into the mineral-laden subsurface to render wines with distinctive personality and exquisite beauty.

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Domaine Schofitt’s Grand Cru Rangen de Thann

Father and son winegrowers Bernard and Alexandre Schofitt offer the captivating 2013 Domaine Schoffit Clos Saint-Théobald, Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, Alsace. Tasted in the vineyard on a brilliantly sunny autumn morning, the wine’s intense peach, citrus and smoky aromas lead to round, ripe-fruit flavors. Fresh acidity, smoky mineral flavors and a touch of creaminess frame a precise dry finish of marvelous length.

As Bernard Schoffit noted, “When you taste a wine like this, you’re happy you worked so hard to make it.” Enough said.

Visit to Domaine Bott-Geyl in Beblenheim, Alsace.

Visit to Domaine Bott-Geyl in Beblenheim, Alsace.

Beblenheim, Alsace, France

Domaine Bott-Geyl’s talented winegrower Jean-Christophe Bott clearly enjoys putting boots in vineyard soils. For our 9:30 AM appointment he arrives on a small tractor direct from early morning vineyard work.

“Everything in the vineyard is done in the light,” he says leading the way out of Beblenheim’s picture post card streets. We head to the warm and dry and Sonnenglanz Grand Cru, a name that translates to “sunshine.” It provides an ideal site for Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.

The vineyard sits on a windy hilltop. The brilliantly sunny Spring day with chirping birds and softly tolling church bells provides an enchanting moment to soak in panoramic views of Alsace’s surrounding vineyards. To the East across the Rhine River, the hills of Germany’s Black Forest appear in the distance.

Bott and his team tend the vines with labor intensive organic and biodynamic methods that provide ample opportunity to enjoy his vineyards’ bright sunny exposures and breezes. Regular plowing between rows forces vines to compete vigorously, while systemic application of biodynamic composts and teas create vitality and natural resistance to molds and diseases. Bott applies the “500” cow manure spray to revive soils in early Spring and the “501” silica spray on early Summer to energize the flowering vines.”

“Vine roots must go deep to reflect the personality of the place,” he says.

Winegrower Jean-Christophe Bott explains the organic and biodynamic methods used in the chalky Sonnenglanz Grand Cru vineyard in Beblenheim, Alsace, France. The domaine is certified by “Biodyvin,” a leading biodynamic organization.

Bott plants about at 7,800 vines per hectare, a high density that reduce yields naturally. The vines deliver grapes with fruity concentration balanced by mineral complexity resulting from Sonnenglanz’s marl soils of limestone mixed with clay and mud. To ensure diversity when replacing vines, he grafts sélection massale clippings from best existing vines within the vineyard itself.

After harvesting by hand, Bott’s lets patience and minimal intervention guide his work in the cool cellar’s shadows. Whole grape bunches go into gentle pneumatic presses that feed juice by gravity to vats for slow fermentation. In May of 2016, wines from 2015 still slowly bubbled away in large oval foudre barrels. Aging the wines on the lees, i.e., spent yeast, adds creamy notes. Bottling occurs with minimal sulfites. Distinct personality and terroir shine through.

“Each wine should not be something that everybody likes,” Bott notes. Vive la différence!

Jean-Christophe Bott in the domaine’s tasting room in Beblenheim, Alsace, France.

The following notes come from a tasting in May 2016 at Domaine Bott-Geyl which is a member of the “Alsace Crus et Terroir” association:

2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl Riesling “Les Éléments,” Alsace: Made from a blend of grapes grown in the leading village of Riquewihr, Zellenberg and Ribeauvillé, the wine delivers a classis, delicious Alsace Riesling ready for immediate enjoyment. Delicate citrus and floral aromas unfold before ripe, refreshing citrus and quince flavors. The wine finishes dry with delicate fruitiness.

2011 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling “Grafenreben,” Alsace: Clay and limestone soils create classic aromas of grapefruit and quince followed by ripe, spicy citrus flavors. Fresh acidity balances the dry, fruity finish.
2011 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, Alsace: This site rests on a layers of ancient granite topped with sandstone and shale from early periods. The resulting wine delivers pure citrus fruit aromas and complex, layered floral notes. The rich, ripe fruity flavors balance with austere, yet pure acidity that will mellow and round out with cellar aging. An enthralling dry Riesling.
2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Schonenbourg Grand Cru, Alsace: This large vineyard in the neighboring village of Riquewihr offers complex soils combining marl with gypsum rocks and Vosges sandstone laced with plenty of Muschelkalk limestone. The resulting wine delivers a light golden color with subtle, austere citrus and apple aromas with earthy notes. The fleshy, fruity flavors deliver plenty of concentration balanced by racy acidity and mineral notes. The wine finished dry, yet fruity. This is one to cellar for at least five years to allow the wine to pull together completely.
2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Mandelberg Grand Cru, Alsace: The site’s chalky, stony soils and tendency to ripen early results in a wine with golden color and plenty of classic aromas of citrus and white flowers. Ripe, fruity flavors balance beautifully with elegant acidity and pleasant creamy notes.

 

2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Sporen Grand Cru, Alsace: Bott’s site features venerable 80-year old vines on a slope above chalky marl and clay. The resulting wine offers intense fruity aromas with ripe fruit balanced by zesty acidity. The dry, fruity finish lingers pleasantly.

 

2009 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Pinot Gris, Sonnenglanz Grand Cru, Alsace: The grand cru terroir of chalk and marl delivers a golden wine with fresh grapefruit and pineapple aromas with hints of floral honey. Similar ripe flavors in the glass balance with crisp acidity through a ripe, round finish with plenty of lingering freshness.

 

2013 Domaine Bott-Geyl, “Clos des Trois Chemins,” Gewurztraminer, Alsace: The site features marl and chalk soils over mother rocks of sandstone and quartz. Combined with the southeastern sun exposure, the site creates terrific terroir for producing remarkable well balanced Gewurztraminer. Subtle grapefruit and spice aromas precede fruity, delicious citrus and spice flavors. Layers of fresh acidity balance the fruity, dry finish with a light, refined touch.

 

2010 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardive, Sonnenglanz Grand Cru,

Alsace: Made from hand picked bunches of very ripe grapes partially dried by the Botrytis cinerea “noble rot,” this golden, super sweet wine balances richness with refreshing acidity and mineral notes. The fruity finish lingers deliciously.