ALSACE, LOCATED IN the east of France on the western side of the Rhine River that borders Germany, has one thing in common with Poland far to the east: both countries have had borders on wheels for centuries. Occupied by different countries, they have only become stable entities since World War II. Alsace has, at some points belonged to France, at others to Germany, but its population chose to remain French after the War.
I won't be talking all about history and politics, fascinating as they both are, but rather about winemaking of Alsatian origin. A full 90 percent of the wines produced there are white and the varieties will be familiar to any lovers of French wines: Pinot Gris, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are other less common grapes, or at least less commonly known but growing in importance, including Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Chasselas, and the now familiar Gewürtztraminer.
The region is also well-known for its Riesling, considered by local growers to be its most noble grape. It's difficult to grow, but with skill and effort, it will consistently produce great wines. Alsatian wines are just slightly heavier than their cousins on the Mosel River to the east in Germany.
The wines typically display well-defined fruit and floral aromas when they are young and take on additional mineral aromas when they age, including the unique flavor of pierre a fusil — gunflint (no kidding, I've only had it once in an aged Alsatian wine and it's spectacular). The acidity is typically intense and the fruit flavors well delineated.
You can recognize an Alsatian wine from the style of the bottle. By French law, Alsatian wines must be bottled in the region in which they are produced in tall bottles called flutes, thinner at the top than their German counterparts, with a long, graceful neck.
The region has had its wine-growing crises along with the rest of Europe. Like much of France it has been devastated by that nasty little bug wine-growers the world over have come to dread, phylloxera, as well as attacks of powdery mildew.
The growing season in this part of France tends to be cool, being elevated and relatively distant from the equator, with south–facing vineyards to capture as much of the sun's light and warmth as possible.
The Vosges mountain range buffers Alsace from intense wind, which would be a problem otherwise as most of the vineyards are about 2,000 feet above sea level. The soils are varied across the region and include granite, schist and volcanic soils, as well as clay and limestone. And now that you are familiar with the region, let's take a look at a very good example of its Riesling.
Willm 2012 Riesling, Alsace, Appellation Alsace Controlee, The Wine Studio, Manchester, 12% abv, $17.99 (Yes it's Willm, not William). From vineyards that have been growing grapes since 1896, this Alsatian is clear and bright in the glass, of pale to medium intensity gold color. The nose is clean and refreshing with fruit, flower and mineral notes. It is developing. The palate comes across as ever so slightly off-dry, an impression created less by residual sugar (chaptalization is practiced in Alsace) than by the richness of the fruit, which includes green apple, pear, grape, slight hints of lemon and peach, as well as some stony/steely mineral.
The acidity is high and mouthwatering. The tannin is medium (yes, white wines have tanning) and its character is both drying and supple. Medium alcohol at 12 percent is well integrated into the wines slightly less than medium body, and medium–plus flavor intensity of grape, mineral and stone fruit. This all transpires during a long finish. Good complexity. This is a very good wine demonstrating structure, balance, concentration and complexity. Ready to drink now. Recommended pairings include seafood platters, sushi and poultry. 92 points. It almost sold out at Maureen's tasting this past week, so scoop it up before it's gone.
New wine shop: There is a new wine shop in Nashua. Cava de Vino, located at 14B Railroad Square, boasts wines from around the world as well as chocolate and olive oils, vinegars and of course, wine accessories as well as locally crafted gifts. They have a knowledgeable staff who can tell you about the wines, and they hold wine tastings, as well as private wine tastings in the shop that give you the chance to try five handcrafted wines. You can also book private in-home wine tasting parties. For more information, call 718-1086, or go to cavadevino.com (website still under construction.)
Wine events: That very happy time of year is upon us again. The Easter Seals Winter Wine Spectacular takes place in Manchester on Jan. 30. If you are not familiar with Easter Seals, they have been in operation for three-quarters of a century and provide services to ensure that people with disabilities or special needs and their families have equal opportunity to live, learn and work in their communities here in New Hampshire. You can find out more about the Winter Wine Spectacular at easterseals.org/events. In upcoming columns, we'll look at some of the wines that will be featured at the event.
There are two concurrent events the night before that you should know about, called Cellar Notes Seacoast and Cellar Notes Manchester. These are seminar–style, interactive wine-tasting events with leading wine experts.
Both events are Wednesday, Jan. 29, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The Portsmouth event is at the Portsmouth Harbor Events and Conference Center. The Manchester event is at the Puritan Conference and Event Center. Call 1-888-368-8880 for tickets, which are $35 per person for each event, or you can purchase tickets at eastersealsnh.org/events.
Next week: Some great wines you can try/buy at the upcoming Easter Seals Winter Wine Spectacular.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh.com.