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August 17th, 2010:

Une deux drei!

Alsace is it’s own little country (no I know it’s not really a country) nestled between Germany and France.  The culture is quite distinct and the region is well known for the delicious Rieslings and other white wines.  Alsace is 300 miles east of Paris, and has been growing these wines since somewhere around 900 A.D. give or take a few thousand years.  The vineyards are sheltered from the winter rains, and get lots of sunny hot dry day, producing dry white wines.

As luck would have it, I had a nice introduction when I was invited to taste Helfrich’s new releases at a recent dinner.  Helfrich produces Grand Cru wines from the Steinklotz vineyard, one of only 51 in Alsace which have been given the ultimate Grand Cru status.  It is the oldest documented planting in Alsace, and has the dubious distinction of once belonging to the Merovingian King.  No, I don’t know who that was either.

Our hostess, Anne-Laure Helfrich, is a 6th generation Alsatian, and is the third generation to make wine.  Like every good French family, she was raised in the wine making culture and held every odd job at the winery as she grew up.  While earning her degree in International Management, she interned here in the US where she learned how French wines were perceived outside of the homeland.  Armed with this knowledge, she went home and set out to infiltrate our markets with her family’s wines.  i’m so glad she did!

The 2009 Riesling is a delicate flower of peaches, stone fruit, pear spice, and guava with a touch of nutmeg mingled with strong green and pippin apples.   Bottled under Stevlin closures and fermented in 100% stainless steel, it is a fresh and young new world style with a subtle minerals on the finish.  At $14.99, it’s a steal and I would drink this all summer long.

2009 Pinot Gris was my favorite of the night.  It was rich and creamy with peaches and nutmeg hiding a bit of dark fruit.  Pinot Gris is a quintessential Alsatian wine, and this was a delicious example . Again at $14.99, you should stock up.

2009 Gewurztraminer thrives in the cool growing season of Alsace.  It has a complex minerality and beautiful honeysuckle jasmine floral bouquet, followed by a TON of spice.  There were kumquats and lychee, and other tropical stone fruits followed by star anise spice.  Yum!

With all of the first three Noble Tier wines priced at $14.99, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy any of them when you want  a fun white.

Moving on to the Grand Cru wines, these are more austere, and restrained.  They are bottled with cork closures and are $24.99 (still a bargain), and have more bottle age.

2006 Grand Cru Riesling had lots of stone fruit juicy pear crisp apple very European in style.  The grapes were harvested by hand, and destemmed before membrane pressing.  It’s a racy red brassiere, and was fun with my sand dabs.

2008 Grand Cru Pinot Gris had the perception of being a sweeter creamier wine, with rich spiced pear, roast peaches, and nice chalky minerality on the finish.  I tasted lots of mead and honey.  this was a full bodies wine and was quite elegant.

I look forward to tasting more Alsatian wines in my near future, when the sun comes out long enough to keep me in the white wine mood.  These wines are excellent matches for spicy Asian foods, or as an alternative to some of the more classic summer whites.
Enjoy!