Kravitz still has a knack for finding good wines at great prices – Robert Parker, Parker on Wine, BusinessWeek, 8/20 & 27, 2007

Hand Picked Selections in Alsace

Rivers unite, mountains divide. This is a truism of geopolitics. Yet for about 100 miles the Rhine separates France and Germany. It runs through a valley, bordered to the west by France's Vosges Mountains and to the east by Germany's Black Forest. The western side is Alsace.  The Rhine is the frontier because of hundreds of years of cultural and military clashes that tore apart this beautiful, bloody land. Three wars between 1870 and 1945 depopulated and destroyed much of Alsace. Yet today it keeps its unique character in peace and prosperity. The houses are half-timbered and wholly Germanic. The French you hear has a heavy, gutteral accent. However if you want to provoke a bar brawl with a ham-fisted Teuton, just go into a local bierstube and say something about Alsace being German. The people of Alsace are the most patriotic in France.

The wines are French, period. The grapes are the same as in Germany but the style is completely different. The great glory of German wine is light, lacy, off-dry to very sweet Riesling. Riesling is also Alsace's greatest varietal but is usually made in a firm, dry ageworthy style. Oddly enough most Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris have a touch of residual sugar. These are 3 of Alsace's 4 officially ‘noble' varietals, with Muscat, a perfumed outlier, the fourth. The biggest production is Pinot Blanc, an appealing varietal whose fl avors bridge Chardonnay and earthy Pinot Gris.  Close to 15% of production is Cremant d'Alsace, a Methode Champenoise sparkler that can be anything from a cheap Sylvaner blend to an intricate beauty made from Pinots sometimes adorned with a touch of Riesling.

Over 10% of Alsace's vineyards are designated ‘Grand Cru'. These are the best, steepest, usually south-facing slopes. However only 5% of the wines are sold as Grand Cru. Only the ‘noble' varietals can use the name. Maximum yields are lower and ripeness standards higher. Grand Crus sell for twice the price of basics and are often worth the difference.  In many years Alsace enjoys ‘indian summers' and then they make sweet wines, again in the French manner. The first category is ‘Vendanges Tardives', or ‘late harvest'. Not usually very sweet, the wines are off-dry powerhouses of great concentration and depth. Finally there is Selection des Grains Nobles, great rich sweet dessert wines picked shrivelled grape by grape and capable of improvement for decades.

Nobody can say that German Rieslings are inferior to those of Alsace but a case can also be made that Alsace produces the finest wines possible from its  grapes.  They are unique to this corner of the world.  Alsace's versions always taste only like Alsace wines and they are some of the finest, most food-friendly wines in the world.



Louis Hauller