Wines from Alsace are low on the radar of the average Irish wine tippler, and are rarely found among the cheapest wines in a shop – if they are even on the shelves. However, for those in the know, they are a hidden treasure.
Unlike the majority of French wines, the grape variety is nearly always stated on the label. Alsace wines are rarely oaked and many of them are highly aromatic. They are great with food, including spiced food from South, South East and East Asia which are often problematic for wine matching. Some people just love them because they’re not Chardonnay (the crazy fools! as BA Baracus would say).
Only a couple of things put people off – the tall, thin bottle shape which is reminiscent of the dreaded Liebfraumilch, and the fact that some Alsace wines are sweet, without this being explicitly stated on the label.
Trimbach and Hugel are two big competitors from neighbouring villages with histories going back over several centuries. They both sport yellow labels and, despite being big companies, are still family owned and run. They do a great job as standard bearers for the region, but there are hundreds of smaller producers, many of which are family owned.
Domaine Zinck is one such family producer in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim.
The handy screw-top and funky modern label let you know that this isn’t a stuffy old wine. It’s clean and dry – with a helpful sweetness indicator on the back label showing a score of 2 out of 9. While some producers now use a bit of oak for their Pinot Blanc, that’s not the case here so you get the full force of the grape’s apple-y goodness – both fresh apples and apple pie – with a good dash of lemon and lime.
Sylvaner is mainly found in Germany nowadays, but used to be more popular in Alsace. As the best hillside sites are reserves for Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurz, Sylvaner has been relegated to flatter plots with too-fertile soil. The unsurprising result was boring, weak flavoured wine. This wine shows that when treated with respect and yields are controlled, Sylvaner can produce some very pleasant wines. This example has the roundness of Pinot Blanc with the zippiness of Riesling – a happy medium!
Father and son team and Paul and Philippe Zinck have each left their mark on the family company, in terms of both improving the quality of the wines and marketing them. Riesling is the flagship variety of most producers, so even in the “entry level” portrait range it is first amongst equals. Zinck’s Riesling is dry, as is tradition in Alsace, but it’s fruity enough to be quaffable rather than austere. Citrus is the order of the day, along with a pure mineral streak. Try it with shellfish, pan-fried white fish or even goat’s cheese.
Keen wine drinkers know that Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, just using the French rather than Italian term, but the wines are usually so different in style that they aren’t recognisable as the same variety. This is from the most southerly Grand Cru vineyard in Alsace, renowned for producing rich wines from its granite soil. It shows some sweetness – between off-dry and medium perhaps – which add to its oily and rich texture, but acidity keeps it on the straight and narrow. The nose and palate show wondrous citrus, ginger and spice. A hugely appealing wine with a very long finish.
Frankie caught the wine bug living in France in the 90s and has been sharing his love of wine ever since. He also writes for his own blog Frankly Wines, Glass Of Bubbly magazine and he runs private wine tasting events.