Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pushing Back (Newsletter Article)

“I just can’t drink these anymore” a conversation Randy and I were having about a regions wines we both once adored but were sadly getting too overblown and blousy not to mention oaky and almost syrupy. “What would you serve this with?” I asked Randy to which he said, “I can’t think of anything outside of really strong cheeses that this would taste good with”

Broke my heart. Alsace was breaking my heart. It began as it often does in these regions that’s wines were never meant to be blockbusters, never meant to be more than perfect with the foods served there. It started with a winery producing massive, rich, gooey, explosive wines that were noticed and celebrated by the international wine press. Wines designed to impress in a tasting setting and appeal to an American palate, it worked…I guess. One wineries press began a movement of sorts, a push towards pushing if you will. A push to crank out bigger, richer, fuller more flashy wines that would do the exact opposite of what they had been doing all along, providing light, crisp and food friendly partners at the table. Really sad when you think about the fact that Alsace has more starred restaurants than any other wine region in France. What were they thinking?

Well they were thinking of becoming players in the international market and with those fat wines pulling down fat scores, well they could start charging fat prices. Worked, I guess but with each vintage getting bigger and richer, the acids folding under clunky syrupy fruit and a wine loving populace popping corks on wines that were simply falling apart, well let’s just say finding red tags and closeouts on the wines from Alsace started becoming a regular occurrence. Sadly the more we tasted the more we too turned away and in fact we reduced our selection of wines from Alsace to just a small handful. I couldn’t bear to taste them, that oak, uber ripe fruit that was often just this side of tasting like a peach that has been sitting in the fruit bowl too long, and ripeness pushed so far that the wines were insanely out of balance. More importantly is I had no idea how to sell them. Our customers are not lead around by the wine press, they trust us to taste and find wine that are going to sing with their meals and outside of a super spiced pastrami sandwich I just couldn’t find a dinner table most of the wines I was tasting were going to, well fit on.

When you think of the dishes Alsace is known for, the classic dishes now found in almost every bistro in France; the Flammekueche (Bacon and onion tart), goose liver pates, Choucrote (Various pork bits and sausages slowly cooked with wine and sauerkraut) Quiches, all delightfully hearty, almost Germanic dishes with a very clear French refinement, all of them needing that lift and brightness that had long been provided by the wines of the region but now, at least the wines we had been tasting, would be akin to washing down your porky goodness with peach syrup. Might be tolerable or even naughtily enjoyable for a bite and sip here and there but every day? No way. For there to be success in food and wine pairing there needs to be balance and this region that had historically had an identity crisis, (France, German and back again) was once again unclear on what it wanted to be, at least in the wine world and we had to simply sit back and wait for another generation to come along to pull things once again but this time, they were pulling them back to center.

So for the past year or two we have been taking another look at the wine from our beloved Alsace, finding producers that are making wines true to what they should be, true to where they are from and wines that offer tremendous food friendliness at really fair prices. The pendulum has swung back and we could not be more pleased to add these wines to our newly growing Alsatian selections. We welcome those new to the wines to come in, talk to us about how best to serve these lovely wines and encourage those of you that like us, found the wines just too much to rediscover the wines of Alsace.

2008 Domaine Bott Geyl Les Elements Riesling $18.99

Classic Alsatian Riesling on the nose, that bright blast of fresh fruit, a middle of river stones and just a touch of honey. This wine has that wonderful weight that Alsace Riesling gets, almost supple on the palate but the racy acidity and smattering of lime rind give this wine a beautiful and very fresh lift.

2009 Roland Schmitt Pinot Blanc $15.99

Roland Schmitt has been our go-to Alsace estate for a couple of years now and for all the reasons we talk about above, the wines are always true, pure, fresh, vibrating and utterly perfect for so many foods. I’ve served this pretty little Pinot Blanc with everything from grilled and roasted chicken to crab cakes and not once has there a drop left at the end of the meal. Spring rolls, cheeses, egg dishes, fish or chicken, this wine holds up to it all.

2007 Domaine Ostertag Gewurztraminer $20.99

Andre Ostertag is a wonderfully passionate winemaker that has been farming both organically and biodynamic for years, committed to getting the absolute best from his vines and focusing purity over power. He makes amazingly complex wines that are as true to their region as any we have on the shelf. Gewurztraminer is not only a mouthful to pronounce, well it’s a mouthful of wine too. Big, spicy and long which makes it perfect for heavily spiced meats, strong cheeses and just plain fun to drink on its own. This offering from Ostertag is simply lovely, plenty of spice and weight but with a very crisp and bright lift on the finish.

2009 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir $26.99

This is one of those wines that smell so amazing that you almost forget that you are supposed to be drinking it. Very light in the glass and on the palate this is a Pinot Noir that you could serve with even delicate fish dishes and not have it overwhelm your plate. Loaded with rose petals, black cherries and minerals this has that sexy little mouth pucker finish that keeps you reaching for another sip.

2008 Domaine Ostertag Fronholz Muscat $32.99

Yet another wine with absolutely intoxicating aromatics. I love the smell of Muscat but sometimes find the sweetness too much or limiting with what I can serve it with but this dry Muscat from Ostertag is a absolute dream of a wine. Flowers, peaches, pears and citrus rind explode in the glass, each sniff offering something a little different and more complex. In the mouth the wine has a medium weight, silky texture, more restrained fruit and the finish is both long and dry. Serve with a platter of cheeses and mixed nuts and enjoy how splendid Muscat can be.


V said...

Bott Geyl rocks!
Ok, where can I get Flammekueche in SoCal?

Samantha Dugan said...

I would have to agree. On the tart I would have to guess that Church & State would make a good one. Didn't order it when I was there but I've heard it's unreal....

Thomas said...

Great post, fantastic wine choices.

Oh, say hello to Frilui-Venezia-Giulia for me, and have a good time.

Charlie Olken said...

Alsace has long offered a mixed bag of styles. Zind may have pushed the envelope but they are far from the defining player there, and if anything, they are the outliers to my palate and the wines you mention have maintained the faith.

But, there is this to be said. To my palate, at least, many of those rich, cheesy, pork-based dishes like a bit of sweetness-balanced, of course. but slightly sweet nonetheless.

None of which discounts the fact that a crisp, aromatic white from Alsace is also a thing of great beauty. Bet you don't find their equal in Italy.

webb said...

I'm going to take these names to my wine shop and hopes - perhaps pray - that they are distributed on this coast, too. thanks.

Samantha Dugan said...

Why thank you sir. They were once some of my favorite wines but man did they go a bit wacky for a bit. I shall think of you many times while in Friuli my friend and I will be sure to say hello for you.

I can see why you might enjoy a little sweetness with some of those dishes. As we have discovered my palate leans more to the severe dryness so I like the way the drier wines cut the richness and pleases my pucker. ZH lost their damn minds in my opinion and I find those wines pretty impossible to even drink a glass of now, not to mention the fact that I spent years taking my allocation and then had to red tag the fuckers no matter how much praise Parker gave them. Oh well, thankfully there are producers like Ostertag and Schmitt.

I hope you do! Ostertag has national distribution with Kermit Lynch, not sure about Schmitt....might be a little harder to find. Good luck and should you find them please do report back, would love to hear what you think.

Nancy Deprez said...

Cool article, Sam, love it, love flammekueche and nice high acid pure focused wines. :)

Michael Hughes said...

Damn. You've got me all hot & bothered over some Alsatians now.

Thomas said...

Charlie and Sam,

Many years ago I did sugar tests on a few Alsatian Gewurztraminers--you'd be amazed at the results, on the plus side.

Why won't this goddam Google blog maintain my identity for commenting?

Samantha Dugan said...

You?! Ms. German Wine likes high acid whites and cheesy ham goodness? Get the fuck oudda heah. Thanks for the nod lady, figured I better get some wine stuff up seeing I went all girlie "mall bemoaner" in my last post.

Well get you some baby!

Do tell. Oh and I have no idea, Google often baffles me.

Brenna said...

I just moved next door to Alsace, and it's true it's so different than any other food I've eaten in France!

Thomas said...


Something for you to read:

Humbrecht was one of the wines I checked a while ago and found to be quite high in RS.