Intense flavors of Alsatian pinot gris teases senses |

Intense flavors of Alsatian pinot gris teases senses

There is nothing like a gloriously sunny and crisp autumn afternoon to conjure images of the beautiful vineyards of Alsace. Tucked away in Northeastern France on a narrow ribbon of land running north to south between the Vosges Mountains on the western flank and the Rhine River to the east, Alsace boasts a stunning necklace of picturesque little winemaking villages of half-timbered, ancient houses.

Each year in late September, the hillside vineyards turn yellow and red just before the grapes are harvested in early October.

Alsace’s winemaking style is unique and distinctive. Most of the wines are white and finished dry. But the wines usually also have intense fruity aromatics and ripe flavors embroidered into rich, concentrated texture balanced with superb, mouthwatering acidity and mineral accents.

The wines match perfectly with hearty Alsatian cuisine, featuring dishes such as Flammekeuche (bacon and fresh cheese tart), Soupe de Pois Casses (split pea soup), and Choucroute Garni a L’Alsacienne (sauerkraut with pork, ham and sausages).

The region’s wine style is illustrated perfectly by its pinot gris. Unlike pinot grigio from northeast Italy and the typical pinot gris from Oregon, the Alsatian variety offers a deep golden color, reflecting the microclimates that permit the grapes to hang longer on the vines until perfectly ripe and lush.

And rather than delicate citrus and pear aromas leading to relatively light-bodied wines, Alsatian pinot gris offers intense, complex aromas and rich, concentrated flavors to tantalize the senses with full-flavored, even decadent, pleasure.

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board specialty stores offer wines from some of Alsace’s top pinot gris producers, including Domaine Marc Krydenweiss, Domaine Zind Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach. Try the following to experience the full range of subtle differences within winemaking styles:

  • 2000 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Moenchberg Pinot Gris, Le Moine, Grand Cru, Alsace, France (specialty 21735, $33.99): Since 1650, the Kreydenweiss family has been growing grapes and making wine in Alsace. Today, Marc Kreydenweiss carries on the tradition with his own twist of biodynamic farming. Neither commercial fertilizers nor pesticides are used, and all the work in the vineyard and cellars is timed to the cycles of the sun, moon and stars. His wines are the most restrained of these examples. This has lovely floral aromas with smells of ripe peaches and honey leading to flavors of lush peaches and ripe citrus balanced with lovely mineral acidity through a fruity, well-balanced dry finish. Recommended.

  • 2000 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris, Vieilles Vignes, Alsace (specialty 21236, $43.59): This domaine favors the most extroverted and bold style of the range, with fruity concentration and intensity that can come close to going over the top. But the vintages somehow manage to carry off the full-throttle, fleshy style with just the right amount of acidity to create proper balance. This wine, for instance, has a deep golden color suggesting ultraripe grapes, and then opens with aromas of ripe pears, honey and lime blossoms with smoky hints. The rich, ripe, concentrated fruity flavors of citrus and honey with a touch of oak carry through a fruity, concentrated dry finish balanced with a vein of fine acidity. Recommended.

  • 2000 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris, Altenbourg-Clos des Capucins, Cuvee Laurent, Grand Cru, Alsace (specialty 21830, $47.99): Owned and operated by the Faller family, this domaine consistently turns out some of best wines of the region by relying on low yields and severe grape selection. A British wine writer calls the style “firm, austere and aristocratic,” and they do possess a marvelous restrained purity and elegance. But they also carry an opulence of fruit and richness of texture for sheer, unadulterated pleasure in every sip. This wine has a golden color and lovely aromas of honeysuckle, peaches and apples opening to rich, intense flavors of ripe peaches and honey, balanced by a wonderful, crisp acidity. The fruity, yet dry finish lingers with elegant echoes. Undeniably “sexy,” this is a real pleasure. Highly recommended.

    Best buys

  • 2001 Coppola Bianco, Calif. (6754, on sale: $9.99): This tasty, crisp white features aromas of pears and apples followed by fruity flavors balanced with refreshing acidity through a fruity but dry finish. Try it with pasta and shrimp tossed with oil olive and minced garlic. Recommended.

    Flammekeuche (“Flaming Tart”)

    This recipe is Alsace’s take on pizza. The key to its distinctiveness is the blend of cheeses with fromage blanc (a soft, fresh cream cheese with the consistency of sour cream) and grated Gruyere cheese. The classic Flammekeuche recipe calls for making the crust from scratch, but a store-bought, plain pizza shell works well, too.

    • 1 recipe Fromage Blanc (recipe follows)
    • 1/2 pound bacon
    • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

    A day ahead of making the tart, prepare the Fromage Blanc.

    In a skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a plate. In the same skillet, saute the onions in the bacon fat, then let cool to room temperature.

    Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

    In a bowl, whisk the Fromage Blanc, egg and flour. Spread on the pizza shell and top with the onions, bacon and Gruyere. Bake until golden brown, for about 15 minutes.

    Fromage Blanc

    • 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
    • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
    • Pinch of salt

    In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Chill for 12 hours before using.

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