Send top chef and wine expert Roger Jones to pick a handful of his favourite Alsatian wines from the Alsace Rocks! tasting and what do you get? 1600 words on 27 wines, tasting notes, food-matching suggestions, two special producer profiles and more enthusiasm than is all together comfortable in a diminutive Welshman. Jones is a massive fan of Alsace and one of the world’s experts on its wines – both as a wine lover and, most importantly, understanding how they work in the context of his top restaurant.
“It is also important to understand the diversity of these Rieslings, from bone dry to luscious fruit-forward to the influence that each differing site (rock) has on the grape,” writes Jones.
Alsace is the most geologically diverse wine region in the world. Located in northeastern France between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River it is an unique region, which sits comfortably between and amongst France and Germany.
These influences make it a perfect region to produce rather special wines, by wonderful charming Alsatians who have their own language (German dialect) and unique cuisine. One can travel from the capital of Alsace, Strasbourg to the German city of Kehl in 15 minutes by tram. If a tourist is confused imagine the embarrassment of ex-French President, Nicolas Sarkozy who announced his arrival in Germany, whilst in fact he was in the Alsace town of Truchtersheim. It is the only region in France that celebrates 26th December with a public holiday.
Of course Riesling is what most of us think of when discussing Alsace wines, and some of the top names are renowned throughout the world, and indeed if you want to see the full diversity of this noble grape there is no better place to educate yourself on the glories of Riesling. However, the influence of Pinot Noir is certainly coming to the fore and, of course, we must not forget their Cremant (Sparkling Wine), Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer.
Cremant d’Alsace is hugely popular in France, but in the UK is competing against our own English sparkling, Cava and New World sparkling. The plus side is the exceptional value that these Cremants provide, and they are quite unique in their style, with a texture and depth that defies their price point.
This was quite superb – full flavoured, textured and fabulous freshness. There were apples and spices to the fore, then a creamy, crumbly mid-palate with a clean, fresh, crisp finish. Auxerrois 100%
Domaine Bott-Geyl, Absolu Grand Cuvee – Extra Brut
Fresh and bright with a delicate creamy flavour, lots of texture and a mouth-filling wine that has some lovely spices. Pinot Blanc 60%, Chardonnay 20%, Pinot Noir 20%
Domaine Jean-Baptise Adam, Brut
Savoury and spiced, layers of flavour, a touch of brioche and clean red berries, nicely balanced. Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois
Domaine Jean-Baptiste Adam, Rosé
Serious grown-up Rosé with the Pinot Noir shining; a lovely depth and a savoury edge to balance the luscious red fruits. Pinot Noir 100%
It is difficult to trim down the best that I tried, whilst it is also important to understand the diversity of these Rieslings, from bone dry to luscious fruit-forward to the influence that each differing site (rock) has on the grape. However, here are a few of my favourites, I have also listed the residual sugar, although please note that some of these wines with higher residual sugars are so perfectly balanced that it would be a shame to try and control this. I have also thrown in some food matches to go with these wines.
Domaine Paul Ginglinger Riesling Drei Exa 2018 (1.5g/l)
Fresh, lemon curd aromas, gentle, unwaxed lemon on the palate, fresh precise and easy drinking with classic wet stone minerality. Try this with lobster fish fingers.
Domaine Jean-Baptiste Adam Riesling Reserve 2017 (0.4g/l)
Delicate perfumed floral nose, white flowers on the palate with a gentle citrus background, elegant and purity. Fabulous with fish and chips.
Domaine Schlumberger Grand Cru Kitterle Riesling 2017 (0.64g/l)
Forward and expressive, white stone fruit, spring flowers and herbs, textured and layers of opulent flavours. Try this with carpaccio of Welsh black beef with foie gras and mango.
Cave de Ribeauville Riesling 2017 (1.18g/l)
Touch of spritz on first taste, bright and focused, sweet fruited but carries it well, a full flavoured textured Riesling crying out for some sauerkraut and knacks (sausage).
Cave de Turckheim Grand Cru Brand Riesling 2017 (7.9g/l)
Layers and layers of delicious rich fruit, balanced by fine acidity, pears and citrus fruit with a lime-marmalade-on-toasted-brioche background. Smoky and saline gives this wine power and a great match for big fish dishes such as octopus with chorizo oil.
Domaine Jean-Baptiste Adam Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Riesling 2015 (4.06g/l)
Bright fresh nose, layers of fresh spice, poached pears with syrup and spices, orange peel, concentrated but dry finish. There is a lovely tingling finish to this Rieling – great with oysters with wasabi sorbet.
Cave de Ribeauville Grand Cru Osterberg Riesling 2015 (12.1g/l)
Wow this stands out, powerful and full flavoured with stone and orchard fruit with spices, but very clear and precise on the finish, great with game or duck.
Dopff au Moulin Grand Cru Schoenenbourg Riesling 2014 (5.5g/l)
Beautiful aromatic nose, lovely purity and texture, citrus and dried caramelized pineapple, peppery spice, candid but dry voluptuous finish, perfect with grilled lobster with Thai herbs.
Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Gewürztraminer and Muscat
Pine, wet stone, peaches, layered, well balanced with a precise clean acidity holding it together.
Domaine Jean Becker Sylvaner 2018 (2.45 g/l)
Although the production of Sylvaner has dropped hugely in Alsace, the quality has risen and this is a prime example of the quality that one can now get, beautifully balanced, with gentle aromatics and a textured wine that has a clean crisp finish, try it with roast chicken & thyme.
Domaine Jean Becker Grand Cru Froehn Muscat 2016 (2.45 g/l)
Ripe white peaches, lively, textured, some exotic fruits, deep and focused, try it with new season asparagus (white if available) with lashings of beurre blanc and chives.
Domaine Meyer-Fonne Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kaefferkopf 2017 (4.25 g/l)
Be aware that some Alsace Pinot Gris can have a pretty hefty residual sugar, but this example is a clean dry number, perfectly balanced, fresh and focused more of a Chablis style; I love the clean textured mid-palate, with a fresh focused finish. Match it with pasta with clams and wild garlic.
Cave de Ribeauville Pinot Gris Grand Cru Gloeckelberg 2012 (49.1g/l)
Wow more of a Sauternes style, rich and opulent, sweet fruited, luscious and thick but not cloying, that perfect acidity holds it. Try it with salted caramel ice cream or strong cheese.
Vins Schoenheitz Gewürztraminer 2018 Classic (26g/l)
Focused, purity, textured, lychees and tiny floral hints, orange/clementine aromatics, everything in harmony, try it with tuna sashimi.
Julian Schaal – making wines in Alsace and South Africa
Julien Schaal, this guy does two harvests every year – one in Alsace and one in Elgin, South Africa – where he specialises in Chardonnay. He also has some rather special plots where he sources his grapes from including a small plot in the midst of the famous Clos St Hune site. Julien works together with his charming wife Sophie. They only produce Grand Cru wines.
His labels are reflective in colour of the stone that the grapes are grown on.
Julian Schaal Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling 2018 (3.48g/l)
Lemon zest, fresh and vibrant, the granite sub-soil highlighted in the wine real minerality and purity; enjoy whilst snacking on deep fried squid with chilli flakes.
Julian Schaal Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2018 (4g/l)
These exceptional grapes come from next to the Clos St Hune heaven of Trimbach fame, just beautiful, from the texture to the freshness and clear purity, wow, and with age these evolve perfectly. This is one of the finest and best value Rieslings from Alsace; some restaurateurs even have magnums of this epic wine. Perfect match with scallop, black pudding and foie gras.
Julian Schaal Grand Cru Schoenenbourg Riesling 2018 (4.65g/l)
Fresh and zesty, bright and focused, unwaxed lemon skin, white peaches, touch of exotic fruit, rich but dry. Good match with sea bream ceviche with fermented cabbage.
Julian Schaal Grand Cru Rangen Riesling 2018 (5.2g/l)
Funky with ginger spices, nectarines and hint of orange blossom honey, expressive with a lovely long crisp finish with a sparkle of acidity. Great match to Diver Caught Scallops with Caviar.
Julian Schaal Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim Gewürztraminer 2018 (18g/l)
Floral but retrained nose, the wine is clean, on the palate it’s all about Provencal white peaches, grilled English apples with spices, sourced from red clay soils, there is a clean cut to it that keeps it fresh; perfect with sashimi of wild sea bass with Thai basil.
Julien Schall is shipped by ABS Wine Agencies
Another producer who really stood out at the tasting was Joseph Cattin which has recently opened an impressive tasting room with incredible views over the Alsace plains, Black Forest and Swiss Alps. Set up in 1720, it is currently overseen by Jacques Cattin Senior, with his son Jacques Cattin Junior in charge of the wine-making with his wife Anais in charge of international sales.
Whilst most houses have a Cremant, Cattin goes that extra bit with two prestige cuvees as well as their house offering, the Joseph Cattin Grand Cuvee (80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Chardonnay) and the Joseph Cattin Emotion (20% Pinot Blanc and 80% Chardonnay). The Emotion is a fabulous stone fruit-driven sparkling with delicate notes of buttery brioche and complex bubbles.
Purity, depth and texture, exceptional value, fresh, lashings of bright white stone fruit, apricots, beeswax with a crisp finish to bring it together, this is an off-dry style, giving it a fruity finish. Great with sea bass grilled with Chinese spices or Peking duck.
Maison Cattin Riesling 2015, Selection parcellaire Pur de Roche (3g/l)
This has a lovely texture, with clean fresh citrus flavours, pink grapefruit and wet stone; easy drinking with some tempura shrimps and wasabi mayonnaise.
Maison Cattin Gewürztraminer Reserve 2018 (15g/l)
Fresh clean and pure, this has very little residual sugar for a Gewürztraminer, lychees and mangoes, touch of spice, fresh and vivid; enjoy with oysters with chilli vinegar.
Maison Cattin Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Vorrbourg 2017 (30g/l)
A fair hit of residual sugar but this tropical-influenced wine carries it well. Definitely a wine to go with cheese, whether the local Alsace Munster or better still Stinking Bishop with toasted almond and fennel wafers.
Maison Cattin is shipped by Dreyfus Ashby
And what about Pinot Noir from Alsace? Definitely a story here, there is no question that the Pinots that we are now seeing from Alsace are starting to make a stir, I still think that they should look at bottle shape and a Burgundy shape would be a better sales hit than an ‘aromatic bottle’ shape, but these Pinots are definitely here to make a mark. I will follow with Alsace Pinots in another article.