Roving Michelin-starred chef and reporter, Roger Jones, looks forward to visiting Alsace for the first time with a gaggle of the UK’s top sommeliers. Will the Rieslings still stack up? What other varietals will tempt him? And has Alsatian cuisine moved on from oodles of cream and butter? All this and more, as Roger sits stranded on the Gatwick tarmac…
Live from a stranded Easy Jet plane at Gatwick Airport, Roger Jones wonders what the next few days will bring discovering Alsace with some of the UK’s top sommeliers.
Bring together a group of the UK’s top sommeliers and mix them up with the UK’s top wine journalists and fly them over to Alsace on the opening weekend of the Euro Soccer Championship and what do you get?
To start with a two hour lock-in on an Easy Jet plane stranded at an outer runway at Gatwick.
Having heard reports from Marseilles, we were ready to be water cannoned and tear gassed but, luckily, as alcohol is banned on UK runways (I seem to recall happily drinking champagne on Emirates and Air New Zealand recently once boarded, but I guess there is no left turn on Easy Jet) it was a dry two hours.
The delay was later blamed on bad weather in France, a fact reconfirmed to me by Eric Zwiebel MS, our resident Master Sommelier from Alsace, who confided in me that the weather is always shit in Alsace.
The reason for the trip is the bi-annual Millésimes Alsace celebration, and a string of producer visits afterwards.
Riesling will of course be a rather important part of the trip. For me the love affair with Riesling started in Australia with their bone dry version back in the 1990s which I am sure helped to encourage Brits to enjoy Riesling from Germany but especially Alsace which has much more in common with Australia than say New Zealand or South Africa whose Rieslings in general are more full bodied and richer.
This will be my first trip to Alsace, which is odd given that I have visited Eden Valley four times. It must be the weather.
I have, however, been an avid fan of Trimbach for nearly two decades, having met Jean Trimbach back in 2000 and now have a library collection of their wines including Clos Sainte Hune going back to the 1980s.
Under the guidance of Eric Zwiebel MS at a recent Alsace tasting in London I was brought up to speed on the variance and depth of other varietals from Alsace, including some pretty amazing Pinot Gris. Clearly with Germany also making some serious inroads into the UK market, Europe is fighting back and Alsace seems to have the edge on value and price policy.
One of the delights of both Riesling and Pinot Gris is the superb way that they both increase the enjoyment of food and also evolve themselves with food. The magical purity of these wines are a perfect match to the modern style of cuisine that we are all now enjoying in the UK, whether it is Asian or Japanese or Modern British with a restriction of butter and cream.
I will be fascinated to see what style of food that our hosts in Alsace will present – will it reflect the classical French, which in my mind is behind the times, or be more like Germany which has evolved more – especially in Düsseldorf which has embraced Japanese (Düsseldorf has the largest city population of Japanese outside Japan).
I will try and establish the views of the various factions of the Tour Party over the next few days and find out what exactly they hope and want to gain from this trip, and whether this trip changes or enhances their understanding of Alsace.
Of course significantly there is a huge difference between a journalist and a sommelier, and it will be especially interesting to see how the winemakers treat each faction, whether they bow lower to the journalists or to the sommeliers. The journalists, of course, are the glory boys and girls who print the good (and bad) points about the hosts wines, but the sommeliers have to buy and sell the wine if they glow positive about a wine.
I am fully aware of this ‘as a cross-dresser’ in that I both write and sell. Often, after a lovely trip to a wine region and following a glowing report, I get bombarded by winemakers and importers asking “How many cases do you want? as you were so positive regarding that particular wine,”
I already lost over a 1,000 wines like this and, rest assured, for a 30-seater restaurant that is ample.
Roger Jones is a Michelin Star Chef and recently sat on the judging panel of The Moet UK Sommelier of The Year.
Eric Zwiebel is the Sommelier at Summer Lodge Hotel