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Alsace is a most interesting of areas from not just a wine perspective but food, language, culture and the umbrella over it all, historical point of view.  For centuries, the region has been traded between French and German hands with never-ending influence of traditions from both countries.  Today one will find an in-between of French and German language called “Alsacian” in French but “Elsassich” in German, similar to Swiss German, I believe and difficult for Germans to understand… But my brother-in-law is Swiss and he says it’s difficult for him to understand also… so hmm…  The cuisine is primarily German. Thank you Alsace, for the stink that is münster cheese (that wasn’t sarcasm), Foie Gras (kind of… ), and plates of choucroute where I anticipate thinly sliced modest servings of meat but instead encounter mounds of sausage and potato that seem to be straight from the butcher’s room.  The primary varietals are more German than French, but the wine style more French.  Confused? Just know this: Alsace wine world began a patchwork when it comes to everything: soil types, food types, language and more.  The whole evolved to be better than the sum of its parts; Alsace truly stands out as its own.  I find the wines to be incredibly distinctive, the terroir is bold, its wines are telling.  I can’t tell the grand crus apart blind, but do recognize the Alsatianaromas in a wine; a true marriage of varietal markers and strength of place.

 Strasbourg

Alsace is located in the northeastern portion of France, west of the Vosges Mountain range, one of the sunniest and driest regions of the country.  It is similar to eastern Washington in that it is protected by the rain shadow effect of its westerly mountains.  It is the smallest region in all of France with the Bas-Rhin being in the north (“bas” referring to the lower elevation of the mountain range as compared to the south) and Haut-Rhin being in the south where the Vosges are a bit taller.  The climate is semi-continental, the land is rolling and the best vineyard sites are on slopes facing south, east, or somewhere in between.

2009 was a “safe vintage” according to Olivier Humbrecht of the more than renowned Zind Humbrecht winery.  One will not find many bad wines from this vintage.  ’07 and ’08 gave a bit more tension, minerality and tightness in character; ’09 seems a bit looser.

The bottle is a “flute” or “wine of the Rhine” bottle with a long and thin neck, slender body.

Now on to the varietals that are deemed noble, those we shall taste:

Riesling:  Wonderful to drink with the mound of choucroute, pork-based dishes, fish and shellfish.  I love Riesling.  It is so much of everything: fat weight yet screaming acidity resulting in a silkiness on my palate; old things, earth and mustiness yet fresh fruit, citrus zest and crispness.  While researching Alsace I came across my new favorite word: ampelography: the field of botany concerned with the study of grapevines.  This website is more than fantastic, I gathered much of my information regarding this topic from there, including more than you probably care to know regarding the ampelography of all the varietals of Alsace.  Example: the leaves of Riesling from Alsace are orbicular and thick with medium serrated edges.  The berries have thick skin, are small, golden to light green with reddish freckles when mature.  I could go on, but I won’t because I want not that you stop reading.  Onto what it tastes like: lemon, grapefruit, peach, pear, white flowers, citronella (I like that), lime, salty, iodine (this is a major terroir thing that I get in other varietals too, not just Riesling), cumin, fennel, mineral, flint, petrol.  Zippy, racy, “rapier-like” acidity compounded by a round opulence.  Whether vinified dry or sweet, I find it oh-so-pleasing and feeling like no other varietal.

Pinot Gris: this is an aromatically complex wine that develops most notably, into a smokiness.  It’s originally from Burgundy and in Alsace has been called “Grauer Tokayer” then “Tokay Gris” then “Tokay d’Alsace” then “Tokay Pinot Gris” then finally just “Pinot Gris” as of 2007.  Whew.  It’s not as intense as Riesling, generally but is incredibly complex.  What it tastes like: dried fruits, apricot, honey¸ beeswax, gingerbread, mushroom, forest floor, burnt greens.  It feels more round with inherently less acidity than Riesling, has great substance and “lively roundness”, a slightly sweet opulence.  One way that I recognize Pinot Gris is by its color in the glass – it has a slight pinkish tone to it because its skins are grayish pink or sometimes grayish blue.

Muscat: also known as Muscat “a petits grains” or Muscat d’Alsace, this is most notably, amongst the hundreds of wine-producing grape varietals in the world, the one that smells grapey.  Wines from Muscat are straw in color with frequent hints of silver.  The nose is intense and with the grapey-ness you may smell some subtle floral notes.  It can be vinified sweet or dry, if it’s dry, it has a mouthfeel that’s like… a grape.  It often has some muskiness in there too.  Do you want to know the ampelography??  The grapes are round, medium in size with an amber-yellow color.  Muscat is one of the few wines that pairs well with asparagus.

Gewürztramier: the Grandma grape.  It smells like perfume, roses, popurri, gingerbread, soap… aka, Grandma.  It’s ferociously intense, very distinctive.  Gewurz is a particular selection (so what I gather from that, a clone) of what was once known as Traminer or Traminer Rose.  The word literally translates to “spicy traminer” which makes sense because you can oft pick up, amongst all the perfume and soap etc, a spiciness in the form of clove, maybe pepper.  The notes of Gewurz are a mile long, here’s a few more: orange peel, peppermint honey, lychee, passionfruit, mango, flowers, liquorice.  It is exuberant, full-bodied and round with generally, not a lot of acidity.  You taste everything you smell and more.  It’s funky fullness can be delectable with spicy dishes and strong cheese.  It too, can be vinified sweet or dry.

‘Das it for now.

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