Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Viavino Wine Course Session Five

This Tuesday saw the penultimate session of the Classic French Wine Regions wine tasting and education course I’m running.  The idea is to educate about the world of wine whilst also improving tasting skills.  In the fourth session we looked at the red grapes of the central Loire (Cabernet Franc) and Bordeaux (Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot and Malbec).  This time round we looked at the key white varieties of Alsace.  There are many varieties grown in Alsace; the four so called noble varieties Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat, plus also Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Sylvaner, Chasselas and the one red variety, Pinot Noir.  For this session we restricted ourselves to the three most revered; Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.

Wines 1, 2 & 3 – Rieslings from Germany, the Clare Valley and Alsace

The first comparison saw Rieslings from the three areas that are most closely associated with the variety; its two homelands of Germany and Alsace plus the Clare Valley in Australia.

First we looked at the German wine; a 2009 Rüdesheimer Rosengarten Kabinett Riesling from the producer Leitz in the Rheingau.  You can get it from Waitrose for a tenner.

The wine had a light 10.5% alcohol (though nowhere near as light as a lot of Kabinett Rieslings from the Mosel, which are more like 8.5%) and was medium-dry(which is way sweeter than a dry wine).  As you would expect from any decent German Riesling there was loads of acidity to balance the sweetness and its lightness of touch made for a delicious aperitif.  It was slightly heavier than a Mosel example would have been but it wasn't short of interest and had a really long finish.  Most certainly a decent wine.  Lovely with an almond whilst cooking.

Following this we looked at the example from the Clare Valley, which was a 2009 Ackland Vineyard Riesling from the respected producer Knappstein.  You can get this at Majestic for £11.

At a medium light 12% alcohol it was clean and fresh with a slightly riper flavour than the German wine.  It was reasonably pronounced, but I would say the German example had greater length.  Interestingly the classic Riesling petrol nose that normally takes a few years to come though was already present in a wine that's only just reached its second Birthday.  A good wine that would complement a fish supper with a fusion twist.

The last Riesling was a bottle of 2003 Trimbach Riesling Reserve from Alsace.  I bought it from the producer a few years ago, but you can pick up the current release, 2008, from Berry Brothers and Rudd for £13.55 or £11.65 if you buy a case of 12.

As Trimbach's wines always are, it was austere, bone dry and unforgiving without food.  Of course once you start to eat this is very much in its favour; it's a real food wine that complements a meal perfectly with the food and wine bringing out the best in each other.  It would be great with a big bowl of choucroute that's for sure.  The aromas and flavours don't have much to do with fruit in the traditional sense, perhaps a bit of lemon, but basically it's all lean and and mineral, with quite a full mouth-feel, easily having the most oomph of the three wines.  It was also very long, leaving you tasting it a good five minutes after a sip.  All good wines, but for me the Trimbach showed an extra dimension of class.

Wines 4, 5 & 6 – Pinot Grigio/Gris from Italy and Alsace, plus Gewurztraminer from Alsace

Wines 4 and 5 were both Pinot Gris, but the first labelled Pinot Grigio as it came from Italy.  There's loads of incredibly dull Pinot Grigio that comes mainly from the Veneto region in North-East Italy; the vines are on the plains and yield well of 100 hl/ha (very high) and the wine isn't much more than water.  However, don't let this taint your opinion of quality Pinot Grigio from Italy.  The two other regions in the North-East of the Country, Friuli and the Alto-Adige, both make really high quality varietal wines from Pinot Grigio and also from several other grapes varieties, mainly white but also red.

The Italian example we looked at was a bottle of 2009 St-Michael-Eppan Alto Adige Pinot Grigio, which came from Waitrose for £10.  There are many really decent co-ops in the Alto-Adige (or the Südtirol to give it its Austrian Name) and St-Michael-Eppan is probably the best of them.

The wine smelt aromatic and spicy, but not to the same degree as a strong Pinot Gris from Alsace.  However, you could tell you were with the same variety.  Tasting it was a shock at first, having a much more powerful flavour than the nose suggested it would have.  Clean and crisp (as Pinot Gris often isn't) but still strongly spicy and aromatic, it was a wine with real character and length.  Well worth a tenner, it would recommend giving this and indeed other wines from the Alto Adige a go.  If you can find them.

[caption id="attachment_742" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Grand Cru Brand"][/caption]

The Alsace example was a 2004 Cave de Turckheim Alsace Grand Cru Brand Pinot GrisTurckheim is a village close to Colmar in the heart of Alsace and the Cave de Turckheim is the local co-op, one of the best in the region.  Grand Cru Brand is one of the most esteemed vineyards in Alsace and you can see both village and Grand Cru Brand in the picture on the right.  Believe me, walking through that vineyard on a sunny day looking down at the village below is a wonderful thing to do.  I bought the wine from the co-op a couple of years ago but you can buy the 2005 release from for £16.80.

The colour was a gorgeous rich gold and it smelled beautifully honeyed on the nose.  Evolved and pronounced.  In fact it took most people a little while to actually drink it as the nose was so arresting.  In the mouth the wine was really full, rich and spicy with a long, long finish.  Not at all cloying it had good acidity for a Pinot Gris and was truly fine.  It would be perfect with a stir-fry or some prawns tossed in a hot harissa paste.  Indeed it's delicious each each time I do it, especially with my homemade harissa of course.  Great wine.

The last wine was an excellent comparison to the Brand Pinot Gris, as it was a Gewurztraminer from the same vineyard and the same producer; a Cave de Turckheim Alsace Grand Cru Brand Gewurztraminer.  This one was a 2007 and was also bought from the producer two years ago, but you can buy the 2005 release from for £16.30.

No surprises it had a strong lychee nose, really ripe and pronounced.  On the palette it was intense, rich, very spicy and with an intensely perfumed flavour.  Only just off-dry the intensity of the exotic fruit flavour fools you into thinking it's sweet.  Long and full it nevertheless had good acidity for the often fat Gewurztraminer.  I find it hard to drink a lot of Gewurz as it's so overpowering, but this was certainly a great example and one or two glasses with some blue cheese or a terrine would be delightful.  Another fine wine, but for my money and indeed all the class, the Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris stole the day.

Another session over there's one to go, on the red varieties of the Rhône Valley.  Until then, Happy Drinking.


  1. That German Riesling was absolutely my favourite - probably from the whole course!!!

  2. Really enjoyed this session (as a huge Riesling fan), though actually for me the Alsace Pinot Gris stood out as excellent.

  3. I second Henry on the Pinot Gris - really lovely.
    Probably my favourite session as ive had some lovely Rieslings in the past and am a big Gewurz fan, but comparing the same grape from different regions was extremely interesting. And i shall no longer automatically discard Pinot Grigio after so many disappointing pub glasses, as now i know what to look for!

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