By: Levi Reiss
If you are in the mood for fine French wine and food, consider the well-known Alsace region of northeastern France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll enjoy yourself on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review an Alsatian Pinot Noir red wine.
Among France's eleven wine-growing regions Alsace ranks number ten in total acreage devoted to vineyards, perhaps because it is the smallest region of metropolitan France. In any case Alsace is one of France's best-known wine regions. The actual wine growing area is approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) long, but at most 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide. Their wine bottles are distinctively tall and thin. Chaptalization (adding sugar to the fermenting grape mixture) is allowed for many wine categories. And unlike the standard practice elsewhere in France, the labels feature the grape variety.
Only about 5% of Alsace wine is red, mostly based on the Pinot Noir grape, so popular elsewhere in France and across the world, especially since the hit movie Sideways. We review an Alsatian Pinot Noir wine below. The major white grape varieties are Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. A companion article in this series reviews an Alsatian white wine.
Strasbourg is the major Alsatian city, with a population somewhat greater than a quarter million. The city dates back to Roman times, has bounced back and forth between France and Germany over the centuries, and is now the home of the European Parliament and is a symbol of French-German reconciliation and a united Europe.
The world-famous Alsace Route du Vin (Wine Route) stretches for about 100 miles (170 kilometers). You may want to start your exploration at Obernai, a city of about 10, 000 approximately 20 miles southwest of Strasbourg. Among the sights to see are the 13th Century Kapelturm Beffroi (Chapel Tower Belfry), a well dating back to the Renaissance, the City Hall, and the Market Square.
Obernai is a metropolis compared to the village of Riquewihr whose population is approximately 1200. Riquewihr is known for its ramparts, historic architecture, and souvenir shops. It also has great wines and the Tower of Thieves with its torture chamber.
Before reviewing the Alsatian wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Flammekueche (Tart stuffed with Bacon, Onions, Cream Cheese, and heavy Cream). For your second course savor Coq-au-Riesling (Cock cooked in Riesling wine). And as dessert indulge yourself with Quetschelkueche (Plum Tart).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Domaine Weinbach Pinot Noir Reserve 2004 13% alcohol about $34
Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Full of Grace. Domaine Weinbach is among the most respected producers of Alsace. This delicate Pinot Noir is sourced from the ancient Clos des Capucins vineyard. It's deliciously fruity, soft and supple and pairs well with grilled tuna. And now for the review.
The first pairing was with beef stew. The wine was very round and full. It was long, multilayered and complex. A little bit went a long way. There were some spices. I usually taste tobacco in Pinot Noir, but not here. I didn't miss it.
I next paired this wine with cold salmon filet accompanied by a ketchup and mayonnaise sauce and pearl onions, and a tomato, cucumber, and red onion salad. The wine was very full and moderately long. This time I tasted tobacco. The combination was excellent. I finished my glass with a slice of mint chocolate cake. I cannot recommend this combination; the cake denatured the wine. So I finished the cake before finishing the wine, and it bounced back.
My last meal associated with this wine consisted of filet of sole wrapped around salmon accompanied by two types of fried potatoes. The commercial fish preparation sounded much better than it actually was. The concoction took forever to cook and the final product was overcooked, undercooked, and waterlogged. Furthermore, there was so little salmon that it was hard to get an idea of its taste, or how it paired with this wine. However, we are reviewing the wine, not the meal itself. The fish did not adversely affect the wine. But I would rather savor this Pinot Noir in the presence of a nicely grilled salmon steak drizzled with lemon. I don't think I would be disappointed.
I tasted this wine with French Camembert cheese and German Limberger cheese. I don't recommend either combination. When paired with a fairly ripe Camembert the wine was no longer excellent. Interestingly enough, the wine did hold up better with the now pungent Limberger cheese, but why waste such a fine wine?
Final verdict. This is an excellent wine, but I feel that it costs more than it should. I don't really think that I will buy it again; there are so many other Pinot Noirs on the market, if not all that many from Alsace.