A Palette of Pinots – The Hues of Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

What comes to mind with you think of “Pinot”? Do you think of a ruby-red pinot noir from Burgundy or a rich deep pinot from Sonoma? Is it the pale straw of a pinot grigio from Italy? Whatever color variation of this grape you thought of, you probably were not thinking of Alsace when you thought of it. I’m here to tell you why you should, because #AlsaceRocks.

The Shades of Pinot

First lets talk about pinot. We begin with pinot noir, a grape with a thin skin that can be notoriously fickle. It has tight bunches (that are shaped like pine cones, hence the name) that are prone to rot.  It wants lots of sun, but doesn’t want to be too hot. Luckily, the Cistercian monks in Burgundy found their penance in the hard work of coddling this grape to it’s greatness.

From here we get the mutations: pinot blanc and pinot gris. Simply enough, pinot blanc is a white grape mutation and pinot gris is a “grey” grape. While not truly grey, pinot gris sits in the in between hue ranging from bluish gray to pinkish brown. Of course pinot gris is the French term for this grape, in Italy they call it pinot grigio.

Beyond this we get Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine that can be made from any of the pinots, (and upon occasion some “not pinots” like chardonnay) but all Crémant d’Alsace Rosé must be made from pinot noir, in the method traditionelle.

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Alsace

This region is perfect for these wines as they thrive in the dry climate created by the Vosges Mountains. Alsace is a thin strip on the North eastern edge of France. This area has gone back and forth between Germany and France for centuries and the style of houses and names of towns attest to that fact.  It’s a fairytale land with charming villages with half-timbered buildings, dotted with flower boxes. You can explore these delightful towns on the oldest wine route in France, that travels 106 miles from Marlenheim to Thann, stopping to taste the wines and the food as you explore this beautiful region.

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

Then there is the soil.  We did say #AlsaceRocks right?  This area at the foot of the Vosges Mountains is a patchwork of soils.  You find granite, and sandstone, limestone, schist and volcanic soils. Once, fifty million years ago, the Black Forest and the Vosges were a single mountain range, pushed up by the plates.  When this collapsed it formed the Rhine River.  All that shifting around will geologically mix up some soil, and hence you get all these varied pockets of soil that add fascinating diversity to the vineyards.

The Wines & Pairings

Pinots from Alsace; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Crémant d'Alsace

A range of pinots from Alsace from Teuwen Communications (and Loki)

Now lets dive into the hues of pinots. @DrinkAlsace was kind enough to provide us a variety of pinots to taste through. (All opinions are my own) We begin with a 2017 Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, followed by a 2012 Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to a 2015 Leon Beyer Pinot Noir and finishing with a Crémant d’Alscace Rosé from Domaine Zinck. All but one of these wines come from the village of Eguisheim. The Pinot Gris is the exception coming from Riquewirh.

Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Traditional 2017

Emile Beyer is a 43 acre family estate just outside of Colmar in the village of Eguisheim. This wine comes from younger vineyards on the estate.  The soil here is clay, sandstone & chalky marl, and the grapes are mostly Pinot Blanc with a little Auxerrois. Alcohol sits at about 13%. $15

Cheeses

I searched for cheeses to pair with this wine and went off to look for a Saint-Nectaire and a Chaource.

Chaource is a named for the village of Chaource in France. It is a very soft ripened cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is soft and buttery. My Murray’s guy found me a domestic equivalent that did not disappoint. Murray’s Delice is a lovely soft ripened cheese that really and truly melted in your mouth. It went nicely with the wine.

Delice from Murray's

Delice from Murray’s Cheese shop, similar to a Chaource

Saint-Nectaire is a Tomme style cheese again from cow’s milk. It is a semi soft washed rind cheese. It specifically comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from the mild of cows that feed in rich volcanic pastures. It matures 6-8 weeks on rye straw mats, which causes a pungent smell.

My Murray’s guy pointed me toward a Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese which was similar to an Alpine raclette. This gave us a different texture to compare with the Delice. Michael found it too pungent, but I enjoyed it.

 

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese similar to a Saint-Nectaire cheese from France

Appetizer

I had envied a fellow blogger his grilled peaches the other day, and planned on making some myself. I got running behind on dinner and instead sliced my peach and plopped a little goat cheese on it, a leaf of basil and wrapped it in prosciutto. This was definitely the right decision, both time wise and pairing wise. The fresh peach was still a little firm and with the goat cheese was really nice with the wine, picking up on those unripe stone fruit notes. It was also cool and easy to eat. I suggest these bites for all summer!.

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and proscuitto

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and prosciutto

Frittata

I knew the minute I saw the suggestion of an egg dish with this wine, that I would go that direction. I looked through quiche recipes and then settled on the simplicity of a Frittata. This wine loves spring vegetables so a spring green salad would go along side. I quick pickled some small golden beets and radishes in honey and white wine vinegar to add to the top with some pine nuts.

The frittata I filled with broccoli, peas and green beans that I quickly blanched, then I sautéed golden beets, radishes and zucchini and let them develop a little crunch. I added a cup of ricotta to add a creamy cheese to the mix that would not be too heavy. Red onions were sautéed before dropping in the egg mixture. And it cooked to perfection in my rod iron skillet.

Sprint salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Spring salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Gris 2012

René Dopff took over Dopff & Irion in 1945 as he joined forces with the Widow Madame Irion, taking over the Château de Riquewirh. The Château was built in 1549 by the Princes of Württemberg who ruled this area for 5 centuries.

The village of Riquewihr in Alsace France

The Village of Riquewirh in Alsace. Home of Dopff and Irion

This wine is 100% Pinot Gris with soil in marl, limestone, gypsum, clay and sandstone. This cuveé comes from 200 selected vine-growers. It is stored on lees for 4 weeks before maturing in tank for four months. Like the Pinot Blanc it sits at 13% alcohol. $21.

Exotic and Strange Pairings

Dopff & Irion suggestioned “Pair with oriental and exotic cuisine like prawns with Thai Sauce, chicken curry or cottage cheese with pepper.  “Cottage cheese with pepper? It seemed strange to me, but I was definitely going to try this! Other suggestions included mushrooms and cream sauces, triple crème cheeses, green beans, and tikka masala.

So our pairings included a triple crème cheese with mushrooms, almonds, hazelnuts, apricots, apricot compote, cottage cheese with pepper, green beans, mushroom risotto, tikka masala, chicken in a thai curry sauce and fettuccine with chicken and a crème sauce. It gave a wide variety of styles of food to pair with.

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This wine was full and warm on the palate with baked apples and warm apricots. It was lush with a viognier like quality. Golden in color it opened into white flowers and the stones of stone fruit.

It spiked the flavor in the hazelnuts, blended nicely with the cottage cheese and pepper and brightened the spice in the Tikka Masala without adding heat.

With the mushrooms it leaned into the depth of forest floor. My favorite bite was the triple crème with mushrooms with the apricot compote. This was glorious in my mouth.

This wine was exceptional. So much depth! While I enjoyed all the wines, this was my favorite.

Route-des-vinsd'Alsace

Route-des-vinsd’Alsace

House of Leon Beyer 2015 Pinot Noir

This wine is one of the oldest Alsatian family owned estates. Founded in 1580 this winery is now run by Marc Beyer and his son, who along with a team of 21 others farm 173 acres.

The soils are limestone and clay with grapes from vines that are 25 to 30 years old. This wine was fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks. It sits at 13%. $28.

This wine is light with warm berries and bright exotic spice. The nose reminded me of a savory strawberry tart with warm strawberries and rosemary and thyme.

I found this wine to be much more interesting when paired with food, than on it’s own.

Domaine Zinck Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV

Paul Zinck created the winery in 1964, it is now run by his son Philippe and Philippe’s wife Pascale.

This winery is also located in Eguisheim, with vineyards with soils of silk, chalk with clay-silt and volcanic ash.

This Non Vintage crémant is 100% Pinot Noir and sits at 12.5% alcohol. $25

The color on this wine is rich and warm as it also is on the palate.

Pairings for Both

Both of these wines we paired with a cheese and meat platter. We pulled up a variety of cheeses including a local cheddar from Utah coated in Earl Grey as well as prosciutto and sopresso, pistachios, pine nuts, sliced apples, apricots and salt and pepper popcorn.

Crémant d'Alsace & Pinot Noir from Alsace and a cheese platter

Crémant d’Alsace from Domaine Zinck and a Leon Beyer Pinot Noir paired with cheese, fruit, charcuterie and salt and pepper popcorn.

These two wines were lovely to enjoy on an afternoon with the pinot noir going nicely with the Earl Grey cheddar, the sopresso and the salt and pepper popcorn most especially. The crémant went well with everything and had a great depth of flavor.

All of these wines were exceptional values and provided flavors that were not quite “typical” for the varieties.

And remember I mentioned the hues?  The colors, the aromas, the flavors on the palate, they all brought a range of depth.  From the faintest color of straw in the Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, to the rich gold of the Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to the warm rich golden salmon tones of the Crémant d’Alsace from Zinck and into the vivid rich red of the Pinot Noir from Leon Beyer,  the range of expression in these wines was beautiful.  It was a trip through the seasons; spring with Pinot Blanc and the brightness that went so well with the spring vegetables in the frittata; summer with the warmer exotic flavors pairing with the vivid Pinot Gris, that brought in a little of humid lazy summer days with it’s brooding side; fall with the rich warm tones of the Crémant d’Alsace, which did really look like fall in the glass; and then the richer warmer red of the Pinot Noir for Winter, that still keeps things a little light, I picture snow sparkling in moonlight amidst the festive streets of Eguisheim.

These wines brought something a little extra. Perhaps it is the soils? I mean it is true that #AlsaceRocks

If you enjoyed this, and want to dig a little deeper into Alsace, please join our chat on Twitter We love visitors and happily chat and answer questions. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of great Alsace wine suggestions from our Winophiles

You can check out another piece we did “Dipping my toe in Crémant d’Alsace“.  And of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Dipping my toe in Crémant D’Alsace

Albrecht Crémant D'Alsace

Okay, not literally… Later this month the #Winophiles are exploring Alsace as the region celebrates #AlsaceRocks.  While we were waiting for the wines for our upcoming post to arrive, I picked up a crémant d’Alsace that was available locally to pair with a weekend dinner.  This is just my quick prep work, on June 16th the French Winophiles will get together on Twitter to discuss wines from this region.  I have a beautiful shipment of wines from Teuwen that we will taste through for the event.  So watch for that coming up and join us on Twitter on the 16th where you can follow #Alsace Rocks, #Winophiles, or #DrinkAlsace to converse about these great wines at 11 am EST! We will have a post, and over a dozen other wine writers will have posts on wines and pairings from this region.

Of the few crémants I found locally, I settled on an Albrecht Crémant  Brut Rosé Tradition.  I did a little research before heading out and this was one of the crémants that I was able to find some information about.  I hate getting home, popping a bottle of wine and then not being able to find any information on the wine, winemaker or where the grapes were grown.  So..we dive into the Albrecht Crémant.

Crémant

Real quick primer, in case you are unfamiliar with Crémant.  Crémant is a sparkling wine made in the methode champenois/methode traditionelle, but from outside the Champagne region.  You may only call a sparkling wine Champagne, if it comes from the Champagne region.  So…sparkling wines, made in the same method from other areas of France are called crémants.   This particular crémant is from the Alsace region in Northwest France.

Lucien Albrecht

This brand has some history.  Romanus Albrecht started this winery in 1425.  Yes, I did say 1425, this winery has been creating great wines for almost 600 years.  They began making crémant in the 1970’s and Lucien Albrecht and two others founded the regulated Crémant D’Alsace AOC which was approved in 1976.  Sadly in 2013 the company filed for bankruptcy, but was bought by the local cooperative Wolfberger, whose oenologist and Director of the Wolfberger Head Winemakers oversees the winemaking here now.

The Place

Orschwihr, Alsace, France

Orschwihr, Alsace, France

I love when I can get into the depth of where the grapes came from.  First, this is from the Alsace region which is in North East France along the border to Germany.  These grapes are estate grown in Orschwihr in the southern part of the Alsace Region known as the Haut-Rhin.  The village dates back at least to 728 and sits hidden in a valley between Bergholtz and Soultzmatt.  Originally known as Otalesvilare this village was controlled by the bishops of Strasbourg, Basel and Hapsburg in the 13th to 16th centuries.  The two hills that flank the village are known as Pfingstberg and Bollenberg. Bollenberg has Celtic heritage.  The name comes from the Celtic god of fire.  It is thought to have been a Celtic place of worship.  The climate on this hill leans toward Mediterranean due to the sunshine that has no hills or mountains nearby to block the light.  Other vineyards include Grand Cru Spiegel and Grand Cru Ollwiller.  I will admit, that I was unable to track down in which of these four vineyards this Pinot Noir was grown.  But the place is beautiful.

 

Crémant D’Alsace Rosé rules

All crémant D’Alsace rosé must be 100% pinot noir, by law, and beyond that, it cannot be “crémant by mistake”.  The vineyards that the winemakers are going to use for crémant rosé, must be determined by March of each year.  The juice must be lightly pressed and only the first 100 liters of juice from each batch of 150 kg of grapes can be used.

The Wine

This wine is 100% pinot noir free run juice.  Hand picked, whole clusters are lightly pressed with a pneumatic press and made in the methode traditionelle (like champagne).  They age on the lee for 14-16 months after the secondary fermentation in the bottle.

This wine sits at 12% alcohol, so you can easily share a bottle with a friend or spouse and not have it knock you over.  At $24.99 was more expensive than the other crémant d’Alsace that I found, but I felt it was worth it.

Pairing

Albrecht Crémant D'Alsace

Albrecht Tradition Crémant D’Alsace Reserve Rosé with cheeses, gnocchi and flatbread

We did a quick pairing with things that we had on hand.  This included a cheese platter with manchego and blue cheese, almonds, blackberries, apricots and an apricot compote.  I found a winning combination with the blue cheese, blackberries and the apricot compote (which is just honey and apricots cooked down).  The flavor explosion in my mouth was really wonderful, and then the bubbles of the crémant cleaned my palate making the next bite just as exciting.

Albrecht Crémant D'Alsace

Albrecht Tradition Crémant D’Alsace Reserve Rosé with gnocchi

We also did a flatbread with arugula and prosciutto and cauliflower gnocchi, that was browned in butter.  The crémant was lovely with everything.  It really is versatile for pairing.

We will be back to delve even deeper into Alsace with the French #Winophiles on June 16th!  So check back with us then for a new post on great wines from this region as we celebrate #AlsaceRocks.  You can check out more information on Alsace at @DrinkAlsace and join us on Saturday June 16th at 8 am Pacific time or 11 am Eastern Standard time (for the rest of the time zones, forgive me, but you must do the math), for a twitchat!  That morning take to twitter and you can follow us and join the conversation at #Winophiles or #DrinkAlsace or #Alsace Rocks!  We look forward to seeing you there.

And of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Sweet Potato Gnocchi paired with Alsace Riesling


When it comes to getting inspiration for a good meal there is no place better to go than the Farmers Market.   I am lucky enough to frequent the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market in Las Vegas, yes, Las Vegas and yes, Downtown.  This market is in the gorgeous old (well old in Vegas terms) Downtown Bus Station.  This is an all organic market with local farmers (yes…there are farms in Las Vegas!) as well as some from further north in the state as well as Kerry Clasby, The Intuitive Forager, who brings in gorgeous produce from small organic farms in California.  Kerry started coming to town to bring her amazing finds to the fine chefs all over our fair city.  Luckily, she started a Farmers Market so all of us foodies could get our hands on some of those fine ingredients.

With all the amazing things you can find at this market (micro greens, fresh eggs, maitake mushrooms, baby artichokes, sorrel, purple cauliflower….the list just goes on and on) sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to try to figure out what to get to make a meal.  Luckily Chef Stu is always there at the market and it ready with a recipe for anything you can find.  On this occasion he inspired me with a recipe for Sweet Potato Gnocchi with spring vegetables.  You can read our 4farm2mrkt blog post with the recipe here!

So of course I needed a wine to pair with this great gnocchi.  Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with and the sweet potato gnocchi added a twist that I wasn’t sure what to do with.  So I did some research.

I was leaning toward an Alsace Riesling or a Gruner Veltliner from Austria with back up plans of a Sancerre or Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley (as recommended by Food and Wine).

So we headed to Marché Bacchus, which is a wonderful little wine shop and bistro here in Las Vegas. They were very busy with lunch, but Jeff Wyatt, the owner was kind enough to take a couple of minutes to help me and make a recommendation. With the asparagus he recommended something with good acid but also a heavier viscosity and directed us to a Schieferkopf Riesling from Alsace. It was a perfect pairing.

Marché Bacchus French Bistro & Wine Shop

Marché Bacchus French Bistro & Wine Shop

The Riesling was a 2010 by M. Chapoutier who is better known for the wines he produces in the Rhone. He and 5 friends decided to try their hand at Alsace Rieslings in 2009, so this was only their 2nd vintage. This wine is biodynamic and the grapes are grown on one of the highest vineyards in Alsace. Schieferkopf means “slate topped”. They handpick and gently press this wine and mature it on lees for several months in traditional Foudres. The maturing on lees is evident in the viscosity. This wine is a deep golden color and you get that note of petrol on the nose. When you put it in your mouth it has charming acid. Charming? You say. Yep, that’s what I say. It’s acid that is tempered by the thickness of the wine which balances both beautifully.

So the acid was lovely cutting through the warmth of the gnocchi and pairing well with the spring vegetables, but then this extra viscosity in the wine wrapped everything up.  I think in the 4farm2mrkt post I waxed poetic on the gnocchi describing it: “Like the feel of a brisk spring morning wrapped in your favorite sweater”  Which is actually applicable to this wine also.

Did this post make you hungry and thirsty?  Well click on the video and see how to make it yourself!