The Complex Pinot Gris Wines of Alsace

Day three of the Wine Bloggers Conference and I just attended a great seminar on the wines of Alsace. I chose this tasting panel because I normally drink big California reds and I wanted to branch out and try something completely different from an area that I knew nothing about. Never in a million years would I have guessed that after tasting a trio of Pinot Gris from France would I almost instantly fall in love!

Alsace is located in northeastern France and is sheltered by the Vosges Mountains. With a low risk of rot and disease, winemakers seize the opportunity to produce highly aromatic, expressive wines with minimal intervention — and the results, at least based on the trio of wines I tried today, are astounding.

On the tasting menu were three very different white wines from the region. First up was the Timbach Pinot Gris 2014, a super dry wine with a lovely mineral nose of floral stone fruit. For those wine geeks into the technical aspects, this wine has a 6.3 g/l acidity, 5.4 g/l residual sugar, and 13.5% alcohol with an astonishingly affordable bottle price of $26.

Next was a wine that changed my life. Not only was it my favorite of the three, but it was one of the very best wines I have ever had, period. It was the Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain 2012. The alluring and graceful nose featured sweet tropical honey notes and the wine itself had a full body and drank like a glass of velvet. This wine has a 3.4 g/l acidity, 38 g/l residual sugar, and 14.5% alcohol with a $90 retail price.

The final wine tasted was the Albert Mann Pinot Gris Altenbourg le Tri Selection des Grains Nobles 2007. I was first blown away by the gorgeous deep golden color of the wine and the fact that this was a decade old vintage. This late harvest wine would be perfect as an after dinner tipple, with its marvelous nose of honeycomb and a flavor that was reminiscent of tropical fruit syrup. This wine has a 102 g/l acidity, 237 g/l residual sugar, and 9.5% alcohol, with a retail price of $115.

Alsace has the most diverse terroir in France (with 13 distinct soil types) and is also the second driest region in the country, two factors that slow the ripening of the grapes. This in turn makes the wines produced have common characteristics like lovely aromatics, an astonishing complexity, and solid structure. White wine is the superstar of the region (about 90% of the wines produced here are white and nearly 16% of Alsace’s vineyards are devoted to the beloved Pinot Gris), and these are sturdy whites that can age well for 20 to 30 years.

The region labels its wines by variety and each wine must contain 100% of the specified grape. Even better is that a commendable 15% of the vineyards in the region are organic or biodynamic. Suggested food pairings for these earthy and powerful Pinot Gris wines are mushrooms, bacon, and pork.

While the Zind-Humbrecht was hands down my favorite, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed all three of these wines. This seminar has encouraged me to seek out more wines from Alsace and I hope you will too.



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