By TOM MARQUARDT and PATRICK DARR
Alsace is an underappreciated grape growing region in France producing wines that reflect the geopolitical upheaval of the past 150 years. The region is located in the northeastern area of France, hard against the Rhine River that defines the border with Germany. Protected from the west by the Vosges Mountains, Alsace offers a semi-continental climate with summers that are remarkably dry.
We recently met with Christian Beyer owner of Emile Beyer wines, a company that has been in his family for 14 generations. Christian explained 20th century politics in Alsace by telling us that his elderly grandmother, a lifelong Alsatian resident who recently passed away, was “born German, became French, then German, and died French.’
The predominance of German grape varieties grown in the region reflects this turmoil, but French winemaking turns these grapes into unique, food-friendly wines.
Emile Beyer is a relatively small producer — about 20,000 cases per year — in a region that, according to Beyer, was “where the Romans first bought wine culture to France”. All of the domaine wines are currently organic assisted by the very dry conditions during the grape growing season, using only organic copper and sulphur to combat mildew pressure in the vineyards. Beyer believes that the chalk soil predominant in the region is one of the main elements that define the style of wines produced in the region.
Ninety-eight percent of wines from Alsace are white, allowing for a small amount of pinot noir to be produced. The most common varieties planted are riesling, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris. Wines from Alsace are noted for their food affinity with the local cuisine, which includes both French and German elements. In addition, Christian commented that “gewürztraminer would go well with Thai, Tex-Mex, Chinese and Indian foods”.
In tasting Emile Beyer’s wines we were impressed by their freshness and purity as well as a complexity that is not always present in white wines. Following are our favorite wines from our tasting:
Domaine Emile Beyer Gewurztraminer “Tradition” Alsace 2012 ($24). Gewürztraminer is the last grape picked in Alsace in late October to early November exhibiting a dark pink skin color, although it makes a white wine. This example shows the classic nose and flavors of lychee and spice that is a favorite.
Emile Beyer “Hohrain” Lieu Dit Pinot Gris Alsace 2010 ($50). Very rich and round in the mouth with some peach notes in the nose and mouth. Just a hint of sweetness that is balanced with appropriate acidity.
Emile Beyer Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg Alsace 2010($60). This is a very nice wine with ripe fruit and a whiff of petrol in the nose. This wine exhibits three distinct phases in the mouth: Peach and citrus fruit at first then a mineral streak emerges, and finally a creamy finish. This is a terrific wine that can age 15-20 years according to Christian but offers a great tasting experience now.
Emile Beyer Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg Alsace 2011 ($60). Drink this beauty as a dessert wine by itself or with a crème caramel or fruit tart. Very rich and round in the mouth with ripe fruit flavors. Complex and satisfying. Delicious.
The California wine market has much to brag about this year. Sales are up, more vineyards have been planted, more wines are being exported and profits are increasing.
According to figures from the Wine Institute, wine sales have increased 3 percent by volume last year. And it wasn’t just cheap wine the drove more sales. The premium market — wines that are priced at $10 and above — rose 9 percent in volume. This is an important number because the more expensive wines account for nearly half of winery revenues, according to the Winery Institute.
Chardonnay remains the most popular wine with a 20-percent share of the market. The others are cabernet sauvignon (13 percent), merlot (9 percent), red blends/sweet reds (9 percent), pinot grigio (9 percent), moscato (6 percent), white zinfandel (5 percent), pinot noir (4 percent) and sauvignon banc (4 percent).
It blows our mind that there is more white zinfandel than pinot noir sold, but we suspect the higher cost of pinot noir and its lower supplies are to blame.
Hardys Nottage Hill Shiraz 2012 ($13). Here’s a juicy and ultra-ripe Australian shiraz. Full of blueberry and cherry flavors with the classic hints of anise and chocolate.
Cuvaison Carneros Pinot Noir 2012 ($38). This is a very nice rendition of a Carneros pinot noir. Cooled by morning fogs from San Pablo Bay, Carneros is home to many pinot noir producers. Soft mouthfeel with bright raspberry and black cherry flavors with a healthy dose of spice.
Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($22). Reasonably priced, this elegant chardonnay sports tropical fruit notes with a citrus-like nose and broad, luscious flavors.