Not everyone loves wine like I do. Even in my own house, my wife is not much of a wine drinker. She prefers mixed drinks “where you can’t taste the alcohol — at all.” I’ve tried everything: Champagne, rosés, fruity gamay and pinot noirbased reds, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, the list goes on.
And then, I poured her a pleasant white from Alsace in northeast France. It was like a revelation for Ms. Mai Tai. I think her reaction went something like: “Wow, I like this.”
She seemed surprised. I wasn’t. Every time I come across someone who is not a devout wine lover and ask them to try these wonderfully light and aromatic mostly pinot blanc-, Riesling- and gewürztraminer-based whites, I receive the same positive response. They may be the perfect wine for spring, period. The wines are supremely balanced for food, lower in alcohol (usually 12 percent or less) and easy to drink.
Alsace breaks many French wine conventions — namely that its wines are labeled by variety rather than region (though that is included as well) and that most of wines are white. This part of the country seems more German than French, tucked against the northwest border and the Rhine River near Strasbourg, and is reflected in its wine style and spirit. Alsace speaks of fun and food. Insert images of alpine meadows, picnics and chilled bottles of some of the most delicious wines you’ve ever tasted.
That’s why for spring, before temps jump into triple digits and we’re still frequently eating outside, you need to add a few bottles from Alsace into your basket. One top name from the region is Hugel & Fils. You can find these wines at top bottle shops and places like Cost Plus. More than a dozen generations (since 1639) have run this legendary operation. They specialize in gewürztraminer- and pinot blanc-based wines that are delicious and consistent year in and year out.
After Hugel & Fils, F.E. Trimbach is probably the best-known name coming from Alsace. They produce luscious Riesling-based wines in addition to gewürz and pinot blanc wines. These two producers exemplify the style of wines from Alsace, and they are as widely available as some of the betterknown French regions.
You almost can’t discuss Alsace without mentioning Germany. The Rieslings of this neighboring country are coveted the world over. And not the cloying sweet stuff many envision, but lovely, fragrant, foodfriendly wines that also work this time of year. Reading the labels are a challenge, but worth the effort. Look for “Trocken” for a drier style, or “Spatlese Trocken” or “Auslese Trocken” for wines that are higher in alcohol but lower in residual sweetness.
My preference among German wines is those of the Rheingau (Rhine) and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer regions. Consistency runs high, and many wines are made in the more modern trocken style. Von Schubert is a top name from the Mosel region. From the Rhine, consider Schloss Johannisberg. If not in stock at AJ’s Fine Foods, the wine wonks there can order them.
Sample one of these beautiful wines or, again, those of Alsace, the next time you have friends or family over for Sunday brunch, and soak up spring in a glass.
I know, I’ve been neglecting chardonnay as of late. Well, I just encountered the 2004 Chardonnay from Buena Vista Carneros, and am happy to report that the wines and vines of this respected Carneros-Napa-area producer are in good shape. I thoroughly enjoyed the bright freshness of the green apple, pear and lemon-cream fruit and subtle vanilla spice that comes from 100 percent barrel fermenting. Could go with food, but I prefer to sip it on its own. $19.