My first memories of Alsace? A confusing little strip of land that the Germans and the French kept fighting over. Somehow the grade-school history lesson never quite resolved itself, as I had lingering uncertainty for many years about which country this beautiful little wine region had ended up in. But many years later, I got my first taste of the wines of Alsace and I started to pay a lot more attention to this unique wine region in northeast France. Subsequently, I have fallen in love with the region through its wines, and I harbor deep seated fantasies of a vacation tramping through the vineyards I have come to know through photos and names on bottles.
Alsace has always been an odd duck of a winegrowing region. It is the only region in France that not only allows, but mandates that the name of the grape variety appear on the label (though there are exceptions). It happens to grow grapes more associated with Germany and Northern Italy than with the rest of France (most notably Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris), and perhaps by virtue of its occasionally Germanic past, produces more beer than any other winegrowing region in the country.
While France's most famous grapes, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon are widely planted around the globe, the traditional grape varieties from Alsace are much more limited in their plantings. But thanks to a recommendation from the U.C. Davis school of viticulture to a few enterprising vintners like Donald Edmeades, Tony Husch, and Ted Bennet, the Anderson Valley has for more than three decades been home to a number of wines made in the style of Alsace.
Largely off the radar of most wine consumers, and certainly eclipsed in popularity by the much more famous Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, these Alsace-style wines have a devoted following among both vintners and consumers, many of whom come together every year for the International Alsace Varietals Festival held in downtown Boonville.
Up until recently, the festival was held on a weekend that conflicted with a prior commitment. But this year my luck changed, and it was held a week earlier. I was therefore delighted to make the trek up to the valley to participate in the festival and taste the wines of both the winemakers of Anderson Valley, as well as the few winemakers who made their way from Alsace to participate.
Small and relaxed, the festival is a great way to spend an afternoon. Here's what I tasted:
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
2007 Domaine Charles Baur Gewürztraminer, Grand Cru Pfersigberg
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of rose petals and orange blossom water. In the mouth the wine is incredibly silkily and balanced with flavors of rose petals, orange blossom water, wet stones and an incredible long finish. Outstanding. $22. Click to buy.
2004 Domaine Weinbach Theo Gewürztraminer, Alsace
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells incredibly and intensely of rose petals, dried mango, and canned pears in syrup. In the mouth, it is a mysterious intense concoction of pears in syrup, white flowers, orange peels and mandarin zest. Notes of honeysuckle drift across a delicate, silky, even gauzy aspect. Mostly dry, but with a tiny hint of sweetness. Phenomenal. $40. Click to buy.
2008 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Laurence Gewürztraminer, Alsace
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells like some intense distillation of orange blossom water and hints of candied orange peel. In the mouth it offers electric flavors of candied orange peel, and mandarines in syrup, that bounce back and forth between fruit and a crystalline minerality that tinkles like icicles on a sunny day. The wine conveys an overwhelming quality of clarity and purity. Distinctly off-dry, the flavors linger forever in the mouth. $50. Click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2008 Domaine Weinbach Theo Riesling, Alsace
Palest greenish to near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of exotic citrus, lime and floral aromas. In the mouth the wine is incredibly bright and juicy, bursting with lime and pink grapefruit flavors skating on a hard mineral backbone. Long finish. $26. Click to buy.
2008 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee St. Catherine Riesling, Alsace
Light gold in color, this wine has an intense nose of minerals and citrus peel across which ethereal aromas of white flowers float. In the mouth the wine is neon bright with crazy intense flavors of wet stones, floral notes, and a bowl full of exotic citrus peelings. Wow. $45. Click to buy.
2008 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee St. Catherine Pinot Gris, Alsace
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of honeysuckle, mineral, and mixed citrus peels. In the mouth it is nothing short of gorgeous. Bright flavors explode on the palate -- floral, pear, and lychee fruit all course across the palate in a smooth fine balanced performance. Wow. $50. Click to buy.
1997 Husch Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley
Dark gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel, caramel, and honey. In the mouth, the wine offers gorgeous shifting flavors that seem to swirl and change with every taste. Bright orange peel, honey, butterscotch, mango pineapple, even chocolate, make an appearance as the wine lingers on the palate for minutes. Outstanding.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2007 Domaine Weinbach Reserve Personelle Riesling, Alsace
Pale gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of wet stone, lychee, pear, and citrus aromas. In the mouth the wine is silky and smooth with citrus juice, orange blossom, wet stones and lychee flavors. $20.
2006 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee St. Catherine Pinot Gris, Alsace
Yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of beeswax, pear, and a floral quality that I can only describe as "yellow flowers." In the mouth it offers waxy but juicy pear flavors mixed with wonderfully bright wet stone flavors and again with that odd yellow flower quality that is quite striking. $50. Click to buy.
2008 Domaine Weinbach Reserve Personelle Riesling, Alsace
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of bright citrus zest. In the mouth, bright stony flavors mix with mixed citrus peels and bright mandarine fruit. Excellent acidity. $21. Click to buy.
2006 Domaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling, Alsace Grand Cru
Greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and paraffin, with a hint of petrol. In the mouth a wonderful piney, bright lemon and petrol quality begins the conversation, and then a cooler star fruit and lemon quality carries it away on the palate. Delicious and distinctive. $34. Click to buy.
2009 Foursight Wines Dry Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine has a somewhat unusual nose of apple and pear aromas that are eventually joined by the classic rose petals scent of the variety. In the mouth the wine offers flavors of orange peel, rose petals, and a very crisp, clean mineral quality that makes it quite refreshing. $20.
2009 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker White Blend, Anderson Valley
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine has a wonderful nose of bright floral, rose, and citrus aromas. In the mouth, juicy, pear, citrus, and floral qualities dance on the palate with fantastic balance and poise. A blend of Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat. $13. Click to buy.
2006 Navarro Vineyards Cluster Select Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley
Bright gold in the glass this wine has an incredible candied lemon and orange peel aroma. In the mouth, intensely sweet and silky nectar of dried mango and pineapple linger for a long time on the palate. Excellent acidity keeps the wine from turning towards the syrupy. $59. Click to buy.
2004 Domaine Weinbach Theo Riesling, Alsace
Greenish gold in the glass, this wine has a remarkable nose of wet stones, wet leaves and candied lemon. In the mouth, an intense minerality pervades the wine, as if it was drippings off the roof of a limestone cavern gathered into a bottle, and then scented with lemon zest and white flowers. Excellent. $??.
2006 Navarro Vineyards Cluster Select Riesling, Anderson Valley
Bright gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey, lychees, and papaya. In the mouth, bright tropical papaya, pineapple, and dried mango flavors linger in long sweet finish. Very sweet, and perhaps not enough acidity to fully carry the sugar, but excellent nonetheless. $59. Click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2008 Brooks Muscat, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells somewhat surprisingly of ripe peaches. In the mouth, bright juicy flavors of orange peel mix interestingly with flavors of star fruit, cucumber and wet stones. $18.
2008 Brooks Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of bright lemon zest and minerals. In the mouth lemon zest flavors dominate with notes of white flowers. Bright wet stone flavors linger on the finish, along with orange peel aromas. $18.
2008 Domaine Charles Baur Pinot Blanc, Alsace
Pale green gold in the glass, this wine smells of unripe pears apples. In the mouth it offers silky soft textured flavors of apple, pear, and honeysuckle. Nicely balanced. $14.
2008 Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Blanc, Alsace
Pale green gold in color, this wine has a nose of wet stone and white floral aromas. In the mouth, the wine offers stony lemon flavors that have a quartz quality to them. Bright and crisp. $15.
2009 Hermann J. Weimer Reserve Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of crisp lime and wet stones aromas. In the mouth intense mineral, lime, and green apple flavors linger with citrus zest in the finish. Dead ringer for a German Riesling. $27.
1993 Husch Cellars Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley
Light amber in color, this wine smells of charred orange peel and paraffin. In the mouth the wine offers unusual flavors of coffee, candied orange peel, apricot, and honey. Long finish. Perhaps lacking some of the acidity that would make it more exciting, but still quite tasty. $??.
2009 Navarro Vineyards Late-Harvest Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of sweet orange peel and honeysuckle. In the mouth, flavors of honeysuckle, rosewater, and candied orange peel swirl in a medium sweet body that lingers for some time on the finish. $19.
2009 Navarro Vineyards Muscat Blanc, Anderson Valley
Near colorless in the glass this wine smells of roses and apples. In the mouth waxy flavors of orange peel and pink grapefruit linger in a nice finish. Good acidity. $19.
2009 Navarro Vineyards Riesling, Anderson Valley
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of stony lemon and grapefruit. In the mouth tart pomelo, and wet stones, eventually dance through a bright long lemon zest finish with grapefruit pith aftermath. Excellent. $19.
2008 Tatomer Kickon Ranch Riesling, Santa Barbara
Pale green gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of lime zest and wet stones. In the mouth bright mineral, lime, lemongrass flavors linger in a long, bright, clean finish. $30.
2009 Tatomer Vandenberg Riesling, Santa Barbara
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of lemon zest and flora aromas. In the mouth the wine is bright with green apple and white flowers. A nice mineral undertone with a hint of sweetness lingers on the finish. Lovely. $??.
2009 Tatomer Kickon Ranch Riesling, Santa Barbara
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine has a nose of wet stones and floral aromas. In the mouth silky, even creamy textured flavors of apple, cucumber, and lemon zest linger for some time. $??.
2009 Lawson's Dry Hills Gewürztraminer, Marlborough, New Zealand. $??.
2007 Spy Valley Gewürztraminer, Marlborough, New Zealand. $??.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Brooks Ara Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of beeswax and peach skin. In the mouth a wonderful silky texture marries with flavors of mandarin orange, lemon zest. A long slightly waxy lemon zest finish. $25.
2009 Husch Cellars T-Bud Dry Cuvee Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley
Pale gold in the glass, this wine offers a classic nose of rose petal and orange peel aromas. In the mouth the wine offers flavors of wet stones, a waxy quality, and bright pink grapefruit. $16.
2009 Navarro Vineyards Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley
Pale greenish gold in glass, this wine has a nose of orange peel and rose petals. In the mouth, bright flavors of orange peel, mineral, rosewater swirl in a nice concoction. $19.
2009 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine has a slightly shy nose which eventually yields a bit of pear and wet stone aromas. In the mouth bright minerality sits under flavors of unripe pear and crisp apples with hints of flowers. $19.
2008 Tatomer Vandenberg Ranch Riesling, Santa Barbara
Pale green gold in the glass, this wine smells of lime zest and lemons. In the mouth bright lemon and intense wet stones linger in a crisp package that is quite refreshing. $25.
2007 Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Riesling, Alsace $23.
2008 Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley. $24.
2009 Domaine Charles Baur Riesling, Alsace. $14.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2009 Husch Cellars Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley. $14.
2009 Husch Cellars Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley. $20.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2009 La Rochelle Winery Pinot Gris, Arroyo seco. $26.
2009 Phillips Hill Estates Valley Foothills Vineyard Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley. $??.
2009 Philo Ridge Vineyards Klindt Vineyard Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley. $19.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2009 Alderbrook Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley. $20.
2008 Lazy Creek Vineyards Riesling, Anderson Valley. $22.
2009 Philo Ridge Vineyards Marguerite Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley. $21.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2009 La Rochelle Winery Pinot Blanc, Arroyo Seco. $24.
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