Friday, May 2, 2008

An Introduction to Alsacian Whites

Recently I have been spending my time exploring many and sundry mixed drinks. Most of these have been posted, and there are a few more coming in a later post (found a great one the night before last night called a "New York, New York" - it is a derivative of a Manhattan and really good). But one of the things I have not been talking about is wine.

This may not be a thrilling topic to many in my audience - most of you probably know enough about wine to know your own preferences (and you don't need me butting in!), but wine is one of my passions so I am afraid I will subject you to my ramblings anyway.

Late last year, Neen and I went to a fabulous Bed and Breakfast in the Shenandoah Valley called Joshua Wilton House. This wonderful little Inn has a great restaurant on the ground floor, and then five delectably cute little rooms on the second floor. The staff is extremely polite and attentive, and the food at the restaurant is fantastic. They get a large portion of their food from Polyface Farm, which many people have heard about when reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma. What that means is that their basic ingredients are fantastic, and their chef does a wonderful job of enhancing the natural flavors without overshadowing them. We stayed there two nights, and we ate at the restaurant both nights (after the first night we felt it was necessary).

But the real reason I am talking about all of this, is that they also have a great wine list. A really, really great wine list. It is not the biggest collection you will ever see, but the bottles are very well selected and the sommelier (whose name is escaping me) selected two knock-out pairings for our two evenings with him. The second one of these was a real shock to me. An Alsacian white that didn't burn the top layer of my tongue off from the acidity.

To explain why this is shocking to me takes just a little bit of an explanation, so please indulge me for a moment. When Neen and I were backpacking around Europe the summer of 2006, we wound up in Alsace during a small town's wine-fest. Of course we made time to go see it - it was a blast, I loved tasting the differences among producers all from the same region. And, of course, since we were walking around with a notebook and asking questions about the wines, nobody charged us for the pleasure of tasting their wine. It was a lot of fun. One of the things I learned, though, was to be scared of Alsacian wine. Why? Because I was tasting their Rieslings, and my tongue had long been trained on German Riesling, which is a different ball game. Completely different. The Alsacian wines were very acidic, and so the only way to make them enjoyable was to age them long enough to tone the acidity down. That meant sweet wines (since these are the wines that they were selling already aged). So, for me, an Alsacian wine had a chance of being good if it was old enough, but a young Alsacian - well, I'm chemist, if I want hydrochloric acid to drink, I can get in lab. It's much cheaper.

So when I said to this Joshua Wilton Sommelier, "I trust you, you should pick," and he comes back with an Alsacian white, my gut falls to the floor and I just want to crawl into a corner and hide. I take a first sip and suddenly the sky opens and an angel descends. Okay, so maybe not. But it was a fabulous sip - the wine, a Marcel Deiss Pinot Blanc, was everything you could ask for. It has an off-sweet body with lots of fruit and enough acidity to give it structure. It was a perfect balance between the sophistication that keeps the mind engaged by a wine and the unadulterated pleasure that keeps the tongue wanting more. The label is still in my notebook.

So earlier this week I opened another of Marcel Deiss's wines. This time a Riesling. I know, after the long description of the horrors of the Alsacian Riesling, I went back to it. I had to try. And I am glad I did. The Riesling was another home-run success for this vintner. Again it showed the fruit of the Riesling, but gave it a sharp, slightly acidic accompaniment that really helped the wine keep me mentally engaged and give it enough body to pair against the food. (I will post about this meal later, because the Poulet Basquaise was a great dish in its own right and the pairing worked really well for me).

If you haven't tried it before I highly recommend something produced by Marcel Deiss. They are more expensive than I will usually pay for a white, but they are wines worth trying at least once (and great for an occasion)!


giz said...

Do - you can be the sommalier. I used to date a man who today is one of the foremost wine efficionados in the world and has written many books - and for me, sadly, there are two types of wine - red and white (oh and Manischewitz for holidays and pancakes)

giz said...

Oh...I forgot to mention - how could I do that especially since it's important:

Psyhgrad and I have awarded you the Arte y Pico award. Check out Equal Opportunity Kitchen at for details

katiez said...

We spent a week in Alsace just before Christmas and we met some lovely white wine....

Johanna said...

I am not a great wine buff but did enjoy the way you wrote about this - and was curious about your comment about being a chemist and wondered if this helped you appreciate and write on wine better???