Awesome Alsace; ON THE BOTTLE HELEN SAVAGE.
Part of the problem is that they don't seem very French.
By law they must be sold in a 'flute' - to all intents and purposes a tall, thin German-style bottle. The names on the labels all sound German too and the most popular Alsace grape variety is Riesling.
-A bigger problem is that we aren't prepared to pay enough in order to get the better wines. Those that do find their way to our supermarkets tend to be the simple, entry-level wines.
Great Alsace wines are all about balance. They are fruity, but intense and complex and if a Riesling has high natural acidity, growers will soften this by leaving a little sugar in the wine and believe that it's all the better for it.
sweetness In most instances this hint of sweetness is barely perceptible, but wine critics who like labels to be explicit get very aerated by Alsace grower's stubbornness to say whether their wines are dry or not.
stubbornness But the same critics are often more sanguine about a touch of sweetness in Gewurztraminer Alsace's most immediately recognisable wine style simply because it tastes so inimitably good.
If you remain to be convinced, bottle head straight to Morrisons and grab a bottle of Rieffel, 'Gesetz' Gewurztraminer 2011. It's not cheap at PS15.99, but this gem of a wine, made by one of my favourite growers, has a typically spicy aroma of banana and lychee and an astonishingly mouth-filling flavour of pithy grapefruit, exotic fruits and yet more spice. No other country in the world can turn out Gewurz as good as this.
It has a satisfyingly dry finish and I doubt you'll care a hoot that it's technically medium sweet.
If you get turned on to great Alsace Gewurz, I urge to you to invest in a bottle of edeederic Mochel's Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergbieten 2009 (PS22 from the Wine Society).
Gewurztraminer dimension It's less opulent than the Rief-Rieffel wine, but has an extra dimension of elegance and persistence. Again, the message is all about exquisite balance.
energetic Both these producers are small family-run affairs, in which a young, energetic generation of winemakers are raising the quality of Alsace wine to new heights.
I'm full of admiration for Lucas Rieffel and Guillaume Mochel.
Both are hugely gifted. Another stellar producer is Zind-Humbrecht. led by Master of Wine Olivier Zind-Humbrecht, who's quite prepared to break with tradition if it's a way of making better wine. His 'Zind' for example, is not allowed to be sold under the official Alsace appellation because it contains a high percentage of Chardonnay, normally only found in the region's excellent sparkling wines.
appellation percentage The 2011 is also available from the Wine Society PS14.50 and is worth every penny.
merchant Most Alsace wine exported to us comes from bigger concerns, merchant houses and co-operatives. If these rarely make wine of quite the same individuality of the better small growers, they are supremely consistent.
merchant You won't find a bad bottle. One of the very best traditional merchant houses is Trimbach. Try their very elegant, refined Reserve Pinot Gris 2011, PS18.99 from Carruthers & Kent who also stock an exemplary 2012 Riesling from the Co-operative at Hunawihr, just PS11.99, which is anything but bog-standard.
Hunawihr, It has lovely fresh citrusy flavours and yes, just the faintest hint of sugar to balance it.
It remains in every meaningful sense a dry wine that like so many Alsace wines truly comes into its own as a partner for food.
Mittelbergheim outside Domaine Rieffel