A land forgotten by time, Alsace enchants of fairy tales and days gone by. My June visit exposed me to quaint villages filled with houses lined with window boxes and storks nesting atop buildings. A colorful blend of German and French culture, Alsace delights all who visit. Imagine how this magical place awakens at Christmas.
The Capital of Christmas
Claiming to be home to the first Christmas market in 1570, Strasbourg, as decreed by Deputy Mayor Jean-Jacques Gsell, became the Capital of Christmas in 1992. Millions of tourists make the annual pilgrimage to Strasbourg to visit one of the region’s greatest Christmas markets, Christkindelsmärik, or Marché de Noël in French. According to the Strasbourg web site, “The markets are about reconnecting the festive period with spiritual beliefs and culture. Christmas traditions are deeply rooted in Alsatian culture, especially in the countryside.” Imagining the story-book villages decked out in the Christmas spirit is almost more than I can stand!
Lying quietly between Strasbourg and Colmar, Sélestat is recognized as home to the first Sapin de Noël, also known as a Christmas tree. According to documents housed in the Bibliothèque Humaniste of Sélestat, the first Christmas tree was mentioned in 1521. A “tree of life” was decorated with fruit symbolizing temptation and redemption.
Alsatian gastronomical traditions come alive during the holiday season. Vin Chaud, mulled wine, is a spicy, citrus Christmas tradition that originated in France, and served in abundance in Christmas markets.
An array of baked goods are celebrated in Alsace during the holidays. The Christolle, a Christmas brioche filled with cream and candied fruits, Mannele, buttered brioche shaped as a man eaten on December 6 – St. Nicholas Day, and Gingerbread cookies decorated with Alsatian motifs are timeless traditions.
Beloved by Alsatians year-round, Kugelhopf is synonymous with Alsatian Christmas. A spongy brioche-style cake containing candied fruit, orange zest, almonds, and dusted with confectioner’s sugar- whether morning, mid-day, or after-dinner dessert, it is a treat. I enjoyed a slice of Kugelhopf on a late afternoon in June, with a glass of Selection de Grains Nobles Riesling, a high-quality wine sweet wine made from noble rot.
Alsatians celebrate the holidays with lots of food. Foie gras, cooked goose stuffed with apples and chestnuts, Choucroute Garni, and Spätzle, which pairs seamlessly with Riesling, one of Alsace’s prominent wines.
Domaine Paul Blanck has been crafting high quality Alsatian wines for over four generations. Best known for their terroir-driven Grand Cru wines, Blanck pays the same attention to all wines in their portfolio.
“Wines find their expression in three origins: the soil that gives it its style, the climate that gives it its shape and man who through his work in the vineyard, in the cellar and in the bottle give it spirit and balance.” ~ Jacques Puisais, famous oenologist.
2017 Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling Rosenbourg Alsace France ($24): bright citrus, stone fruit, minerality, salinity, dry, mouth-watering acidity, refreshing and elegant, and a perfect pairing with traditional Alsatian cuisine.
Explore More French Holiday Traditions by reading my fellow #Winophile articles:
Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares how to “Give a Little Touche Française to Your Holiday #Winophiles“.
It’s the holiday season. Got wine? In my Forbes latest, I solve all your holiday wine needs – gifts ranging from your boss to a Secret Santa, hosting or attending a party, making a fancy dinner or family pizza night, I’ve got you covered. Bookmark this article and use it at your favorite wine retailer for must have wines this holiday season.
Thank you, as always, for clicking through to Forbes and reading this article. I hope it helped guide you through your holiday wine needs. Please drop me a comment and let me know what you think. Have a joy-filled holiday season!
Our Wine Pairing Weekend group is closing out 2018 with a look at German wines. I am thrilled because to use this opportunity to share with you some of the fabulous food and wine pairings I enjoyed while visiting Pfalz this summer.
As explained in my Snooth article, “This Must-Visit Wine Region Is Full of Surprises,” I expected my week in Pfalz to be filled with Riesling, sausage, and sour krat. I was wrong. I cannot speak of all of Germany, but Pfalz is a dynamic region with fantastic food and a variety of wine.
German Wine Styles and Classification
Overall, German wines seem less familiar to the United States consumer than other European countries. To be sure, the labels are hard to decipher and their wine classification boggles the mind. Here is a breakdown of German wine styles and regions.
The dry styles are often labeled Qualitatswein. These wines range from light and fruit to rich and concentrated. The best quality are labeled Grosses Gewachs (GG), as indicated by a bunch of grapes and the letters GG embossed on the neck of the bottle.
Conversely, nearly all wines labeled Pradikatsweine will contain some residual sugar; however, some may be made in a dry style. Here is a brief break down of the styles:
Kabinett: most delicate; Rieslings made in this style will have light body, high acidity, green apple and citrus balanced with residual sugar (RS); sweeter styles will range in alcohol between 8-9%; whereas the dryer styles will reach 12% ABV.
Spatlese: Made the same way as Kabinett, but more concentrated, riper, and with more body and alcohol; citrus and stone fruit notes dominate.
Auslese: Individually selected grape bunches; richer and riper than the previous two styles in both dry and sweet expressions; noble rot can play a part in the flavors of these wines; last category where the wines may be dry.
Beernauslese (BA): Combination of late harvest vine dried grapes and grapes affected by botrytis; sweet wines, not made every year; low alcohol percentage, honey, dried stone fruit, candied fruit peel, and flowers.
Trockenbeernauslese (TBA): To reach the minimum must weight these wines are made exclusively made from botrytis; same flavors of BA; not made every year; rank among the best sweet wines in the world.
Eiswein: Rare; varietal purity is the key eliminating the need for botrytis grapes; healthy grapes are left hanging on the vines until winter where they freeze, concentrating the sugars and resulting in a sweet wine balanced with acidity and sugars.
Nahe: a wide area between the Mosel and Rheinhessen, with the best vineyards located on the banks of the Nahe River. Riesling is the most widely planted grape here; the slightly warmer climate results in Riesling with pronounced acidity and slightly riper fruit characters.
Rheingau: Small but prestigious wine region with its best vineyards located on the north bank of the slopes of the Rhine River. Riesling dominates here with the most prominent style being dry, with medium to full body, and ripe peach characteristics. The Rhine River creates humid conditions that lead to some of the highest quality BA and TBA being produced here.
Rheinhessen: Germany’s largest vine growing region; Riesling and Muller-Thurgau are the two most planted grape varieties; within Rheinhessen, the area known as Rheinterrasse is known for producing some of Germany’s fullest-bodied Rieslings; it is also an area gaining a reputation for modern innovation.
Pfalz: Germany’s second largest wine growing region. It is largely seen as a continuation of Alsace since it lies just east of the French border. It is the driest of the German wine regions. Riesling dominates and has a long reputation for high quality wines. As in Rheinhessen, young winemakers making a name for their innovation and quality. Most of the wines made here are dry.
Baden: This is the warmest and most southerly wine region in Germany. As a result it produces the most full-bodied wines with the highest alcohol. The vineyards are spread over a large geographical area. Spatsburgunder (Pinot Noir) is the most widely planted variety here and has top quality reputation.
Franken: This region is dominated by white wine making but it is not Riesling. Silvaner is the grape of choice in Franken. Here it is able to achieve a concentration not found in the rest of Germany.
Mosel: This regions stretches narrowly from the French, Luxembourg borders to the Rhine River. Riesling dominates. Production is concentrated in the center of the region, known as the Middle Mosel. The best vineyards are found on very steep slopes next to the river with slate soils. Rieslings here are light in body and low in alcohol but comparatively high in acidity. Flavors of green fruits and floral notes are characteristic.
Best known as the home to Riesling, Germany also produces lovely wines from Dornfelder, Müller-Thurgau, Spätburgunder, Grauburgunder, Portugieser, Weißburgunder, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, as well as international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Okay, enough with the jargon, on to the food and wine pairings. Here is a collage of the many wonderful meals I enjoyed in Pfalz. You’ll notice there are many wines other than Riesling and a wide variety of food, including salad.
I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful wine dinner featuring Domaine Leflaive, producer of some of the greatest white wines in the world. I share my experience, along with a brief dive into Puligny-Montrachet, in my latest Snooth article.
Please take a moment to read and let me know the best white wine you have ever enjoyed.
Bordeaux, home to some of the world’s most prized red wines, has a lighter side – gold. Long held as a dessert wine, today golden Bordeaux embraces its savory side. Imagine a meal of raw oysters, lobster ravioli, and crème brulee all served with golden Bordeaux wines. This is an ultimate dining experience.
Twenty miles south from Bordeaux City lies Sauternes and Barsac, two regions that traverse both sides of the Garrone River. It is here the misty river fog provides ideal conditions for a necrotrophic fungus called Botrytis cinerea to thrive on the grapes, the same gray rot found on strawberries or other fruits. In these regions, Botrytis cinerea, aka noble rot, is imperative to the production process.
Comprised of airborne spores that enmesh with the grapes in their flowering stage, the fungus lies dormant within the grape until the grape begins to ripen and its sugar level increases. At this point botrytis wakes up, forming a crust on the skin of the grapes in the fall when the cool, humid, foggy mornings give way to warm, dry afternoons. The grapes are then given an extended hang time, allowing them to over-ripen with the effects of the noble rot, resulting in decreased acidity and increased sugar levels, while the grapes becoming shriveled, concentrated, raisin-like clusters on the vine.
The effects are not uniform, taking months of meticulous hand-selecting individual grapes by highly skilled workers, picking each grape once it is perfectly concentrated, well after the rest of the Bordeaux grapes have been harvested, proving to be pain-staking and costly. This can require harvesters to pass through any given row up to seven times over the course of weeks until all the grapes are harvested.
Due to decreased water and increased concentration, botrytis impacts yield, taking up to four effected vines to produce one bottle of wine, contrasted with the average yield per healthy vine producing ten bottles of wine.
Residual sugar, grape sugar that remains after alcohol conversion, makes wine sweet. Golden Bordeaux has two categories of sweetness: Moelleux, or mellow, indicating a lighter colored wine, more fruit forward with a smooth mouth-feel; Liquoreux, deeper gold, intense fruit, and secondary flavors of candied fruit, nuts, and honey. As Bordeaux sweet wines age liquoreux evolves, adding depth of texture, concentration, and rich expression.
Three grapes comprise golden Bordeaux: Semillon (80% of plantings), Sauvignon Blanc (15% of plantings), and Muscadelle (5% of planting). Semillon provides the backbone, is highly susceptible to Botrytis cinerea, bringing its deep golden color, elegance, weighty texture and high viscosity to the wine. Sauvignon Blanc ripens earlier therefore effected sooner by botrytis, contributing high acidity and vibrant aromas. Muscadelle adds additional layers of aromas and floral notes to the wine.
Golden Bordeaux demonstrate great balance, making them versatile food wines. Classic pairings include foie gras, Roquefort and Stilton cheeses, and desserts such as crème brulee, salted caramel pudding, and macarons.
Modern enjoyment of these wines has expanded to include fried chicken, curries, Vietnamese, Thai, Ethiopian, and Chinese, Korean BBQ, lobster rolls, truffle macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, pasta carbonara, potato chips, sardines, roasted duck, and salmon canapes. My favorite – chicken and waffles!
Due to their slight oxidation, the wines will for up to a week after opening when stored in the refrigerator. Keep in mind serving temperature is important. A serving temperature range of 44° –55° F is ideal, the sweeter the wines served close to 44°, the older wines served closer to 55°.
In March, I visited Chile for the first time. While there I was introduced to a quiet wine revolution seeking to promote ‘land over brand,’ by shifting the conversation to focus on site driven wines that express Chile’s many diverse terroirs. Recently, I had a lovely wine dinner in Dallas with Andrés Sánchez, Winemaker at Alcance Winery, who shares the philosophy of the winemakers I met in March. The revised focus of these Chilean winemakers is resulting in some killer wines.
Please take a moment to click the title below and read more about what is happening in Chile and the wines of Alcance Winery.
Did you know fall is Vail’s best kept secret? If you like stunning leaf peeping, crisp temperatures, fun outdoor adventures, great food and wine, and no crowds, Vail is your perfect fall destination. In my latest article for Forbes I expose this secret with a guide on where to stay, eat, and play.
Once again I am providing two links to get you started.
The first is the link to my Forbes contributor page. Please Follow and share on your social media channels.
Thanksgiving is almost here. I can’t believe it! Before you head out this weekend to purchase wine for this special day, please take a moment to read my latest article for Snooth featuring Tavel – the only wine you will need this Thanksgiving.
Tavel is unlike any other rosé, this is Southern Rhone Cru. Bold in color, layers of complex flavors and elegant texture on the palate. This is a gastronomical wine that ideally pairs with a complex meal like Thanksgiving.
Please take a moment to read my Snoot latest here –