Yesterday I consumed in two hours more Alsatian wines than I’d had in my entire life up to that point. You’re probably a lot like me: Aside from the occasional bottle of Hugel or Trimbach, you rarely, if ever, encounter wine from the region.
Situated in the mountains between France and Germany, Alsace is known for aromatic, fruity white wine like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc. Yesterday I had the chance to try 21 different wines from the region, paired with 7 different American cheeses.
The tasting was led by San Francisco Chronicle writer Janet Fletcher, who may very well have the only column on cheese to be printed in a major U.S. newspaper. (It’s a must-read for foodies, check it out here.)
Fletcher used her prodigious knowledge to walk us through seven very different cheeses at The Cheese School of San Francisco, inviting us to pair them with various wines (five flights’ worth) to see what combinations we could find that worked well, and what didn’t.
It was astonishing to see how wine and cheese can complement each other. For example, I didn’t like a soft cow’s milk cheese, Pianoforte from Andante Dairy, at all on its own (too bitter), but when paired with almost any wine from the event it really brought out sweet and salty flavors in an amazing way. With wine it was a favorite of the event.
Another fave was the Bayley Hazen raw cow’s milk blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farm; the saltiness was great with most of the wines, but then again I’m a sucker for blue cheese of all types. I had less luck with wine and the raw cow’s milk Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese: This cheese was phenomenal on its own, a buttery, mellow, and nutty aged cheese… but no wine would work with it and my palate. (A server whispered to me that I should try it with beer.) Really amazing to see how some cheese works only on its own, some only with a little vino.
Other good matches: crumbly Redwood Hill Farm Crottin (goat milk) with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris; a tart Carr Valley Cave-Aed Marisa (sheep milk) with Gewurztraminer; cheddar-like Bravo Farms Silver Mountain (raw cow milk) with Pinot Blanc; and the brine-aged, mushroomy Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson (raw cow milk) also with Pinot Gris.
As for the wines, tasting them both alone and with cheese was a really unique and enjoyable experience. I’ve tried to offer ratings based on the wines’ own merits… but of course that’s tricky with 20 plates of cheese surrounding you. As always, I’ve tried to be as honest and fair as possible and apologize for typos.
Some general thoughts: Alsace’s sparkling wine, Cremant d’Alsace, is a solid, very dry wine that any sparkling fan should enjoy. Lucien Albrecht’s was my favorite, with more fruit than the others. Favorites popped out here and there in the five flights (spaces indicate flights below), with Albrecht’s buttery Pinot Blanc and Martin Schaezel’s Riesling both impressing. But it was Domaine Roland Schmitt’s Pinot Gris that really won the day, a perfectly balanced wine with acid, fruit, herbs, and flowers all in harmony — a steal at 21 bucks a bottle.
Things went downhill a bit from there. The Gewurztraminers were all disappointing (Schlumberger’s was palatable at least), and I am happy now to say that I’ve tried Alsatian red wine, if only so I need not try it again.
Alsatain Wine / American Cheese – Complete Tasting Report
NV, Domaine Ehrhart, “Cremant d’Alsace, Cuvee Prestige”, $17.00 / B+
NV, Lucien Albrecht, “Cremant d’Alsace, Blanc de Blancs Brut”, $17.00 / A-
NV, Rene Mure, Cremant d’Alsace, $19.00 / B
2007, Gisselbrecht, Pinot Blanc, $15.00 / B
2006, Lucien Albrecht, Pinot Blanc Reserve Balthazar, $13.00 / A-
2003, Andre Kientzler, Pinot Blanc, $13.00 / B
2003, Albert Boxler, Pinot Blanc Reserve, $25.00 / A-
2005, Dirler, Sylvaner Cuvee Vielles Vignes, $26.00 / B+
2006, Meyer-Fonne, Muscat, Vignoble de Katzenthal, $22.00 / B+
2006, Martin Schaetzel, Riesling Cuvee Reserve, $21.00 / A-
2006, Huber & Bleger, Riesling, $17.00 / B
2005, Trimbach, Riesling, $18.00 / B+
2004, Domaine Welty, Riesling, $16.00 / A-
2007, Domaine Roland Schmitt, Pinot Gris, $21.00 / A
2004, Cave de Ribeauville, Pinot Gris Grand Cru Gloeckelberg, $40.00 / B+
2002, Domaine Eugene Meyer, Pinot Gris, $23.00 / B-
2006, Hugel Pere & Fils, Gewurtztraminer, $22.00 / C+
2005, Dirler, Gewurtztraminer Bux Reserve, $35.00 / C+
2004, Domaines Schlumberger, Gewurtztraminer Fleur, $21.00 / B
2005, Domaine Klingenfus, Pinot Noir Cuvee Elodie, $28.00 / D
2004, Domaine Allimant-Laugner, Pinot Noir, $18.00 / D+