Earlier this year, when we took such jaunts for granted, four UK wine experts headed to Alsace for a comprehensive, three-day assessment of the region’s wines, part of a joint IWSC/Club Oenologique initiative with the CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace).
The panel consisted of Steven Spurrier, IWSC Honorary Chair; Rebecca Palmer, wine buyer at Corney & Barrow; Kelly Stevenson, wine consultant for various airlines including; and me (I’m an IWSC panel chair, consultant and former Michelin-starred restaurateur). The idea was to taste through a broad selection of wines spanning three types – Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Cremant – and decide on a top dozen standout performers.
The panel tasted 120 wines which it narrowed down to a standout dozen – four cremants, two Gewurztraminers and six Rieslings. The tasting was conducted non-blind, and although there were discussions on finalists, the panel was mostly in agreement; certainly all four tasters felt that the quality of the wines on show – the Gewurztraminer especially – was exceptional.
It was great to see quality Cremant hold its own, showcasing this great value sparkling wine (though for me these sparkling beauties had a texture and depth that made them more of a wine than a fizz – to their benefit).
Gewurtztraminer is a grape variety that excels here, offering wines that perfectly complement delicate fine food. The best are a far cry from the memory of poorer ‘Granny’ Gewurtztraminers – all talcum powder and violets.
And of course Alsace provides a perfect breeding ground for Riesling, the differing soil types lending unique mineral nuances, the sunny weather yielding delicate aromas, subtle citrus fruit and some stone fruit for depth.
Narrowing the wines down to a dozen was a thankless task – in truth we were spoiled for choice. And, of course, we were only skimming the surface – as became clear on a whistlestop tour we made of five producers responsible for some of the very finest wines the region is producing: Cave de Turckheim, Sipp Mack, Josmeyer, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Dirler-Cade. I hope you will allow me, then, to buttress our choices below by namechecking a wine from each that stood out.
Among the highlights from these visits was the easy-drinking and beautifully balanced Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2018 from Sipp Mack (formed in 1959 with the marriage of Francois Sipp and Maire Louise Mack, though both families had been making wine for nine generations). Then there was the very pure 2015 Old Vines Gewurztraminer 2015 from Cave de Turckheim, one of France’s major cooperatives.
Josmeyer’s Pinot Auxerrois Vielles Vignes “H” 2017 was a brilliant example of a wine which is not a grand cru (these can only be produced from Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer) but whose purity, precision and balance easily puts in that quality category.
And while it would be foolish to pick a favourite from Zind-Humbrecht, the Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru 2010 was a spectacular wine, its controlled sweetness and luscious purity reminiscent of Château d’Yquem.
Finally, at Dirler-Cade, whose 18ha southern Alsace estate is almost half grand cru, and which is renowned for pioneering sparkling wine in the 19th century, I was taken by the Gewurztraminer Spiegeleisen Grand Cru 2016: a beautiful wine, precisely balanced, rich without any flamboyance. Much like the region itself.
Want to win six top-rated bottles of wine from Alsace? We’re hosting a giveaway on Instagram and the prize features some of our experts’ favourite picks from this Alsace tasting – worth almost £200! Enter the competition here.