Vail wines: Alsace – Great wines with scenery to match
Vail, CO Colorado
As you leave the city of Strasbourg in northeast France and drive south along the eastern plains of the Vosges Mountains, you get a strong sense of both French and German cultures -the hallmark of France’s historic region of Alsace.
The flat plains of the Rhine River (Rhein in German) have been a natural battleground over many centuries of warfare between the two countries. Today, a strong German influence is seen in several of the town names, the local dialect, and many Alsatian surnames.
The eastern ridges of the Vosges Mountains are dotted with beautifully preserved towns surrounded by vineyards which follow the contours of the slopes. The charming villages’ small gabled houses eventually give way to the larger medieval market town of Colmar; it is here where you will find many of the great vineyards of Alsace.
Like the villages of the region, the vineyards also date back several centuries. Many of the vineyards, which make-up the region’s Grand Cru system, were originally planted during the eighth century.
The climate of the region is strongly influenced by the Vosges Mountains, which act as a rain shadow for the vineyards. This creates a warm and dry climate in which to ripen grapes in this otherwise northern environment.
Alsace’s two greatest grapes, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, are also from Germany. In fact, this is the only region of France you find these grapes in any AOC wines. Although the style lines are much less defined these days, the wines in Alsace once were crafted in a dry style while the German versions were usually left with some sweetness.
The aristocratic Riesling of Alsace shares the same heavenly perfume quality of the best German counterparts, but on the palate the wines are much richer and more full-bodied. The Gewurztraminer shares this richness, but is more perfumed and more heavily spiced.
Where the Riesling has very bracing acidity, the Gewurztraminer has very soft acidity and higher glycerol which can create an almost oily texture to the wines. Wines designated as ‘Grand Cru’ will certainly carry a higher price tag than simply varietal labeled wines, but are often worth the extra investment.
I have a particular affinity for the wines of Alsace, partly because of my family’s link to the region, but also due to their great versatility. The wines are traditionally paired with sauerkraut, sausages, and charcuterie in the local villages, but I enjoy pairing the wines with lightly prepared seafood, light meats in natural juices, and heavily seasoned, Asian-influenced dishes.
Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He currently holds the Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Razee is one of 96 Master Sommeliers in the United States and the only person in the Vail Valley that holds the distinguished certification.
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