Little-known region that should not be ignored
O ne of France's least-known wine-producing regions is Alsace, but it is one we would be foolish to ignore.
Tucked away on the country's eastern border with Germany, the region is not merely picturesque, it also produces some great (predominantly white) wines.
Alsace is almost as far north as Champagne but its climate is considerably warmer and drier. The vines grow on the south and east foothills of the Vosges, at an altitude of 600 to 1,200ft, and are thus protected from the humid, westerly winds. The continental climate, with its hot summers and harsh winters, is also characterised by particularly dry autumns. This near absence of rain in September and October is an advantage since it makes late harvesting possible.
The grapes are a mixture of German, French and the exotic, with the mineral and citrussy German Riesling and floral Gewurztraminer, the smoky French Pinot Gris and the decidedly exotic Muscat comprising the four principal varieties. Sylvaner, another German grape that produces wines that are fresh and clean, also features to some extent.
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The often-overlooked Alsace Pinot Blanc is arguably the most food-friendly of them all. The majority are blended with Auxerrois as this balances out the lively acidity with spice and body, meaning the wine will match well to a wide range of dishes.
The Dopff family – now in its 11th generation – has been making wine in the impossibly picture-perfect town of Riquewihr since 1574, using grapes from its vineyards surrounding the small town, together with fruit from long-term contracted growers. The family's historical commitment to quality and terroir means their 2011 Pinot Blanc is a good expression of this prime wine-producing area.
Last year was one of extremes for Alsace vineyards: Harsh winters, mild or high temperatures in spring, drought followed by heavy rainfall in summer and then a perfect Indian summer with high temperatures.
Identifying the optimum moment for hand-harvesting these grapes was key. The bunches were collected in small "bottiches" before undergoing a gentle pressing and natural decantation, after which the juice was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Bottling took place in spring, following a natural clarification over the winter months and a light filtration.
Apple blossom, peach and melon can be found both on the nose and palate of this crisp and fruity wine.
Dopff Au Moulin 2011 Pinot Blanc, is available from www.slurp.co.uk at £11.90 a bottle.
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