Portland, Oregon recently hosted a large wine bloggers conference. While I didn’t attend the conference itself due to prior commitments, I did have the opportunity to attend some unofficial events associated with the conference. One of those events was a tasting of riesling wines facilitated by Wines from Alsace. Riesling is the greatest wine from the French region of Alsace, and it is also one of the greatest wines in the world. This tasting wasn’t just Alsatian rieslings either (which are quite good almost uniformly across the board), these were Alsatian Grand Cru rieslings. The best of the best, the crème de la crème of Alsatian wines were to be tasted. Names like Domaine Gresser, Albert Boxler, Domaine Weinbach, and Hugel may not be household names in the United States, but they represent some of the finest riesling wines made in Alsace.
Comprising about one fourth of Alsace’s vineyard plantings, riesling is unquestionably the finest grape grown in the Alsatian region. These white wines can be aged for years, and while pleasant and quite enjoyable while young, these aged wines develop a complexity and depth that make experienced wine drinkers swoon.
Tasting my way through the offerings was an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve tasted a lot of rieslings and a number of the better Alsatian rieslings, but I’d never tasted them side-by-side-by-side. Having the opportunity to do so was both unique and incredible. These are some of my favorite wines in the world, so being able to compare the differences and similarities in these grand cru wines was a particularly special occasion.
A bit of wine basics about Alsatian rieslings is always helpful. These wines generally have a green-yellow color to them, and oftentimes, they have a hint of petrol on the nose. Young rieslings have fruit notes like peach and nectarine, while older vintages display more mineral notes. Alsatian rieslings are especially food-friendly and pair well with seafood, shellfish, ham, poultry, and smoked meats. I’ve always found that these wines, while good by themselves, really shine in the presence of food. Therefore, I much prefer to drink Alsatian riesling with a meal rather than just have a glass at a wine bar. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of Alsatian riesling by itself, it is the food pairings that can make Alsatian riesling such a transcendent experience.
So do you need to taste Alsatian Grand Cru riesling wines? The short answer is both yes and no. Yes, you should be familiar with Alsatian wines, and the grand cru status means that you are tasting something that is recognized as being some of the best of its type. Also, they are wines to look out for on better wine lists, and they make great celebration wines. If your budget doesn’t allow for the splurge on grand cru riesling, don’t worry. There are great Alsatian rieslings at more affordable price points as well, and they too deserve your attention. The only downside to exploring the world of Alsatian rieslings is that once you discover these wines, it becomes much harder to accept lesser quality rieslings from other parts of the world.