A First Course in Wine: From Grape to Glass. Copyright 2013; Race Point Publishers, NY. 224 pages. Forward by Mario Batali.

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Wines for a Jack$on (Under $20) – Willm Pinot Blanc Reserve 2011, Alsace, France

Pinot Blanc is at home in Alsace in eastern France, where the cool air from the Black Forest, Vosges Mountains, and Rhine River help moderate the temperatures in this sub-Alpine area.  The soil is a mix of limestone, sand, and salt, and the grapevines grow deep into the bedrock to capture water trapped within the bedrock.

Alsatian lifestyle is a mix of German and French cultures, as the borders have been redrawn between the two countries a half dozen times since the 1600s, always with Alsace changing hands between the two. Consequently, the grape selection for wine production is a combination of French and German varieties.  German classics such as Gewurztraminer (spelled without an umlaut in Alsace), Riesling, and Sylvaner share the real estate with French grape varieties Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chasselas.  Many of the whites are racy and mineral, while the reds are often light to medium in body with strong earthy flavors and firm acidity.

Connoisseurs of Alsace can taste their way through the boutique wines made from the fifty or so grand cru (vineyards) sites, although the legislation dictates the majority of these wines can only be made from the “big four” grapes – Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer.  Many of these wines fetch high prices in elite restaurants throughout the world, but are excellent accompaniments to the rich fare of the Alsatian cuisine such as munster cheese and baeckeoffe (beef stew).

Willm’s 2011 Pinot Blanc is a clean and fresh expression of the grape.  There’s an almondy note linked with a honeysuckle aroma that makes your mouth salivate as you smell the wine.  On the palate, the wine delivers a rich and unctuous blast of tangerine and herbs followed by a bone-chilling acidic finish.   Alsace has been going through a transition from producing a plethora of dry wines to producing a mix of off-dry and semi-dry wines.  The confusion between what’s dry and not-so-dry has left many consumers reeling.  As a result, some producers have taken it upon themselves to illustrate any residual sugar levels on the label, commonly through terminology such as sec (dry), demi-sec (semi-dry), and doux (sweet) expressed directly on the label.  In this particular case, the winemakers deem this wine as dry to off-dry, meaning just a hint of residual sugary sweetness, but on the whole the wine is delightfully dry and refreshing.  At $14.99, it’s a darn steal.

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