In the early days of my budding wine fascination, I approached the
'French aisle' in a wine shop. After failing miserably to decipher the
labels from several bottles, I felt frustrated and downright dim. I
migrated back towards the more accessible labels of Australia, South
Africa and California. For some time thereafter, I hung with
Would that I had begun my French foray with Alsace.
The Alsace label, while still French, is straightforward. You see,
Alsatian regulations permit wine to be labeled by grape variety. So
even if you have no idea what 'mis en bouteille par..' means, you can still identify wine as being Riesling or Gewurztraminer (no 'ü' in Alsace). Most Alsatian wine is made from Riesling, Gewurz, Pinot Gris (AKA Tokay Pinot Gris, AKA Pinot Grigio), Muscat (AKA Muscat d'Alsace) or Pinot Blanc.
For non-French speakers and wine newbies, Alsace is a good place to
begin French wine exploration. What you read is what you get. Except
when you don't. Occasionally, the grape's name is missing from the
label. In its place, you may encounter the term, 'Edelzwicker'
(~ noble-blend). This term is indicative of wine comprised of a blend
of Alsace's varieties (e.g. Riesling, Gewurz, Pinot Gris, etc.). Many
of these blended wines are inexpensive introductions to the flavors of
Alsace. Recently, I've noticed a that some producers are offering such
blends in the $10-$15 range. A few are scrapping the Edelzwicker moniker and replacing it with a branded name. Two examples are Pierre Sparr's "Alsace One" and Zind-Humbrecht's "Zind."
Then there are the minimalist folks at Kuentz-Bas. K-B's Edelzwicker
offering is nameless - sort of. The bottle is simply labeled,
"Alsace." Confusing? Perhaps. However for around ten dollars,
'Alsace' from Alsace introduces you to the surprisingly exotic style of
Kuentz-Bas Alsace 2005 ($9-$12) [imported by Kermit Lynch]
- Light straw-yellow in color
- Scents of lychee/litchi/lytchi, lemon, honey and grape (! - I suspect the grapeyness comes from Muscat)
- This wine behaved quite differently in the mouth over the course of
two evenings: Night 1 - a rich, almost sticky mouthfeel with slightly
sweet, or seemingly sweet flavors of honey, mandarin orange and ripe
pear; Night 2 - the stickyness faded and I was struck by a greater
balance of richness and crispness. For the record, I prefer night #2's
Kuentz-Bas is an ideal candidate for a wine solo
on Friday afternoon. It also would be fine as a duet with sweet &
sour pork, honey glazed chicken or a green salad & fresh fruit.