What To Serve With Turkey?
AUSTERE SPLENDOR: LES VINS D’ALSACE
Although their pairing is almost oxymoronic, the words “power” and “finesse” seem to follow each other whenever anyone discusses Alsatian wines. But I can think of no other two that characterize these luscious, quaffable wines as accurately. “Power” is often used to differentiate them from German wines to which they are frequently and perhaps unfortunately, compared. They are definitely fuller bodied and dryer, making them perfect accompaniments to fish and white meats. “Finesse” suggests the aromatic charm of their floral and fruity bouquets.
Alsatian wines are labeled after the grapes from which they are made. The major grape varieties are:
Riesling. The wines from this grape are crisp, dry, and elegant; some of the best can have the subtle bouquets and complexity of a great white Burgundy. Much drier than German Rieslings, these are ideal food wines.
Pinot Blanc. Typically well-balanced, these wines offer tantalizing fruit, ranging from apples to citrus, with austere mineral undertones. Perfect with fish and chicken.
Gewurztraminer. Full bodied and full flavored, these wines are spicy and perfumed. To say the least, seductive. They are best served with richer dishes such as foie gras or with spicier fare like Indian or Oriental.
Sylvaner. Next to Gewurztraminer, an innocent. These are light wines that are crisp and clean on the palate. An ideal wine for summer quaffing and a perfect match for oysters.
Tokay d’Alsace or Pinot Gris. Aromatic and rich. The wines can have an almost smoky bouquet, and on the palate display an opulent creamy texture. They are ideal for richer dishes made with cream sauces and are great with shell fish.
Muscat. Deliciously aromatic yet dry, this wine is perfect with Indian and Oriental dishes.
Two additional terms are used to classify Alsatian wines:
Vendanges Tardives. Literally, “late harvest.” These wines are made from grapes picked after the regular harvest and perfectly ripened. They are full bodied wines with exquisite concentration and flavor. For the most part, these are dry wines, although some will have a small amount of residual sugar.
Selection de Grains Nobles. Pure nectar without a trace of new oak. Only produced in exceptional years, these wines are truly mellifluous and exhibit sumptuous concentration and great length. They can be enjoyed upon release but will age elegantly for years.
For your turkey dinner, I’d recommend a good Riesling or Pinot Blanc. Below are reviews of several Alsatians you might enjoy. For this feature, we tasted almost a dozen wines and were looking for ones that would complement a simple roasted turkey with an herbed bread stuffing.
The star of these tastings was definitely the Zind Humbrecht 1992 Riesling Herrenweg Turckheim Veilles Vignes ($19.99). Straw colored, this wine has a gorgeous floral/citrus nose with hints of honey and apricots. On entry, there’s a delicate acidity followed by a subtle sweetness. The wine is full flavored with a good mid-palate and a long finish. If you’ve never had an Alsatian, let this be your first one. You won’t forget it.
Another favorite was also from Zind Humbrecht, the 1992 Riesling Wintzenheim ($15.99). Straw to light gold in color, this wine has what one taster called a “Thanksgiving nose.” Its floral/citrus bouquet just hints at this wine’s finesse. On the palate, there’s great Riesling flavor with a hint of orange. The wine is beautifully structured with just the right amount of acidity.
The most expensive wine we tasted was also from Zind Humbrecht. It was the 1994 Pinot D’Alsace ($21.99). It is light gold in color with a beautiful, complex nose of citrus (mostly orange) and flowers. One taster found it reminiscent of a fine Sauternes. The wine is smooth on the palate with a good mild acidity. It is full bodied with a good mid-palate. In short, a text book Pinot d’Alsace. (I must admit, though, that $22 is a high price to pay for a simple Pinot d’Alsace–even in a great year like 1994.)
When I commented about the price of the ’94 Zind Humbrecht, one wine merchant recommended that I try some wines from J.B. Adam. The J.B. Adam 1995 Pinot Blanc D’Alsace ($10.99) is a stylish wine. Pale straw in color, it has a faint nose reminiscent of peaches. The wine is light bodied with a nice acidity and a minerally flavor. Although not a stellar performer, the wine represents a good value.
We also tasted the J.B. Adam 1994 Riesling D’Alsace Reserve ($10.99). It has a pale straw color and a somewhat musky nose. The wine is crisp with hints of slate on the palate. It has a fair amount of acid and a long finish. A simple yet good Riesling.
The Bott-Geyl 1994 Riesling Grafenreben ($20.99) is truly a superb wine. Light gold in color,
there are enticing hints of vanilla and minerals on the nose. The wine is full bodied with plenty of
flavor and a good finish. A great Riesling from an extraordinary vintage.
I’d recommend this wine if your turkey has either a sausage or heavily herbed stuffing.
A tasting of Alsatians would not be complete without an entry from Domaine Trimbach, one of the best known producers from Alsace. The 1993 Trimbach Riesling ($15.99) is pale straw in color with a seductive honeysuckle/vanilla nose. The wine is somewhat thin, with flavors of citrus and minerals. Although there’s no mid-palate, the wine does have a nice finish. One taster commented: “The turkey really complements the wine.”
Finally, what I think was the best value of the tasting was the Leon Beyer 1994 Pinot Blanc de Blancs ($7.99). If you’re having plenty of people over for dinner and want a wine that almost everyone will find pleasant and won’t cost a fortune, try this wine. Pale gold in color, it has a lovely nose of vanilla and honey. Although somewhat thin, it has a nice acidity that lets it stand up to the turkey and all the trimmings.
Some buying notes:
Although they age well, I would avoid buying most Alsatians any earlier than ’89 or ’90 unless you know that your merchant has stored the wines well. (I am not applying this caution to the top cuvees from the finest producers–for example, Trimbach’s Riesling Clos Ste. Hune–but then again such wines go for close to $100 a bottle. In fact, since these wines usually don’t fly off the shelf, I would probably not buy any of them earlier than 1992. (1991 was, at best, an average vintage.)
Finding Alsatian wines in many stores can take some effort. You may find them alongside the German wines, if they’re not among the French..
A great source of information on Alsatians is Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide.
Please let us know what you think about these wines on our feedback page. In our next issue, we’ll publish some of your comments.