Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Alsace and the Loire Valley, wondiferous wines

This week in wine class we covered Alsace, that complex and rich region, and the long patchwork of terroirs that make up the Loire Valley.  Both of these regions of France are really interesting.  Alsace has only been a part of France since 1945, and pending another war in Europe one can expect that this is its final resting place.  Alsace was at times German, and at times French, back and forth through most of modern history.  As a result, German and French are both spoken in the region and it has its own unique kind of architecture, food, and wine.  The Alsace region gets the most sun of all the regions in France, and it's the only region that has AOC qualifications for its grape varietals.  On the other side of the country, the Loire Valley stretches from the Atlantic coast to the very interior of France.  A wide variety of grapes grow in the Loire Valley, which might explain its nickname as the 'garden of France.'  We tasted 11 wines in total from these regions, and I was surprised to find that while I usually prefer red wines to white, my favourite wine last night was a Riesling from Alsace, and my least favourite was a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley.

First, the least favourite.  This was the cab franc from Domaine de Matabrune.  The wine had a really great colour, but an unpleasant (in my view) nose.  The nose was 'backwards', which the instructor explained means that the earth and mineral smells come through first, and the fruit, flowers, spices, and herbs are subdued.  I didn't enjoy that very much - the wine smelled like coffee grounds, wet leaves, and vinyl records.  The palette of the wine followed the nose (so at least it was balanced) but that wasn't a good thing really.  It tasted like cold tea - not iced tea, but that cup of tea that you had been drinking and then forgot about until you absent-mindedly took a big slug and discovered it had gone totally cold in the mug.  Yuck.  There was lots of green pepper in the taste, and cherry pits.  Not even cherries!  The instructor really liked this wine, but I don't think I would go for it in any situation where I had to pay for it.  Apparently cab franc is an acquired taste!
The Loire Valley Cabernet Franc - it was, you know,  OK I guess.
Now on to my fave of the evening, the Hugel Jubilee Riesling from Alsace.  I was so surprised by how delicious this wine was!  I have had many a riesling in the past, but never have I been so delighted.  This wine had a medium intensity nose, and the smell wasn't too sugary.  It smelled like apples, hazelnuts, peaches, and honeycomb, with just a tiny touch of petrol underneath, more like vaseline.  Apparently, this vaseliney smell is a trademark of Riesling, one that the German producers find to be a fault and try to get rid of, but which the Alsatian producers find to be a mark of quality and play up in the wines.  The palette followed the nose in the pleasantest of ways.  I was surprised that this wine was mostly-dry; I think the other Rieslings I've had in the past were off-dry or semi-sweet, almost like after dinner drinks.  This wine was fantastic for during dinner and after dinner and before dinner and during lunch and before breakfast and in the middle of the night.  The flavour of toasted hazelnuts and roasted chestnuts really came through, with honey and apples on top.  It felt smooth and velvety in my mouth with a long and creamy finish.  Holy crap, this was so good.  This white wine, I think, could be used to substitute any red wine at a table, for people who can't have tannins or just don't like reds.  It would go as well with steak as it would with poutine.  I think I want to get some bottles of this - let the brokeness begin!

Hugel Jubilee Riesling, from Alsace.  Big time win!


  1. Cab Franc around the world can be really different from what you describe there, and even different within the Loire. Interesting description you have though of the one you tried. Some of my favorite wines have been Cab Francs, though there have been some I haven't liked too. Cool that you're getting these experiences! Jouquet is considered one of the best Chinon makers, Chinon is Cab Franc from the Chinon AOC along the Loire. I'll be curious to hear if you ever find one you like!

  2. Oh! I know some of Fred's favorite wines are dry Rieslings. I've only gotten to try a couple of those though so it's nice to hear a recommendation for a specific one!