30 Second Wine Advisor: Sparring partner

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In This Issue

 Sparring partner
Pardon the pun; I find them irresistible. Today, in truth, we celebrate the excellent wines of the respected Alsatian producer Pierre Sparr.
 Access to Napa Valley's Most Prestigious Aged Cabernet Sauvignons! I'd like to offer a personal introduction to today's sponsor, a trusted friend who brings us an offer so remarkable that it's worth a fair investment to take advantage of it.
 This week on WineLoversPage.com
WineBlueBook analyzed recent critical scores versus price for recently reviewed White Burgundies, Tuscan Sangioveses and West Coast Chardonnays. On the WineLovers Discussion Group, an intriguing discussion about whether tannin has a smell.
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Sparring partner

Bernard Sparr
Please pardon the bad pun: Sometimes I find them irresistible. Today, in truth, we celebrate the excellent wines of the respected Alsatian producer Pierre Sparr. The firm's portfolio was ably represented by Bernard Sparr, Président Directeur Général, during a relaxed, casual lunch interview here in Louisville last week.

Sparr, a hearty, friendly man who speaks excellent English, represents the ninth generation in his family firm, whose vineyards were first planted in the 18th century and which has been selling wine commercially since 1861.

Typical of Alsatian producers, Pierre Sparr holds a great deal of tradition; I'm particularly fond of the wines because, by and large, they have not succumbed to the make-it-sweet, make-it-strong movement that has changed the nature of many Alsatian wines in recent years.

But Sparr is also innovative and experimental: Sparr now bottles most of its more affordable wine ranges under sturdy metal screw caps - still a relative oddity in the conservative French wine industry - and Bernard says couldn't be happier with the results in terms of either commerce or quality. (Acceptance Down Under and in the Americas is excellent, he added, although consumer resistance in Europe is "still big." Accordingly, the higher-end Reserve and Grand Cru wines remain under natural cork. For now.)

He also favors a somewhat controversial move to disclose the exact sweetness level on the back-label of Alsatian wines. And, again in a selected range of affordable wines, he's experimenting with extreme label simplification, identifying wines by proprietary name ("Extrem," "Alsace One," "Red Silk") on bright, bold-color labels.

Bernard brought along a substantial collection of his wines for lunch at Corbett's an American Place in Louisville, where I joined him; Chris Webb of U.S. importer W. J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd; sales rep Niki Weissman with distributor Southern Wine & Spirits of America Inc., and Corbett's wine director Troy Ritchie.

Here are my notes on 14 Sparr wines, with the usual caveat that notes taken in a social setting with food (Corbett's excellent three-course prix fixe lunch including a shrimp and grits main course) are necessarily less analytical than my usual wine reports taken over time, with and without food, in quiet solitude. Even so, as I mentioned above, I find Sparr's wines in general give an excellent representation of the classic Alsatian style. The consistently show ample fruit, excellent body and structure that presents the table wines as dry or near-dry. Versatile and food-friendly, they generally - even the modest wines - show cellar potential.

Pierre Sparr Marquis de Perlade non-vintage Brut Blanc de Blanc ($13.99)
Made by the Champagne method from an odd assortment of varieties and regions - Chenin Blanc from the Loire, Macabeo and Chardonnay from the Languedoc and Pinot Blanc from Alsace. Needless to say, it carries no appellation but "France." Don't let the wacky blend put you off, however. It's clear and pale, with ample bubbles, offering mouth-filling apple, citrus and chalky minerality, finishing nearly dry.

Pierre Sparr non-vintage Cremant d'Alsace Rosé ($19.99)
Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, not the usual pink Champagne blend of red and white but made "saignée" by allowing just a bit of pink color to "bleed" into the juice from the grape skins. A pretty light copper in color, it offers delicious, complex red-berry and earthy, leesy aromas. On the palate it's prickly, creamy and fresh, finishing dry and tart.

Pierre Sparr 2006 "Extrem" Riesling ($14.99)
One of the series marketed with simple, modern labels under screw cap, this pale-gold wine offers loads of crisp green apple aromas and flavors, clean and fresh. Very dry, citric and chalky, its light-bodied flavor is wrapped up with zippy acidity.

Pierre Sparr 2006 "Alsace One" ($14.99)
Another in the simply labeled and screwcapped series. "It's a great way to get the consumer to try Alsace wines," Sparr said. "I they like this, they might move up." Clear straw in color, it's a blend of primarily Riesling with smaller doses of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer and a splash of Muscat. The Muscat shows in a luscious floral aroma; it's backed by delicate musk and a squirt of grapefruit. Mouth-filling, good texture, it finishes near-dry.

Pierre Sparr 2005 Selection Pinot Gris ($17.99)
Sparr's wines with the "Selection" designation and bright yellow label are considered their "entry level" wines, and they're certainly fine value for the price. Beautiful perfume, musk and melon, nearly dry, built on tart, mouth-watering acidity. The 2005 is selling out in the U.S., but the 2006 will be arriving soon. Go for the younger vintage when you can find it, Sparr advises.

Pierre Sparr 2006 Reserve Pinot Gris ($19.99)
Sparr's "Reserve" designation with a maroon label, with natural cork, represents a purported step up in quality and price. Clear straw color, with good perfumed melon aromas and "woolly" minerality. Mouth-filling, almost unctuous in texture; steely acidity cloaks fresh-fruit sweetness. The 2007 will arrive in the U.S. in October, but Sparr suggests this one will still benefit from three to five years in the cellar.

Pierre Sparr 2005 Reserve Riesling ($16.99)
Very pale brass color. Shows plenty of the distinctive, pleasant Riesling "petrol" character backed by apple and peach; loads of minerality, and good, crisp acidity in a dry finish.

Pierre Sparr 2006 "Red Silk" Pinot Noir ($16.99)
Unwooded, sees no oak at all, Pinot Noir in a lighter style that works well with a slight chill from a half-hour in the fridge before serving. Light ruby in color, not much darker than a rosé. Delicious cherries and earth on the nose and palate, light and fresh.

Pierre Sparr 2006 Selection Gewurztraminer ($17.99)
Light straw color. Rich aroma, lots of the litchee fruit character that's a standard descriptor for Gewurz, with a heady floral backdrop of roses. Unctuous, good acidity; communicates itself to me as rather sweet, but the illusion seems to come from richness, not sugar: Sparr says it contains only 1.3 percent residual sugar.

Pierre Sparr 2006 Reserve Gewurztraminer ($19.99)
Light straw color, with roses and litchee aromas, typical of the variety, similar to the Selection described above but more subtle and delicate; a keeper, likely to dry out and gain richness with cellar time.

Pierre Sparr 2002 Riesling Mambourg Grand Cru 2002 ($39.99)
Now we move into the high-end grand cru wines from the highly rated Mambourg vineyard, all somewhat older at release and showing startling intensity ... and all closed with natural cork. Clear gold in color. Intense "petrol" and rich tropical fruit that comes in waves, pineapple, then figs and dates, then pineapple again. Rich, full, pedal-to-the-metal intensity, but sturdy acidic structure saves it from the charge of "modernism."

Pierre Sparr 2002 Pinot Gris Mambourg Grand Cru 2002 ($39.99)
Light gold in color, bold and aromatic scents of peach and pear carry over to the palate in a ripe, peachy flavor. Big fruit is well balanced by fresh-fruit acidity; the overall impression on the finish is dry.

Pierre Sparr 2002 Gewurztraminer Mambourg Grand Cru 2002 ($39.99)
Light gold, spicy but subtle, you can sense a lot of Gewurz aromatics in there fighting to get out, but the wine is very young. More ready on the palate, good fruit and balancing acidity, finishes with a distinct edge of sweetness.

Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2002 ($54.99)
To finish, a dessert wine ("Vendanges Tardives" means "Late Harvest"). Loads of youthful, primary tropical fruit, pineapples and mangos. Mouth-filling and unctuous ripe fruit flavors follow the nose, opening up on the palate in layers. Rich and sweet; Sparr says it will reward 10 years of cellaring with a richer, drier profile at maturity.

The Pierre Sparr Website is published in French and English. Click the tiny flag icon at upper right for your preferred language.

For more information in English, see the Pierre Sparr page on the U.S. importer's Website,

To find national distributors in many countries around the world, see the Sparr Website:

Find vendors and compare prices for the wines of Pierre Sparr on Wine-Searcher.com:

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This week on WineLoversPage.com

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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns. Please note that for a summer break, we've put the FoodLetter on a short-term vacation and are skipping some (but not all) Friday editions.

 An organic Zinfandel (Aug. 13, 2008)

 Light and fresh (Aug. 11, 2008)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

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