30 Second Wine Advisor: For intensity, try Alsacity

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For intensity, try Alsacity

Okay, I'm busted. "Alsacity" isn't really a word. But I'm making one up now, because it seems only fair that "the character that sets apart many of the fascinatingly intense wines from Alsace" is so memorable that it deserves its own dictionary entry.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm sure I can improve on my brief reflection, "Post Card from Alsace," that I sent back from a 2003 visit to this small region where northeastern France meets Germany along the Rhine River:

"If there's anyone left out there who doesn't believe in terroir, the concept that the minerals in vineyard soil can communicate unique and identifiable flavors to the grapes and thus to the wine, I suggest a visit to Alsace for further instruction.

"We spent a few days last week touring this hospitable and picturesque section of Northeastern France, where France and Germany meet along the Rhine, and where some of the world's most interesting white wines come from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and a few other grapes grown along a narrow strip where the fertile river valley meets the wooded, gently rounded Vosges ("Vowzh") mountains."

Riesling may be the dominant grape of Alsace, and it's a memorable variety indeed, widely considered one of the world's greatest white grapes. Gewurztraminer is also hailed as a characteristic Alsatian grape, but Pinot Blanc has its fans, and Alsatian Pinot Noir has grown from an offbeat experiment to a worthy (albeit often expensive) addition to the world's Pinot population.

What makes the wines of Alsace special? It might be something about terroir at that. Certainly these wines often show the kind of intriguing "minerality" that brings complexity to a wine, and also offers wine "geeks" the opportunity to argue whether the actual minerals in the soil can be taken up and manifest themselves in the flavor of the wine, a notion that many declare impossible while others remain less sure.

For me, the hallmark of Alsace - circling back to the original premise of this essay - is a level of intensity that you don't find in wine every day, At its best, it's a memorable combination of intensity and balance, although some of the most highly rated (and expensive) Alsatians kick the intensity up several notches in a style that pleases some of the major critics but loses the critical balance that earns a wine's spot in the Hall of Fame for me.

Below you'll find my tasting reports on an Alsatian Riesling and a Pinot Blanc that ring the bell for me. And better yet, they both stayed comfortably below the $20 retail price line.

For this month's Wine Focus in our online WineLovers Discussion Group, we're taking a look at the wines, land, culture, cuisine and terroir of Alsace. (Of course, there is always room for flexibility, so if you live in a region where Alsatian wines are either difficult or impossible to get, we'll certainly be forgiving of reports on Alsace varieties, but we'd ask that you be particularly attentive to choosing examples in an "Alsatian style." If you need help on this definition, please ask. Actually, I think that defining "Alsace style" might be a worthy additional function for this month's conversations.)

You're invited to share your questions and comments about Alsace and its wines and contribute your tasting notes through this month in Wine Focus. Just click Wine Focus for May: The wines of Alsace! to drop in. You'll be warmly welcome in our friendly wine-loving community.

All forum discussions are open for public viewing, but you must register to post your comments and participate actively in the conversation. Registration is free and easy; we ask only that you join following our Real Names Real Format system, using your real name as your public user name. To join the forum, drop me a note at wine@wineloverspage.com with your real name, preferred format and a temporary password, and I'll take care of the rest.

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Today's Tasting Reports

Albert Seltz 2010 Alsace Riesling ($16.99)

Albert Seltz

Clear gold color, rather intense. Rich, complex aromas and flavors that are intriguing but hard to pin down. There's fruit here, a piney-peachy mango character, and it's lovely but not forward. More offbeat but still intriguing scents vie for the palate's attention, minerally "petrol," a term that sounds offputting but in fact adds interest to Riesling. It's sensuous in texture, rich and full, yet tart and very nearly dry; if there's residual sugar here, it's hard to pick out. Mango and subtle mineral character persists into a very long finish, where it's joined by a pleasant touch of peach-pit bitterness. Excellent wine, Riesling in a style that's characteristically Alsatian. U.S. importer: Domaine Select Imports, NYC. (May 2, 2014)

FOOD MATCH: The richness of Alsace Riesling suggest their use with darker poultry - dark-meat chicken, duck or pheasant - or sweeter shellfish. I often pair it with spicy Asian fare. This one was excellent with a curry of cauliflower and cabbage with onions, garlic and ginger.

WHEN TO DRINK: Riesling can age gracefully and evolve into a higher order of complexity with careful cellaring, and even this relatively low-end model should last for years, assuming good storage conditions at constant cool temperature.

VALUE: Wine-Searcher.com shows a $15 U.S. median retail price. It's good enough that I'm not weeping bitter tears over my merchant's slightly higher price.

WEB LINK: Importer Domaine Select offers a brief fact sheet about Seltz's Rieslings, although neither this source nor the winery's French-only pages provide any information on this generic-level Riesling.

Find vendors and check prices for Albert Seltz Alsace Riesling on Wine-Searcher.com.

Domaines Schlumberger 2011 "Les Princes Abbés" Alsace Pinot Blanc ($16.99)

Domaines Schlumberger

Clear, light straw color. Simple and fresh white fruit, subtle melon and kiwi on the nose and palate, good medium body and sufficient, not biting acidity. Well rounded and enjoyable wine, good for sipping or service with cheese, veggies or seafood. U.S. importer: Maisons, Marques & Domaines USA Inc., Oakland, Calif. (Oct. 5, 2013)

FOOD MATCH: Once again I chose fiery Asian fare and hit the target with plant-based "prawns" from Sophie's kitchen stir-fried in Sichuan-style chili-garlic sauce with broccoli.

WHEN TO DRINK: I'm not sure it would evolve into something more ethereal with cellaring, but its balance and richness seem likely to hold it well under for a few years under good storage conditions.

VALUE: It's a fine value around Wine-Searcher.com's $20 U.S. retail price, and I was delighted to claim this one for a few dollars less.

WEB LINK: The producer's English-language Website provides an informative fact sheet on Schlumberger 2011 "Les Princes Abbés" Alsace Pinot Blanc.

Compare prices and find online vendors for Domaines Schlumberger "Les Princes Abbés" Alsace Pinot Blanc on Wine-Searcher.com.

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