I don’t drink enough Alsatian wine.
I realized that recently while sampling the delightful wares of producer Lucien Albrecht with the producer’s winemaker, Jérôme Keller, in a New York City restaurant.
Alsace, which lies 300 miles east of Paris and is the northernmost wine producing region in France, is just 72 miles long and only a few miles wide and home to 119 villages. Once a part of Germany, the region largely grows Teutonic grape varieties, but the wines are vinified with French customs. The wines are sold in flute-shaped bottles, like many German wines, and the type of grape is clearly placed on the wine’s label – unlike the typical French practice of labeling wines by region.
The wines of Alsace are mostly white, with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and muscat the dominant varieties and are the only varieties permitted in the appellation’s 51 grand cru vineyards. Pinot Blanc, not considered a noble variety, is key in making many Alsatian sparkling wines known as Cremant d’Alsace. But red wines, notably Pinot Noir, have been emerging for the last several decades.
Domaine Lucien Albrecht has long been associated with Alsatian wine. Its origins go back to 1425, when Romanus Albrecht established the family in the town of Thann, near the Swiss border. In 1698, Balthazar Albrecht moved the family to the small southern village of Orschwihr. The Albrecht brand — the second biggest Alsatian brand in terms of sales in the U.S. (by volume) —was purchased in 2012 through receivership by one of the largest and most respected Alsace co-operative producers, Wolfberger. Wolfberger has been around since1902 and also produces wines under the Wilm label. It purchases many grapes from small, independent producers, near Orschwihr where the soils are dry clay and heavy chalk.
Most of Albrecht’s 500,000-case production is Crémant d’Alsace. Not surprising since Albrecht was a pioneer in the production of Crémant d’Alsace, and was at the forefront of the campaign to authorize the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Crémant d’Alsace, which transpired in 1976. Albrecht’s sparklers are vinified using the classic Champagne Method, or methode traditionalle, from 100 percent free-run juice.
Albrecht wines generally are crisp and lively, some dry, others less so, All, however, show bright acidity, freshness and the perfumed noses that typify Alsatian wine. Alsatian wines are versatile. While I often drink them with Asian cuisine, they paired well with the Greek seafood I shared with Keller. Albrecht’s wines also are priced quite reasonably.
I started my sampling with the NV Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé Cremant d’Alsace ($23), a perfect, refreshing aperitif with a salmon hue and a nose of strawberries. One hundred percent Pinot Noir, it has 20 grams of sugar and has spent up to 16 months fermenting in the bottle.
The NV Lucien Albrecht Brut ($23), certainly not a ringer for Champagne, is nonetheless delicious with its floral nose and notes of limes and apples on the delicate palate. One hundred percent Pinot Blanc, it was aged in the bottle for 18-24 months,
The Cuvée Balthazar Pinot Blanc 2018 ($14) is soft, smooth and dry, pale yellow in color with hints of stone fruit. This can double as an aperitif and as a food wine. It’s a bargain.
Riesling Réserve 2018, a tank sample that when released will sell for $18, shows its terror, says Keller. It’s balanced, with good intensity and acidity.
Pinot Gris Romanus 2017 ($20), named after winery founder Romanus Albrecht, has a rich perfumed, fruity nose and is fresh and crisp with pear and citrus notes.
Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2015 ($33), the first grand cru of the tasting, was lush and full-bodied with ripe pear notes accented by lemon and a hint of sweetness.
Gewurtztraminer Réserve 2018 ($23) is a delicious, concentrated, off-dry wine with notes of spice and lychee.
Regrettably, I did not get to sample the Riesling Grand Cru Spiegel 2017 ($30), because the bottle was corked.
Gewurtztraminer Grand Cru Spiegel 2015 ( $36). The undeniable star of the tasting. It was elegant and rich with a fruity nose with notes of pear and peach that follow through on the palate along with notes of lychee and rose—all characteristic of the grape—and some minerality.
I’m quite happy that Albrecht and Keller brought their wines to my attention. Alas, these wines, and many others from Alsace, are difficult to find in restaurants. I happily spotted the Albrecht Brut Rosé Cremant d’Alsace recently on a restaurant wine list in South Florida and ordered a glass. Unfortunately, I was told that the restaurant no longer stocked it, because no one had ordered it in the past seven months. What a shame that these wines go unappreciated.