Pinot Noir On Upswing In White-wine Bastion Alsace Thank Climate Change

Posted: Feb 24, 2017


Source: Michael Tercha | Chicago Tribune

Pinot noir has long been the sole red grape allowed in Alsace, but only in recent years has its quality reached new levels. This is due, in part, to a dedication by winemakers to plant pinot noir in higher-quality growing areas once reserved for prized white varieties.

NASA predicts that the Arctic Ocean will be basically ice-free during the summers about 30 years from now. That's good news for prospective vacation-home developers up that way (truly a niche market), and for the rest of us, the good news is that increasingly good pinot noir is coming out of the French region of Alsace.

The climate change event is not worth celebrating. Byproducts of global warming: good. Global warming, itself: bad. But let's not go blaming the real estate entrepreneurs of Greenland for dreaming or the winemakers of Alsace for producing better red wines to complement their stockpiles of world-famous whites. Over the past few decades the Earth's surface has consistently felt the heat, and since 2001, that heat has resulted in 15 of the 16 warmest years on record, according to NASA. According to Alsace winemakers, this reality is what has allowed their pinot noir plantings to ripen more fully, producing wines with greater concentration, both in flavor and color.

This is noteworthy because 90 percent of all wines produced in Alsace are white — mostly pinot blanc, pinot gris, muscat, gewurztraminer and the revered and beloved queen of Alsace wines, riesling. Pinot noir is sort of like the Cornell of Alsace wine styles. No offense to any Cornellians out there — the Ivy League is the Ivy League — but when you think of said League, a handful of other schools come to mind before the one in Ithaca, N.Y., if that one even comes to mind. That could all change for the Big Red, but it might take a while, as it has for Alsatian pinot noir.

Once an afterthought, pinot noir is now receiving the attention that likely will continue to help it improve as a wine style in Alsace. There's even talk of (and some movement on) establishing grand cru pinot noir in Alsace — in a way, putting select bottlings of the wine style on par with its most celebrated whites.

Pinot noir is not a new grape variety in Alsace; there is evidence it was growing there hundreds of years ago. It has long been the sole red grape allowed in the region, but only in recent years has its quality reached new levels. This is due not only to climate change but also in part to a dedication by winemakers to plant pinot noir in higher-quality growing areas once reserved for prized white varieties. Pinot noir plantings have also increased in Alsace, rising from about 2 percent of all plantings in 1969 to a little more than 10 percent in 2014.

Like most wines in Alsace, pinot noir is produced as a 100 percent varietal and prominently identified as such on labels — by grape variety name — a rare move in France. In keeping with tradition (and the local law), Alsace pinot noir is also bottled in the so-called flutes that are common in Germany. These are the tall, slender bottles most associated with riesling, and this is another interesting break from French tradition in Alsace. Normally, pinot noir is bottled in the classic slope-shouldered bottle, not only in Burgundy (the region that lends its name to the bottle shape) but virtually all around the world too.

Keep in mind that the Alsace region has been traded back and forth between France and Germany four times since the late 19th century, the most recent transfer of ownership occurring in 1945. Wedged between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine River and German border to the east, the long and narrow Alsace region is solidly in France now, but the German bottles remain the standard.

In addition to the still variety of pinot noir, Alsatian wine producers also use the grape for rosé versions of the region's sparkling wine, cremant d'Alsace, which is made in the traditional method, employing secondary fermentation in the bottle. Because of the increased pressure that those wines exert, they are bottled in customary Champagne-style bottles.

Of course, Alsace's two most famous neighbors, Champagne and Burgundy, have a long and fruitful history with pinot noir (as Alsace has had with riesling). But now, increasingly, Alsace is able to contribute to the pinot noir conversation, and that in itself is worth celebrating.

Recommended

Below are brief notes from a recent tasting of Alsace pinot noir. They are listed in ascending order, according to price. Most are in the $22 to $30 range.
2013 Meyer-Fonne Reserve Pinot Noir. Full of red fruits and anise, this bright and lively pinot also had plenty of silky body. $22
2015 Domaine Saint-Remy Rosenberg Pinot Noir. Ripe raspberry, rich dark cherry, smoke and cola characterized this one. $22
2014 Jean-Baptiste Adam Les Natures Pinot Noir. Aged a year in bottle before release, this one had lots of juicy raspberry and a long finish. $25
2013 Domaine Riefle Bonheur Convivial Pinot Noir. Cherry cola, anise, herbs and orange zest summed up this wine, which ended with spice. $25
2014 Domaine Ostertag Rouge E Pinot Noir. Tongue-zapping acidity was followed by bright cranberry and raspberry, with a complex, layered finish. $26
2014 Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Noir. This unoaked pinot offered refreshing strawberry and cherry, plus spice and smoke. $26
2014 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Reserve Pinot Noir. Cherry, pronounced tartness and zingy acidity were tempered by notes of leather and smoke in this one. $30
2012 Francois Baur Sang du Dragon Pinot Noir. Dark cherry, blueberry, smoke and a pleasant savory element led to a long finish. $32
2013 Domaine Valentin Zusslin Bollenberg Harmonie Pinot Noir. Notes of orange zest, chalk, anise and strawberry were complemented by herbs and bright acidity. $45
2014 Albert Mann Grand H Pinot Noir. Ripe cranberry, cherry and other bright red fruits commingled in this luscious, mouth-filling wine. $54
If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.

By Michael Austin The Pour Man
February 22, 2017
Source: The Chicago Tribune



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