Posted: Aug 31, 2017
The 2015 pinot noir vintage provides the perfect opportunity to discover what must rate as one of the hidden treasures of French wine.
The pinot noir grape has been cultivated in Alsace since Roman times and today accounts for a tenth of the region’s plantings.
Despite Alsace being known today as a white wine region, historic documents show Alsace pinot noir was more highly prized during the 15th and 16th centuries than any of the region’s whites. And now, after years of waiting patiently in the wings, its time has come again and plantings are on the rise.
Around the world, pinot noir covers a multitude of styles, according to where it is grown, how it made and by whom, as well as weather conditions. But by and large, Alsatian pinot noir is a light red, ranging in colour from dark rosé to crimson. Its flavours and aromas are evocative of raspberries and cherries with a sprinkling of the region’s trademark spice.
Unlike more full-bodied reds, its texture is often soft and gentle. Some growers restrict yields (grapes per vine) to produce slightly heftier styles suitable for aging in oak.
The same grape is often used in Crémant d’Alsace, which is, outside of champagne, the best-selling Appellation d’origine controlée (AOC) sparkling wine in France. Light rosé versions are also made.
Grand in quality if not in name
While pinot noir is grown right across the region, the most impressive wines come from ideally situated sloping vineyards rich in clay and limestone or granite, many of which are designated grand cru. Steinklotz, Vorbourg, Sommerberg and Hengst are just a few of the most highly prized.
The more intense pinot noir matches excellently with game and red meat
Pinot noir, the only red grape grown in Alsace, cannot be labelled grand cru even if it is grown in the same vineyard as grand cru whites – the only type of vines authorised in appellation of Alsace Grand Cru are grape varieties of white wine.
You won’t see these names on the front labels of bottles, however. When the official grand cru legislation was introduced in the 1970s, pinot noir was not in favour as it is today, and was excluded from the list of permitted grapes. Given rising demand, however, it seems increasingly likely that growers will succeed in getting the law amended before too long.
A feast of flavours
Alsatian pinot noir is lovely to drink young with grilled or roasted white meats such as chicken or pork. In summer it can be enjoyed lightly chilled and served with red mullet, salmon or tuna.
Oak-aged and slightly older wines, which can acquire autumnal scents of woodsmoke and forest undergrowth, are ideal with dishes of feathered game, such as pheasant and mushroom pie.
Although the Alsace pinot noir is aged in oak barrels, woody notes are not dominant in the wine, yet the oak lends aromas of ripe fruit, which, thanks to acidity, keep for a long time.
Moroccan lamb neck with quince and saffron
Spice of life: Moroccan lamb tagine is an excellent pairing with pinot noir CREDIT: ALAMY
If you enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine such as a Moroccan lamb tagine and couscous, or European cuisine such as pâté and all types of meat, you will find Alsace pinot noir an excellent match. It can also be served with less sweet desserts, such as a bitter chocolate pot, and used to marinate a summer berry salad.
A light version of AOC Alsace pinot noir (for example, those produced by Paul Blanck and Famille Cattin) pairs up nicely with cold cuts and is an ideal option for summer barbecues with grilled meat.
Pinot noir from Alsace
For foodies: pinot noir grape has been cultivated in Alsace since Roman times
On the other hand, the more intense AOC Alsace pinot noir from, for example, Domaine Bruno Sorg, Domaine du Clos Saint Landelin and Domaine Albert Mann, matches excellently with game and red meat.
Look out for the 2015 vintage, because it provides the perfect introduction to Alsatian pinot noir. Fabulously warm, dry weather that year produced generously fruity reds, with crispness and silky smoothness.
Wines of Alsace
In this series the Telegraph explores the six most popular Alsace wines, including riesling and pinot blanc, and their variations in style – as well as some wonderful food pairings for each that you can put to the test immediately.
Alsace is one of the greatest, but least-known treasures of the wine world. Often cited as a favourite among wine professionals, its authentic, elegant and well-balanced wines are made to be shared and enjoyed. Find out more at Alsacewines.co.uk.
By Jeremy Dixon
August 30, 2017
Go-Wine's mission is to organize food and beverage information and make it universally accessible and beneficial. These are the benefits of sharing your article in Go-Wine.com