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Alsace. Dry. White.

OK.  So Alsace does produce great sweet and off-dry white wines, but let’s forget them for the moment.  And let’s forget, too, that it produces world-class Rieslings and refreshing crémants d’Alsace.

“Other places also make great Riesling,” concedes Alain Beydon-Schlumberger, whose Domaines Schlumberger in Gruebwiller makes some very nice ones itself, “but no other region is known for its great Pinot Gris and great Gewurztraminers.”  He might also have added that Alsace holds the aces when it comes to producing the best Pinot Blanc and – no, I’m not crazy – Sylvaner, as well.

I just got back from a week in Alsace, and, yes, I love the Rieslings.  And, yes, Pinot Noir from Alsace is making great strides.  But the delicious, dry, food-friendly G-PG-PB-S combo has me especially excited.

During the course of the week I visit the wineries and vineyards of – in the order I encountered them – Dirler Cadé, Zind-Humbrecht, Schoffit, Wolfberger, Schlumberger, Marcel Deiss, Trimbach, Hugel, André Pfister, Ostertag, Albert Seltz, Boeckel and Pierre Sparr Successeurs, as well as having meals with others, and all made good to great white wines from these four varieties.

In addition to Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are considered the grand cru grapes when grown at one of the 50-plus grand cru vineyards.  Sylvaner is considered grand cru only when it is grown at the Zotzenberg vineyard in Mittelbergheim.

Gewurztraminer, of course, has black-pepper spiciness and other savory characteristics that make it a great food wine.  Perhaps more than any other Alsace grape, the less-floral Pinot Gris has the ability to match a wide variety of foods almost as great as does Chardonnay.  Interesting, Pinot Blanc can be called Pinot Blanc even when it’s made mostly of Auxerrois.  Nevertheless, I tasted many very good ones that are, like, Pinot Gris more-universal in their appeal and application.  Sylvaner has a horrible reputation because it was over-cropped in both Alsace and Germany and sold as a bland, flabby wine.  Yet I tasted several exciting ones, all marked by zesty dry-fruity flavors similar to that of a piercing fino Sherry.  Were they oxidized?  No, the wines were quite clear, and that intoxicating note of sorghum made them all the more appealing.

Why skip Riesling?  Because so many places do make it, and because it is pushed so heavily these days by producers, wine educators and wine writers, who want a somewhat indifferent public to love it as much as they do, that it has become somewhat polarizing.  If you love Riesling, you already know about Alsace.  If Riesling leaves you ho-hum, then you might have ignored all the other great wines Alsace produces.

If you have never gotten into Alsace for whatever reason, start by concentrating on the dry Gewurzes, PG’s, P Blancs and Sylvaners.  Then, in time, move on to the other interesting wines the region produces.  Or not.

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