Alsatian wines display best of France, Germany

The French region called Alsace is a charming place, about the size of Connecticut, separated from the rest of France by the Vosges Mountains and from Germany by the Rhine River.

It’s full of picturesque, medieval wine villages with cobbled streets and Michelin-starred restaurants. Tourists come for hot air ballooning, cooking classes, wine museums and of course, tasting the wines.

Alsace has had a difficult history, being passed back and forth between France and Germany with nearly every war. Because of that, today it has grapes and wines with French names — pinot gris, pinot blanc — and those with German names — riesling, gewürztraminer. Together, they’re called “the noble varieties.”

Combining French and German influences, Alsatian wines have developed flavors and styles that are unique. They’re a little different from wines of the same grapes in other countries. They’re a little lighter and drier than the same wines in Germany, a little heavier and sweeter than the same wines in France.

Due to Alsace’s northern climate, its grapes are grown on hillsides sculpted for maximum exposure to the sun. To achieve their crisp freshness, they are fermented and aged in stainless steel, avoiding any contact with wood barrels.

They contain about 12 percent alcohol — more than Germany, less than France — and are bottled in impermeable Stelvin aluminum screwcaps to preserve their freshness.

Alsatian wines go back to the Roman era. Today, one of the region’s top producers is the Helfrich family, now in its sixth generation, in vineyards that date back to King Childebert II in 589 AD. The six vineyards are in the heart of Alsace’s famous “Couronne d’Or” (“Golden Crown”) region in central Alsace.

Helfrich’s top wines come from the Steinklotz vineyard in the north of Alsace, one of only 51 vineyards in the region given the “Grand cru” designation. The title carries strict rules about crop yields, fermenting and aging methods.

The flavors of Helfrich’s wines are very lightly sweet, offset by racy acidity than makes them excellent as aperitifs and with fish and shellfish, including ceviche and sushi, and with grilled or roasted light meats such as chicken, turkey, veal.

If you haven’t tried these wines, it’s a nice chance to expand your repertoire. If you’re like me, tasting something new is the greatest joy of wine.

Fred’s Wine List

Highly recommended

▪ 2012 Gewürztraminer, Helfrich Grand Cru Steinklotz, Alsace Grand Cru AOP: floral aromas, flavors of honey, minerals and sweet-tart fruit, long, spicy finish; $25.

▪ 2012 Riesling, Helfrich Noble Varieties, Alsace AOP: floral aromas, crisp flavors of tangerines and minerals, full body; $17.


▪ 2013 Pinot Gris, Helfrich Noble Varieties, Alsace AOP: aromas of apricot, flavors of ripe peaches, light and lively, crisp, lemony finish; $17.

▪ 2013 Pinot Blanc, Helfrich Noble Varieties, Alsace AOP: aromas of white flowers, fresh, delicate flavors of peaches and citrus; $17.

▪ 2013 Gewürztraminer, Helfrich Noble Varieties, Alsace AOP: aromas of white flowers, flavors of lychees and other tropical and citrus fruits, crisp and spicy; $17.