Food and Drink: Isn't this Germany?: Anthony Rose visits Alsace, in France, where the wines have a decidedly blurred identity

Hubert Trimbach, marketing director of one of Alsace's best-known wine companies, prodded my arm, saying: 'The trade likes them, so what's the matter with the British public? Why don't you drink more Alsace wines?'

The view that Alsace wines are drunk by the wine trade but not the consumer has become a cliche - and a spurious argument for connoisseurship over public taste. The truth is that, while promising much, Alsace has delivered little since the fine vintages of 1989 and 1990. Imports of Alsace wines to the UK plummeted from a 1990 peak of 226,000 cases to fewer than 120,000 last year.

Could it be that the British don't understand Alsace wines? Or even that they don't enjoy them much? Part of Alsace's problem is undoubtedly its blurred identity: is it French or German? It was German; but although it doesn't have a very French feel, it has been part of France since the end of the First World War. It is cut off from 'mainland France' by the Vosges mountains and from Germany by the Rhine.

The locals refer to the French as the Francais de l'interieur, and anyone over 40 speaks an incomprehensible dialect. This isolationism provokes a certain prejudice in France. If they don't turn their noses up at Alsace wines, Parisians tend to think only of their expensive, rare sweet specialities. With more Michelin-starred restaurants per mile than almost anywhere, Alsace may be the self- appointed gastronomic centre of the universe. But the hearty regional cuisine is more Germanic than French.

The wines straddle France and Germany, too. Wine names are almost all German: Trimbach, Hugel, Schlumberger, Zind Humbrecht. Alsace uses the Germanic, flute- shaped bottle, and Alsace appellations are the only ones in France to name wines by their grape variety. Of the six main white varieties, three (riesling, gewurztraminer and sylvaner) are Germanic in origin, and the others (pinot blanc, pinot gris and muscat) are French.

Rare sweet speciality varieties apart, Alsace wines are basically dry and full-bodied and designed primarily for food. Or should be. A current bone of contention is a tendency to leave residual sugar, even in the so-called dry Alsace wines. It may win them medals, but, according to Marc Beyer, an exponent of the classic dry style, it makes them more difficult to match with food. 'With blind tasting competitions around the world, people are adding sugar to give an illusion of body and richness, but the palate soon tires of this false, late-harvest style.'

This is particularly true of the flowery, exotic gewurztraminer, a variety virtually synonymous with Alsace in the UK but less well regarded elsewhere. Except where the gewurztraminer is dry (a rare event), Alsace's less assertive varieties go much better with food, especially pinot blanc and the underappreciated riesling. Mr Trimbach says: 'The English don't like riesling because it's a little austere for their palates.'

But riesling partners food well because it tends to be drier, more complex and less alcoholic than the other varieties. Pinot blanc, when it's refreshingly dry, is a natural for seafood. Tokay pinot gris, a spicy halfway house between pinot blanc and gewurztraminer, is the variety most in vogue.

Apart from confusion of styles, Alsace wines have suffered from a notion that they no longer offer value for money. The appellation system allows Alsace, with its rich, chalky-clay soils, very high yields - even the relatively new Alsace Grand Cru appellation allows yields up to 65 hectolitres per hectare. Only by cutting yields can Alsace produce wines of a quality to justify their price.

Bernard Schoffitt, one of the most quality-conscious producers, says: 'Alsace averaged 87 hectolitres per hectare in 1993, which is too high. Other countries can do volume at low prices; we have to fight at the quality level. But historically the people who produce the most wine make the most money.'


1992 Pinot Blanc, Preiss- Zimmer, pounds 3.99, Morrisons. A delightfully fresh, dry summer white, with a hint of spice and a lively bite.

1992 Ch. Oberlin Pinot Blanc, pounds 4.69, Majestic. Pleasant and cool, with fermented, fresh ripe pears on the palate and a clean aftertaste.

1991 Rolly Gassmann Edelzwicker, pounds 5.99, Thresher Wine Shops, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack (from the first week of August). A delicately spicy aroma and racy, fresh, grapefruity palate.

1993 Schoffitt Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, pounds 6.99, Oddbins. Exotic bouquet and opulently rich, pineapple and peach sweetness saved by refreshing spritzy acidity.

1992 Pinot Blanc, Schlumberger, around pounds 7.25, Lay & Wheeler in Colchester (0206 764446), Peter Green in Edinburgh (031-229 5925), and Selfridges. Excellent, fresh, full-bodied, concentrated fruit with dry, zippy finish.

1991 Hugel Gewurztraminer, pounds 8.29, Thresher Wine Shops, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack. A classically fragrant, rose-petal Alsace white with plenty of exotic, lychee spice.

1989 Blanck Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg, Vieilles Vignes, pounds 10.99, Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. A grand cru worthy of the name, this is a superbly crafted, delicate lemon-and- lime riesling with rich, concentrated fruit, and stylishly dry finish.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home