Riesling is arguably the world's finest white wine grape, and it is certainly the raw material for the finest wines of Alsace. (This is perhaps a subjective statement...Riesling and Gewurztraminer are so wildly different that they don't bear direct comparison, and no doubt there are those who prefer Gewurz. However, great Riesling leaves one with a impression that keeps haunting the mind and soul; great Gewurztraminer will haunt the heart.) Although I'm not a fan of stereotyping a grape or a region, there is a profile that may accurately describe character of Alsatian Riesling: it is more regal, majestic, and serious than any of the other grapes of Alsace, and is concommitantly, when compared to its regional peers, a bit chilly and aloof.
The dry Rieslings so typical of Alsace depend upon the long, warm Alsatian summer (so the grape sugars can build up towards full ripeness and yet keep Riesling's naturally high acids from becoming overwhelming). The resulting wines are usually around 12% alcohol, which is a much more powerful wine than typical Rieslings found in Germany's Mosel region are, which usually hover around 8%. Riesling is a relatively early-ripening variety that has a long window of time within which one may pick it to achieve certain qualities in the finished wine. Wines that are meant for early consumption with an "everyday" price are among the earliest picked, and they become (when made well) fresh, lively wines that are easy to drink and often possess a dusty quality not unlike that of powder sugar in the aroma's background. The serious wines—those crafted to make a 'statement', or with long-term aging in mind (20+ years), are made with grapes that are picked after a further maturation period of several weeks (or months in some sites). It is from these grapes that the truly great Rieslings are made. They have an aromatic intensity not present in the earlier-picked wines, and the flavor profile is so dramatic and multi-layered that one can understand how Riesling became so legendary. This is why many Alsatian producers consider Riesling a late-ripening variety, because the grapes picked at the front-end of ripeness aren't good enough. Would that all Alsatian vintners believed this!
In recent years, more Alsatian Rieslings possessing residual sugar have hit the market, the result of consistently warmer growing seasons. Most of these wines (such as Domaine Weinbach's Schlossberg Cuvée Ste.-Cathérine "l'Inédit!") have taken up a new stylistic residence with a small amount of residual sugar that after several years in the bottle seems to have dried out. If you want a great wine with a diver scallop, something from this class of wines would be it. Speaking of food:
(For a more in-depth look at Riesling, click here).
Food & Wine Harmony
Riesling from Alsace is one of the great companions for food, and there is almost no end to the regional foods that work with it (except asparagus...), but perhaps its most traditional pairing is with Choucroute Garnie. As evidence of this, one need only try a serious Riesling (Trimbach Clos Ste.-Hune is one of the finest examples) with beef to understand what a sublime revelation in taste this wine is capable of engendering.
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