We have from time to time posted social media images of some of the wines which we have enjoyed. And of course we have a feature on the wine villages of Alsace in the current issue of hidden europe magazine (ie. Issue 63 published in March 2021). So, yes, we are into wine in a modest sort of way. And we kid ourselves that we know the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon (big clue: one is white and the other is red).
To accompany our Alsace feature in hidden europe 63, here’s a selection of Alsace wines which we rate as being very drinkable and reasonable value for money. We have listed them by grape type. To read more about each of the main Alsace grapes, see the detailed notes on page 5 in issue 63 of hidden europe.
Many of the specific vineyards and some of the individual growers listed below are mentioned in our feature in the magazine. Note that we have neither sought nor accepted any discount or inducement to commend these wines. These are just our personal choices. We have much enjoyed the wines from Hugel, Trimbach, Muré, Zind Humbrecht, Koeberlé Kreyer, the Cave de Cleebourg and the Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr, but that's not to suggest that these particular growers or domaines are the very best. To be honest, there's always been a certain randomness about our vineyard visits and wine buying. So if you come across a very appealing Alsace wine, do let us know.
Here’s our key to price ranges; they refer to the retail price per bottle of the wine in Germany. Vineyard prices are generally a little lower. Prices in some European markets, especially Britain, may be substantially higher. And it's very possible that in some markets, very few Alsace wines will be available at all. We suspect you'd be hard pushed to find an Alsace Pinot Noir in Russia. Part of the fun with Alsace wines is hunting them down.
€ = €7.50 to €12.50
€€ = €12.50 to €17.50
€€€ = €17.50 to €22.50
€€€€= € 22.50 to €27.50
Of course there are many grand Alsace wines where the prices per bottle may run into hundreds of euros. Our focus here is on entry-level and reasonably priced wines, and we limit our recommendations to wines that cost less than €27.50 a bottle – just bar for one flight of fancy at the very end which comes in at €35. The majority of the wines cited below cost well under €20 – and you’ll find quite a number of those marked € for under a tenner a bottle.
€€€€ Our go-to Alsace Riesling is Zind-Humbrecht’s Riesling Roche Calcaire (up to and including the 2013 vintage simply called Riesling Calcaire). This is a classic Riesling made from grapes which in the main come from small vineyards around Gueberschwihr. Long on the palate and a pleasing fullness with that classic dance of sweet-sour elements that underpins a good Riesling. As the wine name implies, the grapes come from dominantly limestone soils. It’s a wine that benefits from some age. The 2013 vintage is currently drinking very nicely. If you want to see something of the effect of soil type on wine, try comparing Zind-Humbrecht’s Roche Calcaire with the same domaine’s Roche Granitique (also €€€€).
€€ The Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr (CVH) has a really great value Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling which we find consistently good. Zesty, full-bodied, though perhaps not quite the finesse that we associate with the Zind-Humbrecht Riesling. As with many of the CVH wines, here’s proof that the coveted grand cru status does not immediately mean sky-high prices. It needs a year or two to develop. The 2017 is currently just ready for drinking.
€€ The Hugel family manage one of the great old wine-making estates of Alsace from their base in Riquewihr. Their entry-level Gewürztraminer Hugel is a nice generic example of a wine made from this unusual grape type: passion fruit, lychees, mango and a hint of jasmine all combine in a wine that pairs perfectly with Indian food.
€€€€ Zind-Humbrecht’s Gewürztraminer Roche Roulée is a cut above the Hugel wine mentioned above (though in fairness to Hugel that domaine does have a very fine range of classier Gewürztraminers, but we are sadly not really familiar with them). But when we want a real dash of Gewürz style we tend to go for this lovely Zind-Humbrecht example, made from grapes grown on gravelly soils on the valley floor at Turckheim.
€€ It’s not so often that we open a bottle of pure Pinot Gris from Alsace, but we can certainly recommend the Pinot Gris Reserve from Trimbach. It ages well, and in truth needs a little time in the bottle to develop. So look for the 2016 or 2017 for drinking in 2021. If you want to move a little more upmarket, you might try Trimbach’s Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle, which is quite a hike in price (€€€€), but in truth we’ve not tried it.
€ All the wines from the Cave de Cleebourg, the most northerly major property in Alsace, are extremely good value. They offer the full range of Alsace varietals, but we are very fond of their cask-aged Pinot Gris Hospices de Strasbourg. It’s the 2018 which is generally now available in the retail trade. Let it lie for a year or two and it’ll make a fine glass of wine.
€€ Zind-Humbrecht’s entry level Pinot Blanc is a lovely example of this Alsace varietal, or for just a euro or two more upgrade to Zind-Humbrecht’s Pinot Blanc Turckheim (still in the €€ price band). Soft and elegant wines, with a gentle undertow of acidity.
€€ The Trimbach Pinot Blanc is utterly reliable and early maturing. Makes a lovely aperitif. Peaches and pears, not quite bone dry and slightly fleshy palate.
€ The Cave de Ribeauvillé Vieilles Vignes Muscat is a very pleasing entry-level Muscat at an attractive price. Intense floral aromas and aromatic palate. Not a wine for long ageing, and the 2017 is now perfectly ready.
€€ We never miss a chance to try a Zind-Humbrecht wine, and that domaine’s Muscat Roche Roulée is a real treat. It comes from grapes grown on the valley floor at Turckheim. It's the 2017 vintage which is currently available. Anything younger would, we think, still need some time in the bottle to reach its peak.
€ This is never an expensive varietal. Both Hugel and Trimbach do reliable basic Sylvaners, both very similar light wines with an engaging fruitiness. Perfect wines for summer drinking in the garden.
€€ Cast around and you will find some slightly more upmarket Sylvaners. One to look out for is the Steinstuck Sylvaner from Domaine Muré. It is made from grapes grown in a stony vineyard above the village of Westhalten. It’s fresh and elegant with a pleasing minerality. The 2018 vintage is currently available and is absolutely ready for drinking. It’s one of a trio of wines from grapes grown in a single vineyard. You might also want to try their Steinstuck Muscat (also €€) or the slightly pricier Steinstuck Riesling (€€€).
€€ You don’t find a lot of pure Chasselas wines from Alsace, but prices are much less than for a good Chasselas from western Switzerland. We like the Domaine Pierre Frick Chasselas for its floral nose and fruity acidity (though if pushed we would still opt for a Swiss Chasselas over one from Alsace). These wines are hard to find in some European markets, but we have seen that Frick’s Chasselas is widely available in Britain. And this really is an exceptional example of an Alsace Chasselas.
€€ A really underrated grape, and definitely a minority choice in Alsace. However the Riqueqwihr-based estate Domaine Trapet does a wonderful example of pure Auxerrois. It’s simply called Ox.
€€ It’s fairly common in Alsace to blend Auxerrois with Pinot Blanc – blending like that is otherwise very rare in Alsace. We have recently stumbled on a very nice example of an Auxerrois-Pinot blend which has heaps of Auxerrois character. It’s from Domaine Albert Mann and is called Pinot Blanc Auxerrois Tradition. We recently tried the 2019, which is just fine now, but might be even better in a year or two.
€ For a good basic example of Alsace Auxerrois, try the Cave de Cleebourg Auxerrois Hospices de Strasbourg. The 2018 is currently available, and may still need a year or two of bottle age. It has an unusually dark colour with an appealing citrus nose.
€ We are great fans of a small family domaine specializing in Alsace red wines: Koeberlé Kreyer, based in the village of Rodern. Their basic Pinot Noir comes in two variants, one oak aged and the other not. Both are very pleasing and unbeatable value.
€€ For something just slightly more upmarket than the Koeberlé Kreyer reds, try Hugel’s Pinot Noir Classic. The current vintage in the retail trade is the 2016, which shows a harmonious balance of fruit and tannins. A lovely introduction to Alsace reds.
€€€€ The grand cru designation in Alsace has traditionally been applied only to white wines, but some growers are keen to see it extended to reds. It’s a mark of how leading domains now take their Pinot Noir very seriously. For very classy Alsace reds, try any of Véronique and Thomas Muré’s Pinot Noir wines. Their Côte de Rouffach and Lutzeltal Pinot Noirs both need a bit of age and either would pair well with venison, duck or game. Both are comfortably within the €€€€ bracket. Even better is the Muré Pinot Noir V – the V there refers to the Grand Cru Vorbourg, but because of those pesky rules it cannot actually be branded as a grand cru. Stylish with great length on the palate and a price tag to match. Reckon on €35 a bottle, so in fairness it is beyond the upper limit for our €€€€ listing. But still worth a mention.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)