Wines of Alsace for Summer Drinking

Last night I had a chance to taste some of the wines from Helfrich, a winery in the Alsace Region of France at a dinner with Anne-Laure Helfrich at Cru Restaurant in Greenwich Village.  I don’t often drink Alsatian wines, but as we tasted them and talked about how they were made, I found myself wondering how I could have let this happen.  They were easy to drink and complemented the food so well.

We started with a 2009 Reisling from Helfrich’s lower-priced Nobel Tier.  I loved its crisp citrusy flavor and  found it the perfect companion to my first course, sliced raw fluke served with cherry tomatoes and avocado sprinkled with crushed corn nuts.  It would be just the right wine with sushi or smoked salmon or a salad.  Next we had the pinot gris.  In the glass, the wine  had a beautiful pink blush and was very aromatic with peach and apricot flavors.  I could see serving it with bbq chicken or pork glazed with fruit.  The gewurtztraminer was spicy and sweet with floral aromas.   It would have gone really well with spicy food, like Chinese or Indian, but last night I liked it best with the cheese course that ended our meal.

After the fluke appetizer, I had an excellent main course of branzino on a chick pea puree with braised endive and sauteed maitake  mushrooms.  Tiny black sprinkles turned out to be salty and flavorful bits of dried black olives, a nice touch that contrasted with the delicately sweet fish and endive.  Once again I preferred it with a riesling , but this time the Helfrich 2007 Grand Cru, the company’s better line from their prestigious Steinklotz vineyard.  It was bigger and fuller than the first riesling I tried, yet still easy drinking and very well priced.  Amazingly, the wines in the Helfrich Noble Tier are only about $15 a bottle, while those in the Grand Cru line are about $25 each.

During the meal, Anne-Laure told me a little bit about Alsace, which is a long narrow region in the eastern part of France bordering on Germany.   The town of Colmar where Helfrich is located is considered the capital of the wine region and is famous as the birthplace of Frederic Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty.  Wines have been grown in the area since the Romans inhabited the area over 2000 years ago.   We talked about some of the foods of the region, too, including Tarte Flambe, a French pizza topped with creme fraiche, bacon, onions and cheese and of course choucroute garni, sauerkraut braised with a variety of sausages and smoked pork.

Some people favor red wines with cheese, but I think whites are a better choice in most cases, especially the Alsatian wines I tasted last night which had a hint of residual sweetness.   I plan to get in a supply of them for drinking all summer long.

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    • Michele Scicolone