ALTHOUGH (regrettably) Alsace is not the best known of France’s wine regions, it has the most pronounced family orientation I have ever seen. Unusually, this even applies within co-operatives.
The producer, for example, of the excellent, fresh, lemon-centred and gently toasty Cremant Giersberger Brut – Cave de Ribeauville – has a fourth generation member, Yves Baltenweck, as its president. It is only a pity that this perfect introduction to the region’s sparkling wine is so frustratingly elusive in the UK.
Other co-operatives do well too. The small operation at Hunawihr, for example, produces the long and fresh 2010 Hunawihr Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker (around £16 on a multi-buy from Exel of Perth) with textured lime and delicate orange flavours. Another co-operative – very well known in the UK – is Cave de Turckheim which provides many entry-point supermarket own-label Alsace wines but also produces the nicely rounded 2008 Turckheim Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris with perfumed red apple and mango touches (£16.39 a bottle on a multi-buy at www.rannochscott.co.uk)
Among the area’s major players, Hugel, Trimbach and Zind-Humbrecht can all point to several centuries of (far from easy) family ownership. Indeed, the current top man at Hugel, Etienne, is the first of 12 generations not having to restart from scratch after a war. Although all three operations have impressive ranges, I have selected just one example from each. The delightful Hugel Riesling Jubilee (£22 at The Wine Society for both the 2008 and 2009 vintages) delivers hugely impressive but restrained lemongrass and citrus flavours with a gentle twist of minerality. An inexpensive illustration of Trimbach’s craftsmanship comes in the shape of 2011 Trimbach Gewurztraminer (£13.99, Majestic) that captures the exotic honey touches of this grape variety but gives it an extra freshness and a nice dry finish.
Thirdly, meet Olivier Humbrecht. He has several claims to fame – as a Master of Wine, as the husband of a Scot but, above all, he is a brilliant advocate for biodynamic viticulture. For an unconventional part of his portfolio seek out 2011 Zind, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (£18.45, L’Art du Vin, Charlestown, Fife). It is a blend of auxerrois (40 per cent) with chardonnay that together result in ripe and balanced but intriguingly attractive tropical fruit influences.
Understandably, families also figure in the smaller boutique wineries. Many of the wines are also bio-dynamic as with the complex, lime and white peach-charged 2010 Riesling Le Dragon Josmeyer (£25.65, L’Art du Vin). It also applies to Domaine André Ostertag and to its top-notch 2011 Pinot Gris Muenchberg A360P (which Berry Bros and Rudd currently have en primeur). It has soft orange touches, a spicy, mineral backdrop and hints of vanilla. Alternatively seek out the great value, balanced and tropical fruit influenced 2010 Domaine Jean-Paul Schmitt Riesling Classique Rittersberg (£13.95, www.fromvineyardsdirect.com)
I was also impressed by some rising stars not yet available in the UK but worth looking out for. Two create excellent pinot noirs – the raspberry and sour cherry-centred 2010 Jean-Marie Haag Pinot Noir Baumhauer and the vibrant, spicy and slightly earthy 2011 Pinot Noir Hinterberg, Binner. Similarly, www.drinksoffrance.co.uk is just introducing the terrific 2007 Riesling Domaine Dussourt Vendanges Tardives – with its rounded apple crumble and cinnamon flavour.
2012 Rio Sol Rosé Sao Francisco Valley, Brazil, 12 per cent
Brazil is producing excellent sparkling wine at present but this rosé is a decent bottle too. Its aromatic and soft cranberry and raspberry touches acquire a neat acidic edge and then develop a crunchy, savoury finish.
£8.95, The Fine Wine Company, Portobello
2012 Torres Vina Esmeralda Catalunya, Spain, 11.5 per cent
Once again this delightful, gentle Spanish white provides brilliant summer drinking – on its own or with fish. The blend (mainly a muscat variant with a dash of gewürztraminer) delivers rich, floral and honey touches with citrus edges and a finish of sweeter spices.
£6.99 (as part of a mixed case), Majestic, £6.63, Waitrose