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I Love French Wine and Food - An Alsace Pinot Blanc

If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Alsace region of northeastern France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Pinot Blanc wine.

Alsace ranks tenth out of the eleven French winemaking regions in terms of vineyard area. Don't be fooled by the numbers; Alsace is a major producer of quality French wine. Its wine growing area is only about 60 miles (100 kilometers) long, and at the most a mere 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide nestled between the Vosges Mountains to the east and the Rhine River and Germany to the west. But this relatively tiny area is known for distinctive wines. Alsatian wine bottles are quite distinctive; tall and slim and their labels feature the grape variety, in contrast to most French wine labels. Chaptalization (adding sugar to the fermenting grape mixture) is allowed for many wine categories.

About 95% of Alsace wine is white. The major white grape varieties are Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. Secondary white grape varieties include Pinot Blanc, reviewed below, Sylvaner, and Muscat. The major red grape variety is Pinot Noir, reviewed in a companion article in this series.

Colmar is an Alsatian town pretty well in the middle of the Alsatian wine villages. Go there if you don't like rain; given its proximity to the Vosges Mountains, Colmar is the driest town in all of France. This city of about sixty-five thousand was founded in the Ninth Century. despite Colmar's major destruction in both World Wars, there is a lot to see in its old town (Vieille Ville). Some say that it's more interesting than Strasbourg. You really should visit both and decide for yourself. Among Colmar's sights are the St-Martin church constructed from the Thirteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries, the Ancienne Douane (Old Customs House), and the Maison aux Arcades (Arcades House).

Since 1626 Ribeauville has been the home to Trimbach wines. In spite of its size, under five thousand, it has a bit of everything: ancient town walls, picturesque medieval houses, Gothic churches, a town hall with antiques, and a spring. Nearby are the ruins of three castles. And the first Sunday in September, Ribeauville hosts a major Minstrel Show.

Before reviewing the Alsatian wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Foie Gras (Goose or Duck Liver). For your second course savor Baeckeoffe (Meat and Potato Casserole). And as dessert indulge yourself with Gateau Chasseur (Almond Cake with Raspberries and Meringue).

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2004 12.5% alcohol about $13.50

Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Tasting Note Straw colour; apple, pear fruit aromas with light biscuit and citrus tones; medium- to full-bodied with ripe peachy flavours and a clean, zesty finish. Serving Suggestion Smoked salmon, shellfish or asparagus in hollandaise sauce. Alsatian Pinot Gris is becoming increasingly fashionable, and this example illustrates why. Honeyed fruit aromas, such as peach and pear, plus a texture of smoke and mineral seduce in this just off-dry white that's, round, soft and quite rich. The producer recommends this as a good substitute for red wine with meat dishes such as cold cuts, roast beef or game. They also suggest pairing it with smoked chicken, fish or lobster. And now for the review.

My first meal consisted of a commercially prepared chicken breast with the skin on (more calories, more flavor), potato salad, and a spicy salad based on tomatoes, red pepper and garlic. The wine was refreshingly acidic and somewhat fruity. I finished with fresh pineapple. This combination was quite good; the fruit flavors in the pineapple complemented those in the wine and actually seemed to intensify each other.

I next tasted this Pinot Blanc with a reheated home-cooked chicken leg in a tomato-based sauce with beets and some more of the same potato salad. The wine scored as in the first round, but was more assertively fruity including the taste of pears. I am not used to a Pinot Blanc wine being so present, and I like this change.

My last meal consisted of a cheeseless broccoli, mushroom, and zucchini quiche and mashed potatoes. While the wine was powerful and quite fruity, it did come up short.

The first cheese pairing involved a French goat's milk cheese that I would have taken for a Camembert. At the first sips the cheese sort of cut off the wine. Later the results were somewhat better; the wine was fruity and moderately acidic. After this I tried a Swiss Gruyere whose flavor was nutty and a bit sharp. This combination was even better; the Pinot Blanc came out nice and fruity.

I usually don't go with a non-imported cheese when tasting wines. However, I am making an exception for a Canadian Asiago cheese that our local supermarket almost never carries. This cheese is perhaps the best that I have tasted in a long time; in my opinion it clearly surpasses its Italian Asiago cousin. When I like a cheese that good, I really want to try it with wine. The result wasn't disappointing; this excellent cheese really intensified the wine's fruit and acidity.

Final verdict. There is no doubt in my mind, this wine is a winner. And the price is reasonable to boot.

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About The Author: Over the years Levi Reiss has written ten Internet and computer books, sometimes with a co-author. Between you and me, he would rather drink fine French, Italian, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and the right people. He teaches various and sundry computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. His central wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com and his Italian wine website is www.theitalianwineconnection.com.

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