4 Attractively Priced Wines from Alsace

Helfrich isn't a big name, but its wares are pretty good

Helfrich
A selection of wines from Alsace bearing the lesser-known Helfrich label.

I recently tasted a selection of wines from Alsace bearing the Helfrich label, one I'd never heard of, from a firm not listed in any of the standard directories of producers in the region. Though publicity materials alternately claim that Helfrich is a sixth- or a third-generation winery (and the bottles bear the date 1934) — and while members of the Helfrich family have apparently been making wine and/or distilling eau-de-vie for several hundred years — Helfrich turns out to be a brand produced by the massive Grands Chais de France Group. This enterprise is headquartered in Alsace, but owns properties all over France, including the two-century-old Bordeaux négociant Calvet, the venerable Burgundy house Pasquier Desvignes, and the bulk wine (and bag-in-a-box) label J. P. Chenet.

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering their corporate origins, the Helfrich wines I sampled didn't show a lot of personality, but they were well-made, pleasant, and priced very fairly.

Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV ($20). Crémant literally means "creamy" in French (wines so designated were originally vinified with low carbon dioxide pressure, yielding wines thought to be more creamy than fizzy in character), and there are seven appellations in France bearing that name. No one would ever mistake a crémant d'Alsace for champagne, but this one, made from pinot blanc, is very nice, with citrus overtones, yeasty fullness, and a pinpoint mousse.

Pinot Gris 2012 ($16). Vinified with a hint of sweetness, this is a good middle-of-the-road example of how Alsatian winemakers treat this grape, with a faint pink cast, a nose of honey and peaches, and a taste of apricot blending with a light but true varietal flavor.

Riesling 2012 ($16). The best of the bunch, really an excellent riesling for the price, quite dry, with a low-key but typical riesling aroma, hints of citrus and mineral acidity, and a clean, crisp finish.

Gewurztraminer Steinklotz Grand Cru 2009 ($25). From one of the oldest of Alsace's 50 or so grand cru vineyards (its vines are mentioned in a document dating from 613 A.D.), an assertive, off-dry gewurztraminer with a lovely, spicy nose, a comparatively light mouth-feel, and a peppery, fruity flavor. I liked this wine best when it had warmed up a bit in the glass.


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