White wines from France’s Alsace region are often a bit of a puzzle, even for those who love them. It revolves around how much sugar is in the wines — and I’m not talking about dessert wines, but table wines — and how much acidity there is to balance it. Add to this the fact that many of the wines, especially the rieslings, are aromatic and fruity, and the discussion evolves into whether the wine is really sweet or just fruity or both.
As a result, I find the “sweetness charts” that are cropping up on the back labels are too subjective to be of much practical help. Neither can the idea that lower-alcohol wines equate to sweeter wines and vice versa serve as a reliable rule of thumb.
Additionally, some winemakers and some consumers like their table wines a little sweeter, softer and with less acidity. Others, especially riesling fans, like considerable sweetness balanced by a lot of acidity. I fall into the camp of less sugar and moderate to heavy acidity, but I try not to let that overly influence my opinion of a wine.
Finally, food pairings do matter, and people who like hot and spicy Asian food often like lightly sweet rieslings as a match.
With that as a preface, here are some Alsace whites that I recently sampled in the order tasted.
2009 Meyer-Fonné pinot gris reserve ($26). Lightly sweet and juicy with a mild citrus flavor. Not much apparent acidity or minerality.
2008 Sipp Mack sylvaner vieilles vignes ($14). Slightly tart with a papery, forest-floor under-taste. Lacks vibrancy.
2011 Pierre Sparr gewürztraminer ($17). Lots of tea rose aromas and light spiciness. Moderately fruity/sweet. I would like to see more structure.
2011 Pierre Sparr One ($14). Very nice tart fruitiness with a cracked-grain dustiness in the finish. Both fruity and savory blend with good minerality.
2011 Willm pinot grigio reserve ($13). Very enjoyable – juicy/spicy with white pepperiness on the edges and with mellow pears throughout. Elegant and well-balanced.
2011 Pierre Sparr pinot blanc ($15). Lots of creamy pear, soft and supple but with good acidity and not too assertive. I could see this with plump scallops.
2011 Pierre Sparr riesling ($15). Very nice wine. The riesling’s fragrance is muted with a mineral edginess which would go well with a variety of foods.